Tag Archives: Top 10

Top 10 Desert NPS Sites

Many National Park Service (NPS) sites are closed during the winter months, but that is often the best time to visit the places that are too hot to enjoy in the summer.  North America has four named deserts: the Mojave, Sonoran, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan (all are represented in the list below).  When you think of these deserts do not picture sand dunes and desolation.  American deserts have a surprisingly diverse array of vegetation and wildlife adapted to their tough conditions, as you will see if you follow the links for our articles on each NPS site.  Click here to see all our Top 10 Lists.

10. Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

There are many interesting cacti to learn about here other than its fantastic namesake saguaro

9. Mojave National Preserve (California)

More than 1,000 miles of roads access 1.6-million acres of Joshua tree forests, sand dunes, and mountain ranges

8. White Sands National Park (New Mexico)

The newest National Park (established December 2019) is a fun place to go sledding year round

7. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona-Utah)

Explore slot canyons and Rainbow Bridge National Monument by boat on Lake Powell

6. Arches National Park (Utah)

Home to 2,500 wind-carved holes (minimum size of three feet) in its famed orange sandstone

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (Nevada-Arizona)

More than just the Hoover Dam; hot springs and canyons invite exploration

4. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Named for a curve in the Rio Grande, the landscape dries out quickly farther from the river

3. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Four distinct units will inspire you to return multiple times to this unique park

2. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

28 species of cacti are found in this beautiful Sonoran Desert expanse

…and finally our #1 desert NPS site:

1. Death Valley National Park (California-Nevada)

Its large size and wide elevation range (-282 to 11,049 feet) make this the most distinctive park on this list

Honorable Mentions

Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Named for a desert, but much of this park is actually in high-elevation forests

Joshua Tree National Park (California)

Unfortunately its namesake yucca may go extinct within its boundaries due to climate change

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

A great place to spend the night since there is no camping at neighboring Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Top 10 NPS Sites to See America First

During the 1930s, there was a travel advertising campaign with the promotional tagline “See America First.”  It was created because many Americans were taking their tourism dollars overseas and never exploring their home country.  With international travel currently restricted due to the pandemic, there has never been a better time to discover the United States of America.  Below we present more than a dozen famous world travel destinations with their similar National Park Service (NPS) counterparts.  For more vacation ideas within American borders, check out all of our Top 10 Lists.

The NPS system also contains some of the world’s best caves (Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Timpanogos Cave National Monument) and places to watch active lava flows (Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park).  Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

10. European Alps and Torres del Paine, Chile

Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

See and climb iconic mountain spires in Wyoming or visit California’s three National Parks in the Sierra Nevadas (Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite).

9. Cappadocia, Turkey

Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)

Native Americans also carved out homes from soft tufa rock between AD 1150 and 1550.

8. Tropical Caribbean Islands

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Snorkel in turquoise waters at the farthest west Florida Key, or go fully tropical as the NPS also manages Virgin Islands National Park.

7. Canadian Rockies

Glacier National Park (Montana)

Great hiking and backpacking is found throughout this park and another that borders Canada: Washington’s North Cascades National Park.

6. Amazon River

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Boats provide the best means to explore this subtropical wilderness with incredible wildlife diversity.

5. Iceland’s geysers and hot springs

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

About 75% of the world’s geysers are found within this one park, and similar geologic wonders can be found at California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park.

4. Lascaux Cave art in France

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

The 3,000-year-old Great Gallery stretches over 200 feet at the bottom of Horseshoe Canyon, or check out the pictographs in Texas’ Amistad National Recreation Area.

3. New Zealand and Norway’s tidewater glaciers

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Witness one of nature’s great spectacles here or at Kenai Fjords National Park (also in Alaska).

2. Galapagos Islands

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Similarly, cold ocean currents create ideal conditions for wildlife above and below the high tide line.

…and finally our #1 place to See America First:

1. African safari

Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Large herds of grazing animals with associated predators can be found in central Alaska or Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

Honorable Mentions

-Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Hexagonal rock columns form when lava cools under certain conditions (they can also be found outside Hong Kong).

-Mayan and Aztec pyramids, Mexico

Poverty Point National Monument (Louisiana)

Named a World Heritage Site in 2014, these 72-foot tall earth mounds were the largest man-made structure in North America about 3,700 years ago.

-Hot springs

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Everyone loves to soak in a hot spring, either undeveloped (like at Yellowstone National Park) or part of a resort (Olympic National Park).

-Changing of the Guard in London, England

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery (Virginia)

This ceremony takes place adjacent to an NPS site: Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee National Memorial.

Top 10 Native American NPS Sites

Whether you refer to the inhabitants of pre-European America as indigenous people, American Indians, or Native Americans, you can learn much more about their diverse cultures at numerous National Park Service (NPS) sites.  Many of these amazing places are located in the southwestern U.S., but we made sure our top 10 list spanned the entire nation.  Click here to check out all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Ohio)

Earth mounds and artwork from 2,200 years ago

9. Pipestone National Monument (Minnesota)

Red quartzite rock is still mined here by American Indian artisans

8. Poverty Point National Monument (Louisiana)

Enormous earth mounds built by hand starting 3,700 years ago

7. Hovenweep National Monument (Utah -Colorado)

Fascinating assemblage of architecture on the Utah-Colorado border

6. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park (Georgia)

A massive earthen mound and reconstructed earthlodge in Macon, Georgia

5. Sitka National Historical Park (Alaska)

Tlingit and Russian history are both preserved in Alaska’s prettiest city

4. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (Hawai’i)

Indigenous Hawaiian culture is celebrated at this reconstructed village

3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

All roads led to this ceremonial center a thousand years ago

2. Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)

Climb ladders into rooms carved by hand into soft volcanic tufa rock

…and finally our #1 Native American NPS site:

1. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

Numerous cliff dwellings blend seamlessly with their environment

Honorable Mentions

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (Texas)

Human history dates back 13,000 years at this surface mine

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site (North Dakota)

Walk inside the spacious earthlodge reconstruction near the Missouri River

Aztec Ruins National Monument (New Mexico)

Enter a reconstructed great kiva and walk through beautiful ruins

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

A pretty spot where the Nez Perce and U.S. Army fought on the morning of August 9, 1877

Top 10 Waterfalls in the National Park Service System

Who doesn’t love a beautiful waterfall?  America’s National Park Service (NPS) sites are full of some of the prettiest examples of flowing water in the world.  A few can be seen from drive-up overlooks, while others require a hike, but they are all worth the effort.  We already ranked the best waterfalls of the 62 National Parks and now are releasing a top 10 list for the other 358 NPS units (click here to see all our Top 10 lists).

10. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

The Cascade Mountains are named for their waterfalls, including Rainbow Falls in Stehekin.

9. Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (New Jersey)

Unobstructed views of this 77-foot tall waterfall are difficult to find in its urban setting.

8. Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Hemmed-In-Hollow features a 210-foot tall waterfall, accessible by a long hiking trail or a shorter walk from the river.

7. Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

St. Anthony Falls is the only true waterfall on the entire river, plus check out the falls in Minnehaha Regional Park.

6. Delaware Water Gap (Pennsylvania-New Jersey)

Raymondskill Falls and Dingmans Falls are located at the end of short hikes in the Poconos.

5. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

Short hikes lead to Munising Falls and Sable Falls, or boat to falls along the cliffs of Lake Superior.

4. Niobrara National Scenic River (Nebraska)

Pull ashore on your float down the river to visit waterfalls in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Falls State Park.

3. Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (California)

Four scenic waterfalls (Whiskeytown, Boulder Creek, Brandy Creek, and Crystal Creek) are accessible by hiking a total of 11 miles.

2. Little River Canyon National Preserve (Alabama)

The wide Little River Falls plunges 45 feet, but Graces High Falls drops 133 feet.

…and finally our #1 waterfall in a National Park Service unit:

1. Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Rainbow Falls is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in the world, plus check out Minaret Falls.

Honorable Mentions

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Maryland-Virginia)

Great Falls Park on the Potomac River also contains ruins of George Washington’s Patowmack Canal.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Yahoo Falls is one of several waterfalls visible within this diverse park.

Lowell National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

It is manmade, but the waterfall created by the Lower Locks in downtown Lowell is still beautiful.

Top 10 Waterfalls in the 62 National Parks

Who doesn’t love a beautiful waterfall?  America’s 62 National Parks are full of some of the prettiest examples of flowing water in the world (dry Death Valley even has Darwin Falls).  A few can be seen from drive-up overlooks, while others require a hike, but they are all worth the effort.  Niagara Falls is in the nation’s oldest State Park and photogenic Havasu Falls is actually outside of Grand Canyon National Park, so they did not even make the list.  We will release a ranking of the other 358 National Park Service units, but first check out our Top 10 National Parks for waterfalls (click here to see all our Top 10 lists).

For more information on visiting all 62 National Parks, check out our travel guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

10. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Not known for its waterfalls, this park has Alberta Falls, Calypso Cascades, Ouzel Falls, Fern Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and many others.

9. Katmai (Alaska)

Brooks Falls is not the highest waterfall, but it does bring together brown bears and salmon.

8. Mount Rainier (Washington)

Silver, Cougar, Narada, and Comet Falls are just some of the countless cascades fed by melting glaciers.

7. Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

Brandywine Falls is the most spectacular, but don’t miss Blue Hen or Bridal Veil Falls either.

6. Haleakalā (Hawai‘i)

180-foot tall Falls at Makahiku and 400-foot Waimoku Falls are both seen along the Pīpīwai Trail.

5. Shenandoah (Virginia)

A hike is required to access any of the park’s cascades, including the numerous falls along the 8.2-mile Cedar Run/Whiteoak Circuit.

4. Kings Canyon (California)

Mist Falls lives up to its name and is worth the hike, plus check out Roaring River Falls at the end of a half mile trail.

3. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Ramsey Cascades tops our list of the numerous falls you can hike to in this incredible park.

2. Yosemite (California)

There are countless massive waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, plus a couple great ones in Hetch Hetchy.

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

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River is our favorite waterfall, whether viewed from the brink or Artist’s Point.

Honorable Mentions

Olympic (Washington)

You might expect bigger waterfalls in the wettest place in North America, but Sol Duc Falls and Elwha Falls are still worth checking out.

Grand Teton (Wyoming)

Hidden Falls is a great stop on the popular hike to Inspiration Point and into Cascade Canyon.

Glacier Bay (Alaska)

Summer snowmelt feeds the numerous unnamed cascades in Glacier Bay, much like Kenai Fjords National Park.

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