Alright, full disclosure: There are a ton of National Parks that we could add. It’s hard to say that any ONE park is the BEST park. What’s not to love about Yosemite’s Half-Dome or the Grand Canyon’s… well, GRAND canyon? And the Great Smokey Mountains! One of the most mind-blowing network of trails on the planet! But try we must. So here’s our super-scientific, definitely not-subjective list of Best National Parks:
Best For Epic Views: Glacier National Park
With more than a million acres of forests, alpine meadows, lakes, rugged peaks and glacial-carved valleys in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park has no shortage of jaw dropping views. Bonus: cross the border to explore the Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada. It’s all part of the same range (because borders are a human thing, not a nature thing).
Best For Camping Under the Stars: Joshua Tree
Big rocks, dark skies, and some really freakin’ cute “trees.” There’s no better place to catch nature’s celestial spectacular than Joshua Tree National Park, the mystical rock field at the nexus of two great deserts. Plan your trip around a meteor shower and don’t forget to pack layers (it’s the desert!).
Best For Getting Wet: Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park actually has four different regions – the epic Pacific coastline, the western temperate rainforest, the alpine regions and the drier eastern forests. On the west side of the park is Hoh Rain Forest, where rainfall (12-14 feet annually!) and a lush canopy of coniferous and deciduous trees create perfect rainforest conditions for mosses and ferns to flourish.
Best For Tacos: Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is split into two sections that straddle Tuscon, AZ, making it an excellent park for people who love a taco pit-stop. On the East side, start at the Douglas Spring Trail and head up to Wild Horse Tank, then hit up Street Taco and Beer Co (free chips!) in downtown Tucson, then head to the West side to catch the King Canyon Trail before the sun goes down. The namesake Saguaro cacti abound.
Best For Solitude: Channel Islands National Park
Off the coast of Central California are five remote islands where island foxes reign supreme and there’s no such thing as cell service. The only way to get to the Channel Islands is by boat, and once you’re there it’s just you and your legs. Camping is available on all five islands, with some spots a half-day’s hike in. But it’s all worth it for a true off-the-grid experience and run-ins with the locals: The Channel Island Fox, the smallest (and cutest) fox on the planet.
Best For Rocks: Death Valley National Park
Before joining the Toad team, our Office Manager, Sarah, was a geologist by trade, running all over the US looking at rocks. So according to our resident expert, “Death Valley National Park has some of the most insane rocks.” These sedimentary rocks make up the hottest, driest place in the USA and consist primarily of sandstone, limestone, conglomerate, hornfels, and marble. They date back to the Triassic Age and you can actually see the markings in the rocks from earthquakes that happened millions of years ago. Now that rocks! (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves).
Best For Craft Beer: Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is unique in that it shares Maine’s Mt. Desert Island (pronounced “dessert”) with a handful of 19th century fishing villages. Located along the Atlantic Coast, Acadia is surrounded by picturesque towns and harbors that you’ll drive through (or bike through!) as you drive the Park Loop Road. Stop in Bar Harbor to try Atlantic Brewing Company and Bar Harbor Beerworks. When you’ve gotten back to the mainland, hit up Fogtown Brewing in Ellsworth – all 3 come highly recommended from the Toads in our Freeport, ME store.
Best For Kayaking: Kenai Fjords National Park
Thanks to the food-rich waters in the Kenai Fjords, this national park is known for its lively residents of sea otters, humpback whales, dolphins and orcas. Get set up with a kayaking tour out of Seward, AK (we recommend a guide as the tides can be tricky) and dip your paddle into Aialik Bay or Bear Glacier Lagoon.
Best For Mountain Biking: Arches National Park
“The best mountain biking is in Moab, hands down. Plus, they have wild porcupines!” That review comes from Napper, our Creative Director, and with good reason: With over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, towers, and spinnakers in Arches National Park in Moab, UT has some of the best views you can see on a bike. To note: you can’t bike on hiking trails, but you can bike on paved roads (and you’ll want to – summer traffic can be brutal) and some dirt roads like Willow Flats Road and Salt Valley Road. There are also plenty of biking trails outside the park in nearby Moab.
Best For Vampires: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Described by Will Rogers as “The Grand Canyon with a roof,” New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns are a subterranean sensation. There are 119 known caves, with the grandest one of all, The Big Room, clocking in as the largest single chamber in North America! Wander the caves at your leisure but make sure you’re out before sunset to catch the great Bat Flight at the main entrance to the caverns. At sunset, thousands of Brazilian free tailed bats take to the skies in search of dinner. Don’t worry, you’re not on the menu… yet…
With 61 national parks in the United States, it’s hard to pick just one -– tropical islands, active volcanoes, soaring peaks, teeming wildlife refuges, apocalyptic sand dunes…. But if we had to say which National Park is the BEST, we’d say it’s the one you’re currently visiting. Every time.