My Top 12 National Parks

At the moment of writing this list, I have been to 46 of the 63 national parks. I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t met a national park that I don’t love. But people frequently ask me what my favorite park is, AND its National Parks Week! So here is a quick run down of my favorite parks with the top 2 things you should do in each park (I know, I know…. there are a lot more things to do in each park but no one will read a full novel on this blog if I just decided to list everything to do in every park in one post… so stay with me…)

To encourage you to read until the end, I am starting with number 12.

12. North Cascades

This gorgeous park is often overlooked. It is located only about 3 hours from Seattle, Washington… but it’s neighboring parks, Olympic and Rainier, tend to draw the most crowds. If your jam is mountains and super turquoisey water, you should really check this place out.

What should you do here?

Cascade Pass Trail : 6.5 miles that will give you good views along the entire way.

Swim in Diablo Lake! It’ll be cold, but it’ll be fun.

11. Channel Islands

This is a fun one, but not the easiest to get to. The Channel Islands are an achipelago of 8 islands off the coast of California. You’ll need to book a boat to get there, and there is only one company that you can book that through, Island Packers, and the boats leave out of Ventura. This is about 1.5 hours north of Los Angeles, so it can easily be a day trip if you’re visiting LA.

The boat can be…..bumpy.

There are a whole bunch of things that you can do on these islands… and you have to make some choices about which islands to visit. I visited Santa Cruz island and throughougly enjoyed it.

What should you do here?

Book a kayak tour I love a good kayak trip

Potato Harbor Trail : This is about 5 miles and is named after my favorite food. It offers great views and if you have a good zoom or some binoculars you can see the pinnipeds down in Potato Harbor.

BONUS

Find a Channel Islands fox

These adorable and charismatic foxes were almost wiped off the islands, but thanks to zoos and conservation teams they are back (and thrivinggggg)! We were greeted by a chonky one as we got off our boat (who also had an ear hematoma that I wanted to poke, but thats my veterinary technician coming out). A lot of the foxes hang close to the camp sites, and they have the body condition to prove it. We watched one sneak into a tent and trot away with a bag of chips. If you are visiting the islands, please be aware and DO NOT FEED THESE CHONKY FOXES. It might be fun and cute, but it is really harmful to their health.

10. Great Sand Dunes

Now this one is on my list of personal favorites because I have very good memories here. Two days before I turned 30 I realized I had never seen the Grand Canyon and decided to toss my two pups in my tiny Chevy Spark and drive out to Arizona. Along the 30 hour drive there, and on my actual 30th birthday, the pups and I stopped in Colorado at Great Sand Dunes and climbed up the dunes. We sat up top, exhausted from the climb, and I felt very grateful and inspired to see every corner of the world. I had recently gone through a divorce and was very confused about who I was because of that. It was up on those dunes that I decided the type of person I wanted to be… one that lived for adventure and moments just like that current moment I was in. I also decided in that moment that I was going to visit every single national park.

And here I am, six years and 45 parks later.

So maybe you’ll visit this place and be like, “Why is Brittney crazy? This isn’t worthy of a top ten ranking!” but this is my list so you shut up.

The OG adventure dogs

What should you do here?

Climb up them dunes, duh! The tallest sand dune in North America resides here, standing at 750 feet. I guarantee you might hate everything as you climb it, but it’ll be great once you’re at the top.

Sled down them dunes, duh! If you bring a saucer sled and some sled wax you can yeet your body down a dune. As a warning… this is easier said then done. If you attempt to sled down fresh sand, you won’t get too far, but if you find an area that people have already sledded down the packed sand will be a whole lot more fun.

9. Great Basin

This one is quite the ignored beauty. I really really loved this park, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This park sits in the north eastern corner of Nevada, just minding it’s own business. You can see bristlecone pines here, which are among the oldest living organisms ON EARTH. Whaaaaaat??? Yep. And they are all knobbly and knotty looking and amazing. This park is also home to the only glacier in Nevada.

What should you do here?

Bristlecone Pine Glacier Trail : This 4.5 mile trail will get you up close and personal to the bristlecone pines while also giving you an amazing view of the glacier.

Take a tour of Lehman Caves It is always a fun time to go below ground, and this park has an impressive cave system.

8. Capitol Reef

I didn’t think much about going to Capitol Reef when I tagged it onto an itinerary to finish up the Utah Big 5, but here it is… sitting at number 8. I loved this park. I basically drool over the colors of this specific type of desert. There are the burnt oranges, mustardy yellows, deep reds… all speckled with rare (and prickly) green here and there. The colors mixed with the lack of people, and great trails all equal a phenomenal desert park.

What should you do here?

Hickman Bridge Trail : Just under 2 miles and gives a great intro to the park.

Cassidy Arch Trail : 3.1 miles… unless you completely overlook where the trail is going and then wander through the desert for an additional 2 miles. That aside, this is a gorgeous trail and leads to a big beefy arch that you can walk out onto.

7. Badlands

I have been to this park a handful of times now, and everytime I have loved it. The unique landscape provides some amazing trails and it is exceptionally spectacular at sunrise or sunset. You can hear the tiny squeaks of prarie dogs in many areas of the park and you may have to stop your car for some bighorn sheep (I got stopped the first time I drove through by a mother nursing two lambs right in the middle of the road).

What should you do here?

Drive the Badlands Loop Road. This 30 mile loop is stunning and features many stops and overlooks to enjoy the scenery.

The Notch Trail : A short 1.5 mile hike that takes you up a fun log ladder and into a scenic canyon.

6. Dry Tortugas

Florida is much better known for Everglades National Park, or Biscayne…. both of which are great parks that you can access easily from Miami. But did you know that Florida has a third national park, 70 miles off the coast of Key West? Well… it does. The area is mostly open water, but also features 7 protected islands. One of those islands is the goal when you’re visiting the park for the first time, and that island features a very large, very awesome, abandoned fortress. I always say America doesn’t have enough old shit to wander around in, so this fortress satisfied me. Greatly. Even though the island is small, there is only room for 175 passengers on the boat, and only one boat goes each day (if the weather permits). So you won’t be crowded at all. You can also book a camping trip on the island, which if you have time to do that DO IT. It must be so amazing to be out there at night time.

To book your ferry head here.

What should you do here?

Explore the fort. Built in 1846, Fort Jefferson has quite the history, and you can learn all about it with this self guided tour guide. You can explore a large part of the fort and even walk up on the top of it.

Snorkel. Snorkel rental comes with your boat ticket, so you should take advantage and get out in that water! The water was pretty rough when we were out there but it was a great time. You have to swim out a little ways to get to the coral reef, so if you aren’t the strongest swimmer this may be daunting.

BONUS

If you follow the beach all the way out to the tippy tip, you’ll find a LOT of big ol’ seashells. DO NOT TAKE THEM HOME… just enjoy them here and leave them for the next person to oooo and ahhhh at.

5. Zion

Good ol’ Zion. Everyone loves it. It’s hard not to. So far this might be the only name you recognize on this list if you’re new to national parks… and that’s totally okay. Everyone should visit Zion at least once in their lifetime. I don’t really think it needs much of an introduction, so we are just gonna jump right into it…

What should you do here?

Angel’s Landing : Of course this is on here. This is one of the best known trails in America. It is 4.4 miles of hard, fun, chain climbing hiking. It takes you to one of the best viewpoints you’ll ever see, after one of the most thrilling hikes you’ll ever do. So duh, it’s on the list. BUT there are rules now. You now need a permit to hike Angel’s Landing during the most popular season. This is for very good reason… as there were WAY too many people doing it at the same time before and made it extremely unsafe. Another way to do it is to go completely in the off season, but be prepared for weather closures and for an even more dangerous hike (wear crampons). I did this trail in December and there were only two other people on the trail that day, so I had zero crowding issues but it was very dangerous.

To learn more about the permits to make the climb, head here.

Go rock climbing. Sticking with the climbing theme, going on a beginner’s climbing outting is a fun and unique way to experiece this park. Check out these guided trips.

BONUS

Do The Narrows . This 15.5 mile trail is the other VERY well known trail in Zion. It takes a little bit of planning, as most people do this as an overnight trip. You also need a permit to complete it and gear, especially if you’re staying the night out there.

Angel’s Landing adrenaline joy.

4. Glacier

This park is like a mecca for outdoorsy humans. The scenery is perfect. The wildlife is perfect. The mountains are perfect. The lakes are perfect. The trails are long and moderate to difficult. This beautiful park is located in Montana, and isn’t really near any other national parks. If you truly want to explore here, you should plan on staying for at least 3-5 days (depending on how good you are at packing stuff into your days).

What should you do here?

Everyone is going to tell you to drive the Going-to-the-Sun road. And you should. But if you come to this park and you DON’T spend the majority of your time out on a trail somewhere, it would just be a shame. Also realize the Going-to-the-Sun road requires reservations during certain times of year (OR get there before 6 am if you don’t have reservations). To learn more about the reservations, go here.

Hike. Hike. Hike.

Grinnel Glacier Trail : 11.2 miles

Highline Trail : 14.9 miles

Hidden Lake Trail : 5.3 miles

If you only have time for one hike, I recommend Grinnel Glacier. It’s a fun challenge and you end on top of a mountain at a beautiful glacier and you can dip your little toes in the water (or jump in like some crazy people were doing).

3. Kenai Fjords

Alaskaaaaaaaa. My favorite state (sorry Michigan). Alaska boasts a total of 8 national parks. I am slowly working my way through those parks, but for now Kenai Fjords is making an appearance pretty high up on my list of favorites. Most of this park is enjoyed from the water, but some of it can be accessed by car as well. If ocean animals, glaciers and margaritas with chunks of iceberg in them is on your list of favorite things, you must go here.

What should you do here?

Take a whale watching tour. Major Marine Tours is a great company to go with and is located conveniently in downtown Seward. You’ll spend a good chunk of your day out on the ocean looking for marine life and getting up close and personal to some glaciers.

Harding Ice Field Trail : 9.2 miles that will take you across beautiful landscapes and get you right next to Exit glacier. This is a challenging trek that is mainly all up hill… until its time to turn around and go back.

If you want to hike in this park but you don’t want to climb 9 miles up the side of a mountain, check out Exit Glacier Overlook Trail. This 2.2 mile trail will give you a good view of Exit Glacier from a nice distance.

2. Acadia

Maine might be my second favorite state. Which is funny because it is completely different from my reigning champion, Alaska. Acadia is a well-known park, and it is well visited. The autumn colors here are to die for, and the crowds come pouring in to witness them. I don’t blame them, it’s gorgeous. This park can be as adventerous or non-adventurous as you want it to be. With the nearby town of Bar Harbor, this area is easily enjoyed by all types of people.

But me… I like the adventurous stuff and thats why I am going to recommend some iron rung hikes.

What should you do here?

Climb up cliffs with iron rungs. The Beehive Loop (1.5 miles) and The Precipice Loop (2.1 miles) are your options to experience an adrenaline rush while also getting a good workout in and seeing some spectacular views. The Beehive Loop is considered the easier of the two options, so head there first if you aren’t sure if this is your jam.

If you don’t want to dangle your body off a cliff with iron rungs, try summiting Cadillac Mountain via the North Ridge Trail. This 4.2 mile trail will take you to some of the best views in the park. Try timing this with sunrise or sunset (… as a cheat you can just drive to the summit but that’s lame).

1. Sequoia

Thicc.

I like big trees. I don’t know what to tell ya. You came this far to learn that I really like really big trees. These trees are more impressive than redwoods and made me feel like a tiny little insignificant human, and I love that feeling. Also the park smells wonderful. I can’t explain it. But I want it in a candle and I want to sniff it everyday. I love these big chonky trees so much that HERE. I think it is number one.

What should you do here?

Moro Rock Trail : This very short and steep wander straight up a giant rock leads you to an amazing view point. This won’t take up much time, but you’ll get a burning in your legs.

General Sherman Tree Trail : This one is an easy 1.2 mile saunter… but it takes you to the world’s largest tree (measured by volume). General Sherman is a site to behold and everyone should see him and sniff his air before they die.

I like big trees.

So there you have it.

My current favorite parks. This might change (even as early as tomorrow) but in general, these 12 parks are my first to recommend to people. There are 34 others that I have visited that I also love. BUT these 12 are my favorites (today).

What parks are your current favorites? Any of your favorites match mine? Let me know!

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