Top 10 Museums in National Parks

We recently published our 307-page guidebook to the 61 National Parks (available on Amazon), so we thought it would be a good time to rank our favorite museums in the parks.  The National Parks typically stick with the “go outside and play” philosophy, but these selected parks do a great job of interpreting human and natural history inside a museum.  Our photograph options are limited and mainly include Wondon the Traveling Bunny (who has his own blog).  We will rank our Top 10 museums in other National Park Service (NPS) units in a future list (check out all our Top 10 Lists here). 

10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennesee-North Carolina)

Sugarlands Visitor Center has a nice natural history museum, plus the historic structures at Cataloochee, Elkmont, and Cades Cove serve as outdoor museums.

9. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

If this is your first visit, after you buy your tour tickets at the park entrance head directly to the Chapin Mesa Museum that overlooks the ruins of Spruce Tree House.

8. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Great Basin Visitor Center is in Baker, outside the park boundaries, but it is worth a stop to see a cross-section of Prometheus, a nearly 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine tree.

7. Everglades National Park (Florida)

Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is home to an excellent museum interpreting the natural history of the “river of grass.”

6. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Boston Store and Canal Visitor Centers both have excellent hands-on exhibits and, taking a page from Parks Canada, you can play dress-up, too.

5. Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)

Part of the reason this became a National Park in 2018 was due to the opening of its new museum beneath the arch, but do not miss a visit inside the colorful Old Courthouse.

4. Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

There are great exhibits on wildlife at Denali Visitor Center near the park entrance and Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 on the main park road (only accessible by bus).

3. Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)

Fordyce Bathhouse on Central Avenue is now entirely a museum with multiple stories of exhibits and plenty of stories to tell.

2. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

There is an excellent interpretive museum inside the visitor center for the world’s longest cave.

… and finally our #1 museum in a National Park:

1. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Learn all about the Yellowstone Supervolcano at Old Faithful and Canyon Village Visitor Centers, but also check out the Museum of the National Park Ranger near Norris Junction.

Honorable Mentions

Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

It can be easy to miss the museum that is downstairs from the park bookstore and tour ticket booth, so do not make that rookie mistake.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

The Main Park Visitor Center is located on the Richardson Highway, but the main attraction requires you to brave the drive to McCarthy and cross the pedestrian bridge to the Kennecott ghost town.

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