Tag Archives: Top 10

Top 10 Museums Run by the National Park Service

Some National Park Service units 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.  You might recognize some names from our Top 10 National Historical Parks, National Monuments, and National Historic Sites.  We previously created a Top 10 list of our favorite museums at the 61 National Parks.

10. Colonial National Historical Park (Virginia)

An indoor French frigate makes Yorktown a must-visit museum

9. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (Ohio)

Follow the Aviation Trail to the Wright Brothers cycle shop and National Parachute Museum

8. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

This museum opened in 2017 to explain this incredible woman’s life

7. Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (Missouri)

A balanced look at a controversial U.S. President housed in his former barn

6. Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York-New Jersey)

Ellis Island and Lady Liberty (new museum opened in 2019) make an unforgettable day trip

5. Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

The museum opened in 2008, and pay extra for the excellent film and the Cyclorama painting

4. Fort Stanwix National Monument (New York)

A superb use of videos and kiosks to provide four different characters’ perspectives on the events of the American Revolution in Upstate New York

3. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Two entire airplane hangars full of aircraft and displays about these Civil Rights pioneers

2. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)

The best natural history museum in the entire National Park Service system

…and finally our #1 museum at a National Park Service site:

1. Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Visiting the National Prisoner of War Museum is a powerful experience


Honorable Mentions

Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado-Utah)

An indoor mountainside full of dinosaur fossils makes this place special

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

An excellent museum interprets the start of the global French and Indian War in 1754

Hopewell Culture National Monument (Ohio)

A small museum, but the artifacts are wonderfully displayed (and it has a great film)

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument (District of Columbia)

Like New York’s Women’s Rights NHP, this museum makes you think about modern issues

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

This museum will help you solve the mystery of the “Lost Colony” of 1590

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.

Top 10 Guidebooks to National Parks

Every major travel publisher (Fodors, Moon, Lonely Planet) has a guidebook to America’s National Parks, which all say the same things about where to go.  We recently published our first book to offer alternatives for those readers seeking to have unique National Park adventures.  You might guess where that one ended up on our Top 10 list, but we also recommend the following guidebooks. 

10. Wildlife Watching in America’s National Parks: A Seasonal Guide by Gary W. Vequist & Daniel S. Licht (2013)

Tips abound in 12 chapters that cover the best spot to see wildlife each month of the year with excellent color photos.

9. 10 Best of Everything: National Parks: 800 Top Picks From Parks Coast to Coast by National Geographic (2011)

Brief descriptions of parks in a variety of categories introduce readers to units in the National Park Service (NPS) system beyond the 61 National Parks.

8. 50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S. by Brent D. Glass (2016)

A historian chooses his top 50 iconic American spots to visit, many of which are in the NPS system.

7. Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into National Parks by Toney Allman, Jahnna Beecham, et al. (2007)

Beyond the funny stories, this book is actually full of interesting tidbits of information on National Parks that you might not learn anywhere else.

6. Ancient America: Fifty Archaeological Sites to See for Yourself by Kenneth L.  Feder (2016)

Many NPS units focus on archaeology and this succinct guide provides a solid background on many of the best sites spread across the country.

5. The West Less Traveled: The Best and Lesser Known Parks, Monuments, and Natural Areas by Jan Bannan (1996)

Out-of-print guide focused not solely on units in the NPS system that contains good detail on geology and ecology.

4. Guide to the National Park Areas: Eastern States by David L. Scott & Kay W. Scott (2004)

Out-of-print two-volume set includes all NPS units at the time, with great information for RV campers.

3. Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 59 National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald (2017)

An ambitious and in-depth exploration of the National Parks, including great detail on hiking trails and full-color maps.

2. Complete National Parks of the United States by National Geographic (2016)

Provides a brief description of all 400+ units in the NPS system, plus some of the affiliated sites.

1. A Park To Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks by Scott Sink & Tiff Sink (2019)

As far as we know, our guidebook is the first one to include Indiana Dunes National Park, established February 15, 2019.

Honorable Mentions

National Parks: A Kids Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments, and Landmarks by Erin McHugh (2012)

This full-color, graphic-oriented children’s book is perfect for anyone collecting the 56 quarters in the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful collection.

Guide to the National Parks of the USA by National Geographic (2016)

Of the major publishers, National Geographic does the best job of summarizing each park, plus they include color photographs.

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Top 10 National Park Logos

We have now created black-and-white designs for 50 National Parks, which are for sale on T-shirts and a variety of other products through Amazon and Café Press.  Each of the logos is special to us, but we wanted to share the ones we liked best (check out our other Top 10 Lists).  On our Café Press page, our original designs can be printed on mugs, pillows, stickers, and clothing.  With the holidays coming up, they might make the perfect gift for the National Park fan in your life.

10. Yosemite National Park (California) depicts the view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

9. Big Bend National Park (Texas) depicts a javelina in front of Balanced Rock

8. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska) depicts mountains looming above Lamplugh Glacier

7. Sequoia National Park (California) depicts a sequoia tree grove in the Giant Forest

6. Great Basin National Park (Nevada) depicts a bristlecone pine tree snag in front of Wheeler Peak

5. Zion National Park (Utah) depicts the view of the Virgin River valley from atop Angels Landing

4. Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas) depicts a mountain lion lying on Guadalupe Peak overlooking El Capitan

3. Isle Royale National Park (Michigan) depicts Lake Superior near Scoville Point

2. Channel Islands National Park (California) depicts Inspiration Point on East Anacapa Island

…and finally the #1 logo we have designed for a National Park!

1. Glacier National Park (Montana) depicts an hoary marmot at Hidden Lake Overlook near Logan Pass

Honorable Mentions

Canyonlands National Park (Utah) depicts Chesler Park in the Needles District

Joshua Tree National Park (California) depicts a Joshua tree growing in Hidden Valley Campground

Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado) depicts Long House on Wetherill Mesa

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Top 10 National Parks

Of the 419 units in the National Park Service system, only 61 have earned the most prestigious title of National Park.  While not all of them are equal, each of these special places is full of history and wildlife, while protecting some of America’s most treasured natural landscapes.  Here we have ranked our favorite National Parks, unfortunately being forced to leave out some truly iconic ones.  Click here to view more of our Top 10 lists.

Our first hardcopy guidebook to 50 National Parks will be released in October 2019!

10. Wrangell-St. Elias (Alaska)

Drive to McCarthy and walk on a glacier                

9. Grand Canyon (Arizona)

You don’t know it until you’ve been to the bottom

8. Everglades (Florida)

Get in a boat to really experience the ’Glades

7. Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico)

Spectacular cave and bat flight program

6. Great Sand Dunes (Colorado)

America’s sandbox is tons of fun

5. Virgin Islands (U.S. Virgin Islands)

A variety of activities await in this tropical paradise

4. Sequoia (California)

Visit the big trees in the snow

3. Capitol Reef (Utah)

Drive the dirt roads for the best scenery

2. Death Valley (California)

A wide range of elevations and sights

…and finally, our #1 National Park!

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming)

The world’s first is still the best

Honorable Mentions

Great Basin (Nevada)

Explore the alpine region and tour the cave

Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Everyone should drive Trail Ridge Road at least once