Tag Archives: Top 10

Top 10 National Parks for Winter Recreation

Most of the 63 National Parks in snowy areas close their roads over the winter, but this allows for a variety of different recreation opportunities, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snow biking.  There are several National Parks that are actually best to visit in winter to avoid the heat (like Everglades and Saguaro), but this ranking focuses on those where snow adds to the experience.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Lassen Volcanic (California)

Winter lasts so long in this park, you might find you need snowshoes in July

9. Grand Teton (Wyoming)

When the park roads close, they become cross-country skiing and moose traveling routes

8. Mount Rainier (Washington)

Plows make sure the popular snow play area at Paradise is always accessible

7. Bryce Canyon (Utah)

It snows often at 7,000 feet in elevation, making the hoodoo formations even more beautiful

6. Denali (Alaska)

Dog sledding is how the National Park Service (NPS) rangers get around during the long winter

5. Voyageurs (Minnesota)

Ice fishing is such a draw when these lakes freeze over that the NPS even maintains an ice road

4. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

It is possible that the trailhead at Bear Lake is actually busier in the winter (also try the Wild Basin area)

3. Crater Lake (Oregon)

The lake is never prettier than when surrounded by snow and the entry road is plowed year round

2. Sequoia (California)

The orange bark of giant sequoia seems to glow when surrounded by snow

…and finally the #1 National Park Service site for winter recreation:

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Take a snow coach or snowmobile to the Winter Lodge at Old Faithful for a “bucket-list” experience

Honorable Mentions

Acadia (Maine)

The park’s 45 miles of carriage roads are ideal cross-country ski routes

Mesa Verde (Colorado)

Tours end in the winter, but we included it specifically for the one night in December when the NPS lights luminaries in the ruins

Kenai Fjords (Alaska)

There is a public use cabin located down the road to Exit Glacier open to snowmobilers by reservation

Badlands (South Dakota)

Nothing in this park really closes in the winter, but we think the formations are even prettier in snow

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 10 States for National Park Service Sites

When it comes to the distribution of the 423 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system, not all 50 states are represented equally.  For example, seven states (plus Washington, D.C.) contain 39% of NPS sites and our top-ranked state alone holds nine of the special places designated as one of the nation’s 63 National Parks.  On the other hand, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Delaware only have one NPS site apiece (as did Rhode Island until 2014 and Illinois until 2015).  To maximize your vacation time, head to one of these ten best states for NPS sites.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. New Mexico (15 NPS units, 2 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Bandelier National Monument

Hidden Gems: Chaco Culture National Historical Park, White Sands National Park

The prettiest cave in the NPS system, impressive ruins, and so much more

9. Pennsylvania (17 NPS units, 0 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Independence National Historical Park, Valley Forge National Historical Park, Gettysburg National Military Park

Hidden Gems: Steamtown National Historic Site, Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Similar to New York (23 NPS units), Pennsylvania focuses on its history, especially in Philadelphia

8. South Dakota (6 NPS units, 2 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Badlands National Park

Hidden Gems: Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Head underground to fully enjoy the Black Hills, plus go wildlife watching on scenic drives

7. Colorado (13 NPS units, 4 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park

Hidden Gems: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Dinosaur National Monument

Incredible natural beauty awaits in this mountainous state

6. Florida (11 NPS units, 3 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Everglades National Park, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Hidden Gems: Dry Tortugas National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore

Head for the coastline to enjoy this state’s beaches, wildlife, and historic forts

5. Arizona (22 NPS units, 3 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Grand Canyon National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Saguaro National Park

Hidden Gems: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Chiricahua National Monument

Visiting one of the natural wonders of the world is just the tip of the iceberg in Arizona

4. Hawai‘i (8 NPS units, 2 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Haleakalā National Park, Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

Hidden Gems: Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

Majestic volcanic scenery and some fascinating cultural sites

3. Alaska (23 NPS units, 8 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Denali National Park and Preserve, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Hidden Gems: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park

Unparalleled natural beauty and some of the most remote places on the planet

2. Utah (13 NPS units, 5 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park

Hidden Gems: Capitol Reef National Park, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Golden Spike National Historical Park, Natural Bridges National Monument

Red rock spectacles are only one aspect of this diverse state of mountains and deserts

…and finally the #1 state for National Park Service sites:

1. California (27 NPS units, 9 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Yosemite National Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Park

Hidden Gems: Death Valley National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, Devils Postpile National Monument, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park

The most National Parks (9 of 63) of any state, plus many interesting historic sites

Honorable Mentions

District of Columbia (23 NPS units, 0 National Parks)

Spotlight Parks: Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, National Mall

Hidden Gems: Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument

Washington, D.C. has the greatest concentration of NPS sites anywhere in the country

U.S. Virgin Islands (5 NPS units, 1 National Park)

Spotlight Parks: Virgin Islands National Park, Buck Island Reef National Monument

Hidden Gems: Christiansted National Historic Site, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument

These three small tropical islands include one of the nation’s best National Parks

Top 10 NPS Sites for Biking

Many visitors to the National Park Service (NPS) system bring along their bicycles to fully enjoy their vacation, planning to ride on paved pathways or bumpy trails.  Although some NPS hiking and horse trails are closed to bikes, many allow them and some have been built just for them.  For example, a paved bike trail now connects Jackson, Wyoming with Grand Teton National Park.  The NPS sites we chose for this list all have trails specifically designated for bicycle use.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

Moab, Utah is a mountain biking mecca and the 100-mile White Rim Road is a popular challenge

9. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Although excluded from Wilderness areas, there are plenty of other roads and trails to explore north of San Francisco

8. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

The park has several designated bike trails, including the 9-mile Calumet Bike Trail

7. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

Mountain biking the 32-mile Ferry Loop includes a ferry trip across the Green River, or try the 10-mile Mammoth Cave Railroad Bike and Hike Trail

6. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (Maryland-West Virginia-District of Columbia)

You can bike the entire 184.5-mile graded towpath that follows the Potomac River, camping at designated sites along the way

5. George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia)

The 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail passes NPS sites like Theodore Roosevelt Island and Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac

4. Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

A 72-mile bike path follows the mighty Mississippi River through Minnesota

3. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve (West Virginia)

Stone Cliff, Southside, Kaymoor, and Keeney’s Creek Rail Trail all track the New River, or try the 13 miles of mountain bike trails built by the Boy Scouts of America

2. Acadia National Park (Maine)

The 45 miles of carriage roads are excellent for biking, but remember to yield to horses

…and finally the #1 National Park Service site for biking:

1. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

A popular day trip is to bike 20 miles of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail then pick up the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for a cheap return ticket

Honorable Mentions

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Every spring when snow plows are working to clear roads, bicycles get exclusive access to the Great Loop Road, but come prepared because there are no services

Glacier National Park (Montana)

Many cross-country bikers choose to take Logan Pass (6,646 feet) across the Continental Divide, but keep in mind that the 50-mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed to bicycles between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Most trails are closed to bicycles, but there are designated times when Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motorists to allow bikers

Tiff at Great Basin National Park in Nevada

Top 10 National Park Service Sites for Swimming

Swimming at National Park Service (NPS) sites can range from soaking in hot springs to dipping in mountain lakes to riding ocean waves.  We tried to include a variety of experiences in this list, although if you love the beach be sure to check out our ranking of the Top 10 National SeashoresClick here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Olympic National Park (Washington)

If a frigid dip in Lake Quinault does not sound nice, then warm up at Sol Duc Hot Springs

9. Chickasaw National Recreation Area (Oklahoma)

The swimming hole at Little Niagara draws summer crowds, as does the Lake of the Arbuckles

8. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

Jenny Lake is shockingly cold, so it might not be appealing except on the warmest days

7. Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida-Mississippi)

Incredible white sand beaches, though not known for its big waves

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

The hot springs are all off limits except seasonally at the Boiling River near Mammoth Hot Springs

5. Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (Washington)

Another cold water spot in an incredibly clear lake that seems to glow turquoise in the sun

4. Haleakalā National Park (Hawai‘i)

In the coastal Kipahulu District, the freshwater Seven Sacred Pools attract tourists

3. Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

A variety of sea life is attracted to the human structures in the clear subtropical waters

2. Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)

Long stretches of beach, warm water, and awesome waves

…and finally the #1 National Park Service site for swimming:

1. Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)

A snorkeler’s (and sea turtle’s) paradise accessible right from the beautiful tropical beaches

Honorable Mentions

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

Swimming is not allowed within the NPS site, but one of the Big Island’s best snorkeling spots is next door

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

The foundation of a bathhouse still holds in hot springs water on the side of the Rio Grande

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (New Mexico)

Lightfeather and Jordan Hot Springs are actually in neighboring Gila National Forest

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

The truly adventurous can jump into an icy pool atop melting Root Glacier

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)