Tag Archives: National Park

Top 20 National Parks for Photography

The 63 National Parks in the United States are among the most photogenic places on the planet, so this was our hardest Top 10 List to choose.  Instead, for the first time we ranked the top 20!  We still had to leave off some all-time favorites, which says something about the natural beauty of this country.  We previously released a ranking of the top 20 photography destinations among the other National Park Service sites.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Arches (Utah)

There are too many fantastic sandstone wonders to count in this park

9. Channel Islands (California)

Giant coreopsis provide nests for western sea gulls atop rocky cliffs rising from the ocean

8. Katmai (Alaska)

Alpine scenery and Brooks Falls, the world-famous salmon fishing grounds of grizzly/brown bears

7. Great Basin (Nevada)

Cave formations, snow-covered peaks, and photogenic bristlecone pine trees

6. Haleakalā (Hawai‘i)

People come from around the globe to watch the sunrise and hike rainbow-hued Sliding Sands Trail

5. Badlands (South Dakota)

Awesome geologic features and a surprising diversity of large mammals

4. Dry Tortugas (Florida)

Fish teem in the turquoise ocean water surrounding a picturesque brick fort

3. Bryce Canyon (Utah)

Bright orange hoodoos fill this giant natural amphitheater that lights up at sunrise and sunset

2. Death Valley (California)

With little vegetation, the earth is laid bare here in all its raw and colorful glory

…and finally the #1 National Park for Photography:

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Unbelievably colorful geothermal features and numerous charismatic wild animals

The Next 10

11. Grand Canyon (Arizona)

12. Yosemite (California)

13. Denali (Alaska)

14. Mesa Verde (Colorado)

15. Grand Teton (Wyoming)

16. Great Sand Dunes (Colorado)

17. Mount Rainier (Washington)

18. Glacier Bay (Alaska)

19. Glacier (Montana)

20. Virgin Islands (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Glacier National Park

Overview

Officially, since 1932 this American-Canadian natural reserve has been called Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  We will focus on the U.S. side since you still need a passport to cross the border (when it is open).  The million-acre Glacier National Park was established in 1910 as a tourist destination and to protect its wildlife, including grizzly/brown bears.  It is open year round, but sees more than half its visitors in July and August.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Going-to-the-Sun Road, St. Mary Lake, Logan Pass, Many Glacier Hotel, Iceberg Lake

Must-Do Activity

The world renowned Going-to-the-Sun Road was built to cross the park from east to west in the 1920s.  At its highest point (6,646-foot Logan Pass), the road crosses the Continental Divide, an imaginary line where a raindrop drains all the way into the Atlantic Ocean on one side and into the Pacific Ocean on the other.  Hidden Lake Overlook near the Logan Pass Visitor Center is known for sightings of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and hoary marmots.

Best Trail

Avalanche Lake is located at the end of a two-mile one-way hike from the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.  We spotted a grizzly/brown bear on the way back from our hike there.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Hidden Lake often reflects the image of Bearhat Mountain, which is why we chose it as our logo design for Glacier National Park (see below).

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Vehicles over 21 feet in length or eight feet in width are prohibited in the middle sections of Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Good dirt roads lead to campgrounds at Bowman Lake and Kintla Lake on the west side of the park.

Camping

St. Mary and Fish Creek Campgrounds accept reservations and several others are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Related Sites

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

This design we created to celebrate Glacier National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – When were the iconic “red jammer” buses first introduced to the park?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Top National Park Service Site in Each State

We kicked off our travel blog by highlighting our favorite National Park Service site in each of the 50 states.

Alabama

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Alaska

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Arkansas

Buffalo National River

California

Lava Beds National Monument

Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Connecticut

Weir Farm National Historic Site

Delaware

First State National Historical Park

Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park

Georgia

Andersonville National Historic Site

Hawaii

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Idaho

City of Rocks National Reserve

Illinois

Pullman National Monument

Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park

Iowa

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park

Louisiana

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Maine

Appalachian National Scenic Trail 

Maryland

Catoctin Mountain Park

Massachusetts

Lowell National Historical Park

Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Minnesota

Grand Portage National Monument

Mississippi

Vicksburg National Military Park

Missouri

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Montana

Big Hole National Battlefield

Nebraska

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Nevada

Great Basin National Park

New Hampshire

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

New Jersey

Thomas Edison National Historical Park

New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument

New York

Fort Stanwix National Monument

North Carolina

Cape Lookout National Seashore

North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Ohio

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

Oklahoma

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Oregon

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 

Pennsylvania

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Rhode Island

Roger Williams National Memorial

South Carolina

Congaree National Park

South Dakota

Jewel Cave National Monument

Tennessee

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Texas

Big Bend National Park

Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

Vermont

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park 

Virginia

Fort Monroe National Monument

Washington

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

West Virginia

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Wisconsin

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

…and finally our home state…

Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park

 

Honorable Mention

District of Columbia

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Hot Springs National Park

Overview

The hot springs that give this Arkansas town its name were the first site ever set aside by the federal government for protection way back in 1832.  That was forty years before Yellowstone National Park came into existence, and is the reason Hot Springs National Park was commemorated as the first minted of the America the Beautiful Coin Collection in 2010.  It is also the reason that Hot Springs is unlike any other National Park in the system, checking in at only 5,550 acres on either side of a bustling downtown lined with historic bathhouses.

Hot Springs National Park is not one of the 50 covered in great detail in our guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon), but as one of the 63 National Parks it is included with a photo.

Highlights

Fordyce Bathhouse, West Mountain Scenic Drive, Goat Rock, Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Balanced Rock

Must-Do Activity

When you visit, it is best to start at the National Park Service (NPS) museum within the former Fordyce Bathhouse, where you will learn that the water is heated not by volcanic activity but by gravitational compression.  Whether or not you pay to soak in the non-sulfurous waters at a privately-owned bathhouse, be sure to fill up a bottle at one of several mineral rich drinking fountains around town.  Then you too can “quaff the elixir” the same way tourists have been doing here for nearly 200 years.

Best Trail

There are several hiking options in the forested hills around the town, including the 17-mile long Sunset Trail that provides access to Balanced Rock.  The Gulpha Gorge Trail leaves from the NPS campground up to vistas at Goat Rock or you can also park at the top of North Mountain and hike down to it on the Goat Rock Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the men’s locker room, a beautiful stained glass ceiling lets in light on the sculpture of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto who came to the hot springs in 1541.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hosp/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None to visit the NPS museum in Fordyce Bathhouse, but there is a charge to climb Hot Springs Mountain Tower or visit one of the privately-owned bathhouses (like Buckstaff Baths or Quapaw Baths and Spa).

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there are some tight curves on the scenic drive up Hot Springs Mountain.

Camping

The NPS run Gulpha Gorge Campground offers sites with or without electrical and water hookups.

Related Sites

Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Explore More – In the roaring 1920s, Hot Springs, Arkansas was like the original Las Vegas attracting athletes, politicians, and which famous mobsters?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Kenai Fjords National Park

Overview

Our favorite of the eight National Parks in Alaska is Kenai Fjords.  It is a great place to witness the thunderous calving of a tidewater glacier, an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.  Boat tours leave from the port of Seward and travel up beautiful Resurrection Bay, a long saltwater-filled valley (or fjord).  The town was named in 1903 for the Secretary of State who purchased the Alaska Territory from Russia in 1867 for less than two cents per acre, a move then known as “Seward’s Folly.”  Exit Glacier is the only portion of the park accessible by road and is worth the side trip. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Exit Glacier, boat tours, tidewater glaciers, marine wildlife

Must-Do Activity

A tour boat is the easiest way to get up close to the variety of marine mammals and seabirds, but hardier souls can kayak the silty blue waters of Resurrection Bay.  Along the route to actively calving Aialik Glacier, you will see an abundance of wildlife: orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, cormorants, and so much more.  Some tour boats have a National Park Service ranger on board to narrate, answer questions, and help kids earn Junior Ranger badges.  Tour boats get you close to the action to witness a tidewater glacier calving into the ocean.  These glaciers are one of 32 arms of the massive Harding Ice Field.

Best Trail

It is a short and worthwhile hike from the parking lot to the face of the rapidly receding Exit Glacier; black bears are common in the area, so keep an eye out for them.  You can continue hiking the steep 3.7-mile one-way trail up to 3,500 feet to view the expansive Harding Ice Field, but that requires at least four hours, serious endurance, and gear for the winter conditions that persist year round at that elevation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bundle up as it gets chilly when you pull up close to the actively calving Aialik Glacier.  You will be tempted to try capturing it all on your camera, but take some time to experience the action with your eyes, not through a viewfinder. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/kefj/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None at Exit Glacier; boat tours cost about $200 per person

Road Conditions

The roads to Exit Glacier and Seward, Alaska are paved.

Camping

Two public-use cabins are available for rent in the summer and only accessible by water.  A free 12-site, walk-in tent campground is available at Exit Glacier, plus a winter-use cabin.  There are multiple RV parks in Seward, Alaska, a beautiful place to spend a few days fishing and visiting the Alaska SeaLife Center (recommended to do before your boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park).

Related Sites

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

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

This design we created to celebrate Kenai Fjords National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Who is Rockwell Kent and what is his connection with Resurrection Bay (hint: check out our Top 10 list of Alaska non-fiction books)?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.