The Best US National Park Bucket List Ever

Table of Contents

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Everyone knows the national parks were America’s best idea, but it can be overwhelming planning a trip to them and deciding which to see and what to do at each.  Well, look no further.  This is the best national park bucket list ever. 

Not only does it include the best things to do in the national parks, but it’s broken down by park for even easier browsing. 

While Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains are in more than one state, technically, I just included them in the one that they are the majority in.

This national park bucket list is made up of personal experiences (things I’ve already done), popular trails and sights, things I would like to see and do, and trails that just sound interesting. 

If you have something you think I should add, let me know!  I want this to be the best list possible and love hearing your recommendations.

ocotillo and saguaro at saguaro national park

Two things you should do in every park that aren’t included on these lists are stop at the visitor centers and do the scenic drives. 

Of course, you usually have to do the drive to get to the trails and other sights, but do the whole drive if you can, not just up to where you need to go. 

On any drives listed on here that aren’t the implied main road, check road conditions before going and see what type of car is needed for the drive.  You can find that on the park websites or by asking at the visitor centers. 

cholla cactus garden at joshua tree national park

If the weather is bad or has recently been bad and you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, check trail conditions in the visitor centers before leaving, too.  And do not go into any slot canyons if it’s raining where you are or near you. 

If you’re not sure if you should go into a slot canyon, ask a ranger and use common sense.  If your gut says no, don’t go.  You don’t want to get caught in a flash flood.

National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals

Fiery furnace hike arches national park utah

Bucket list posts

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Alaska (8) national park bucket list

Planning an Alaska national park trip is very intimidating. The parks are huge, they’re remote and hard to get to, and they are expensive. But they’ll be worth every penny to experience.

If you are planning a trip to Alaska to work on your national park bucket list, these itineraries will be a major help in planning with logistics and activities.

Denali

  • Get a permit to do the Denali scenic drive
  • See the Big 5 (moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, grizzly bears)
  • See the Denali peak
  • Visit the Sled Dogs
  • Join an ATV tour
  • Hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail
  • Climb Mount Healey
  • Hike the Savage River Loop
  • Do a scenic flight
  • Bike the Denali Park Road
  • Explore the Savage River area
  • See the Northern Lights

Gates of the Arctic

  • Go backpacking (for experienced backpackers)
  • Do some birding
  • Do some paddling
  • See a muskox
  • See caribou
  • See bears
  • Do a flightseeing tour

Glacier Bay

  • See whales
  • Go kayaking
  • Do a flightseeing tour
  • Walk the Forest Trail in Bartlett Cove
  • Hike to Bartlett Lake
  • Do a boat tour
  • Hike the Bartlett River Trail
  • Explore the Bartlett Cove shore

Katmai

  • Do a flightseeing tour
  • Go bear watching
  • See bears catching salmon at Brooks Camp
  • See the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes
  • Try fishing
  • Go kayaking or canoeing
  • Go backpacking (not for beginners)

Kenai Fjords

  • Hike the Harding Icefield trail
  • Hike the Glacier View Loop trail
  • Hike to the Glacier Overlook to see Exit Glacier
  • Do a boat tour
  • See whales
  • See exit Glacier in winter on snowmobile or cross country ski
  • Go kayaking with a guide
  • Look for wildlife
  • Do a flightseeing tour

Kobuk Valley

  • Do a flightseeing tour
  • See the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes
  • See bears
  • See caribou
  • See moose
  • Go backcountry camping
  • Go backpacking (not the best for beginners)
  • Do a float trip

Lake Clark

  • Go backpacking (not great for beginners)
  • Do some bear watching
  • Hike to Tanalian Falls and Kontrashibuna Lake
  • Hike the Beaver Pond trail
  • Hike up Tanalin Mountain
  • Ride a fat tire bike on the lake in the winter
  • Go kayaking/canoeing

Wrangell – St. Elias

  • Do some sea kayaking
  • Do a flightseeing tour
  • Hike the Boreal Forest Trail
  • Hike the Copper River Bluff Trail
  • Hike the Bonanza Mine Trail
  • Hike the Jumbo Mine Trail
  • Hike the Root Glacier/Eerie Mine Trail
  • Hike to the toe of Kennecott Glacier and Kennecott Mill Trail
  • Hike along McCarthy Creek
  • Hike the Skookum Volcano Trail
  • Hike the Caribou Creek Trail
  • See Dall Sheep
  • See bears
  • See moose
  • See caribou
  • Do a flightseeing tour
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American Samoa national park bucket list

A national park a lot of people don’t even know about is American Samoa. This park is in the South Pacific and is made up of three main islands. The main draws here are hiking and snorkeling in the beautiful blue waters.

American Samoa

  • Go snorkeling (diving can be done, but there aren’t any tour operators so you need to bring all your own gear)
  • Hike the Pola Island Trail
  • Hike the Lower Sauma Ridge Trail
  • Hike the Fagatele Bay Trail
  • Hike the Le’ala Shoreline Trail
  • Hike the Tuafanua Trail
  • Hike the Mount ‘Alava Trail
  • Hike the Oge Beach Trail
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Arizona (3) national park bucket list

There are three Arizona national parks to add to your bucket list and they’re all amazing. Everyone knows the Grand Canyon, but I actually think I love both Saguaro and Petrified Forest more. Whichever you go to, these are all three very unique parks that definitely should not be skipped.

Grand Canyon

  • Do a mule ride into the canyon
  • Hike rim-to-rim
  • Spend a night (or two) at Phantom Ranch
  • Do a helicopter tour
  • See the Skywalk on the West Rim
  • Hike the Rim Trail
  • Hike the Bright Angel Trail
  • Hike to Plateau Point
  • Hike South Kaibab Trail
  • Hike the Hermit Trail
  • Hike to Shoshone Point
  • Enjoy the view from Hopi Point
  • Hike the Grandview Trail
  • Hike the North Kaibab Trail
  • Hike part of the Arizona Trail
  • Visit the Desert View Watchtower
  • Do a river rafting trip
  • Bike along the South Rim
  • Watch the sunrise at Mather Point
  • Admire the view from Mohave Point
  • Hike to Horseshoe Mesa
  • Take the train in from Williams

Petrified Forest

Saguaro

hot springs arkansas

Arkansas national park bucket list

Arkansas has just one national park and it’s not the biggest by any means but that doesn’t mean you should skip it! Hot Springs is another unique park that is part hiking, part historic bath houses. While a whole day or two is always best, you can still enjoy the highlights of Hot Springs with just a few hours.

Hot Springs

  • Relax in a hot spring bath
  • Take a traditional bath
  • Have a drink at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery
  • Drink the fresh spring water
  • Hike the Goat Rock Trail
  • Admire the fall colors
  • Go up the lookout tower
  • Hike the Gulpha Gorge Trail
  • Hike the Oertel Trail
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California (8) national park bucket list

California, like Alaska, is home to a whopping eight national parks, bucket list toppers for sure. They’re home to some of the most iconic American landscapes including Sequoias and Redwoods, all of Yosemite, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree.

You could definitely visit all eight parks on one trip but I would do it as one big California trip, not like, a two week southwest trip or something like that. You could add the southern parks like Channel Islands, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree to a southwest trip easily though.

Channel Islands

  • Camp on the islands
  • Go whale watching
  • Go snorkeling or diving
  • Go kayaking
  • Do some surfing (if you’re experienced)
  • Do some tidepooling
  • See the wildflowers in late winter/spring
  • See seals
  • See sea lions
  • Hike around Anacapa Island
  • Hike to Potato Harbor
  • Hike Scorpion Canyon Loop
  • Hike to Water Canyon Beach
  • Hike Water Canyon
  • Hike Cherry Canyon
  • Hike to the Torrey Pines
  • Hike to Elephant Seal Cove
  • Hike to the Sea Lion Rookery
  • Hike Signal Peak

Death Valley

  • See the Racetrack
  • See the Devil’s golf course
  • See Zabriskie Point
  • Do a Star Wars auto tour
  • Go stargazing
  • Go mountain biking
  • Visit Badwater Basin
  • Do the Artists Drive
  • Hike Golden Canyon
  • See the Charcoal Kilns
  • See Rainbow Canyon
  • Visit the Ubehebe Crater
  • Climb the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
  • Admire Dantes View
  • Hike the Badlands Loop
  • Hike the Natural Bridge Trail
  • Hike Mosaic Canyon
  • Hike Titus Canyon
  • Hike Sidewinder Canyon
  • Hike to Darwin Falls (but no swimming!)
  • Hike Desolation Canyon

Joshua Tree

  • Go stargazing
  • Do some horseback riding
  • Walk through the Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Hike the Hi-View Loop
  • See Skull Rock
  • Hike to Fortynine Palms Oasis
  • Hike Mastodon Peak
  • Hike the Panorama Loop
  • Hike to Lost Palms Oasis
  • See Arch Rock
  • Hike the Hidden Valley trail
  • Hike the Chasm of Doom
  • Hike the Hall of Horrors
  • Hike to Barker Dam
  • Hike the Creosote trail
  • Admire Keys View
  • Hike to Ryan Mountain
  • Hike to Warren Peak
  • See the wildflowers blooming
  • Drive the Geology Tour Road (4WD needed for the whole drive)
  • Kings Canyon

Lassen Volcanic

  • Drive Butte Lake Road
  • Drive Warner Valley Road
  • Drive Juniper Lake Road
  • Go kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding
  • Go stargazing
  • Do some Geocaching (in the park!)
  • Go snowshoeing in the winter
  • Hike through Bumpass Hell
  • Hike to Cold Boiling and Crumbaugh Lakes
  • Hike to Kings Creek Falls
  • Climb Lassen Peak
  • Hike to Mill Creek Falls
  • Hike to Ridge Lakes
  • Hike to Crags Loop
  • Hike to Echo Lake
  • Do the Lily Pond Nature Trail Loop
  • Hike to Manzanita Creek
  • Hike to Manzanita Lake
  • Do the Bathtub Lake Loop
  • See Boiling Springs Lake
  • Hike to the Devils Kitchen
  • Hike to Terminal Geyser
  • Hike to Horseshoe Lake

Redwood

Some of these activities are in the Redwood State park as they are listed together on the NPS website.  I have not differentiated which is in the state or national park. 

  • Drive Howland Hill Road
  • Drive Enderts Beach Road
  • Drive Requa Road
  • Do the Coastal Drive Loop
  • Do the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway
  • Do the Cal Barrel Road
  • Drive Davison Road
  • Drive Bald Hills Road
  • Go whale watching
  • Check out the tidepools
  • Walk the Simpson-Reed Trail
  • Do the Stout Memorial Grove Trail
  • Hike the Trillium Falls Trail
  • See the Lady Bird Johnson Grove
  • See Fern Canyon
  • Do the James Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon Loop

Sequoia + Kings Canyon

I have combined these two parks as this is how they are listed on the NPS website.  They are right next to each other

  • Explore the Grant Gove of sequoias
  • Visit the Redwood Mountain Grove
  • Find solitude in the Muir Grove
  • Camp in the Atwell Grove
  • Hike through the East Fork Grove
  • Attend the Dark Sky Festival
  • Climb Moro Rock
  • Do the Crystal Cave tour
  • Go snowshoeing in the winter
  • Do some rock climbing
  • Hike to Marble Falls
  • Hike the Lady Bug Trail
  • Hike the Garfield Grove Trail
  • See the General Sherman Tree
  • Do the Big Trees Trail
  • Hike to Tokopah Falls
  • Do the General Grant Tree Trail
  • Hike the North Grove Loop
  • Hikes up Buena Vista Peak
  • Hike Redwood Canyon
  • Hike up to Baldy Ridge
  • Walk to Roaring River Falls
  • Hike the Don Cecil Trail
  • Hike to Sheep Creek Cascade
  • Climb to Lookout Peak
  • Hike to the Cedar Grover Overlook
  • Hike to Mist Falls
  • Hike to Monarch Lakes
  • Hike to Crystal Lake
  • Hike to Franklin Lakes
  • Hike to Eagle and Mosquito Lakes

Yosemite

  • Score a Half Dome cables route permit
  • Admire Tunnel View
  • See Yosemite Falls
  • See Vernal Falls
  • Admire El Capitan
  • Climb El Capitan (if you’re a climber)
  • Admire the view from Glacier Point
  • See Bridalveil Falls
  • Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery
  • Hike the Mist Trail
  • See the Mariposa Sequoia Grove
  • Admire the view from Taft Point
  • Hike Lembert Dome
  • Admire Cathedral Peak
  • See Nevada Falls
  • Hike to Olmstead Point
  • Hike to Tenaya Lake
  • Go ice skating on Tenaya Lake (rare in the winter)
  • Explore Tuolumne Meadow
  • Explore Cooks Meadow
  • Go skiing or snowboarding in winter
  • See Horsetail Falls during the Firefall
  • Admire Valley View
  • Hike to Inspiration Point
  • See the densest sequoia grove in the park, Merced Grove
  • See Soda Springs
  • Do the Pothole Dome Hike
  • See Hetch Hetchy Falls
  • See Wapama Falls
  • Get away from the crowds on Tioga Pass Road
  • Go stargazing
  • Hike Lyell Canyon
  • Explore Yosemite Valley
  • Hike the Mirror Lake Loop
  • Hike the Valley Loop Trail
  • Hike the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail
  • Hike the Guardians Loop Trail
Great Sand Dunes National Park Colorado

Colorado (4) national park bucket list

II think Rocky Mountain National Park is the most well-known (and most popular for sure) national park in Colorado but the other three are incredible in their own ways.

Black canyon of the Gunnison literally looks like a painting in person, Great Sand Dunes is just incredibly massive sand dunes and who doesn’t like that, and Mesa Verda which is a great park for history buffs and anyone interested in Native American culture/history.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

  • Drive down to the bottom of the canyon
  • See a bear
  • Visit the lesser-visited North Rim
  • Hike the Oak Flat Loop Trail
  • Hike the Rim Rock Nature Trail
  • Go to the Black Canyon Astronomy Festival
  • Go stargazing

Great Sand Dunes

  • Go sandboarding
  • Climb the highest dune in the US (Star Dune at 750 feet)
  • Climb the other four dunes over 700 feet
  • Cool off in Medano Creek
  • Hike to Medano Lake
  • Hike to Sand Creek Lakes
  • Hike the Mosca Pass Trail
  • Go stargazing
  • Try sand sledding

Mesa Verde

  • See the ruins covered in snow
  • Do the Petroglyph Point Trail
  • Do a Balcony House Tour
  • Do a Cliff Palace tour
  • Attend the Luminaria
  • Do a Long House tour
  • See the Square Tower House (tour)
  • Do a Spring House guided tour
  • Do a Mug House tour
  • See Spruce Tree House
  • Explore the Far View Sites complex
  • Hike to the Step House Ruin
  • Attend the Luminaria (attempted this but it was cancelled)

Rocky Mountain

  • Drive Trail Ridge Road
  • Hike to Sky Pond
  • See Alberta Falls
  • See Cascade Falls
  • Hike to Bear Lake
  • Hike to Bluebird Lake
  • See Ouzel Falls (and an Ouzel)
  • Climb Flattop Mountain
  • See moose
  • See bighorn sheep
  • See a bear
  • Hike to Dream Lake
  • Hike to Emerald Lake
  • Hike to Nymph Lake
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Florida (3) national park bucket list

South Florida is where you’ll find all three Florida national parks so they can easily be visited on one trip, but one of them will require some planning pretty far in advance.

Everglades and Biscayne are the easiest to visit (be sure to visit Big Cypress, too!) but Dry Tortugas is expensive and hard to get to. It needs to be book almost a year in advance and it is not budget friendly.

BUT Dry Tortugas looks incredibly beautiful and is at the top of my own bucket list for national parks. A Florida national park road trip is a must and, even better, Everglades is home to some of the best easy hikes in Florida.

Biscayne

  • Do a boat tour
  • Camp on one of the keys
  • Visit Stiltsville
  • Visit Boca Chita Key
  • Kayak in the mangroves
  • Go fishing
  • Hike the mangrove trail
  • Try snorkeling
  • Go Geocaching (in the park!)
  • Snorkel/dive the Maritime Heritage Trail

Dry Tortugas

  • Take the seaplane
  • Camp on the island
  • Go snorkeling
  • See the crocodile
  • Explore Fort Jefferson
  • See the Windjammer Wreck
  • Visit Loggerhead Key
  • Go paddleboarding/kayaking on Garden Key
  • Go stargazing

Everglades

  • Hike the Anhinga Trail
  • Do a boat tour at Flamingo
  • Go kayaking at Flamingo
  • See a crocodile
  • See manatees
  • See alligators
  • Do an airboat trip
  • Go to the Pahayokee Overlook
  • Visit Shark Valley
  • Do a paddling trail on the Gulf side
  • Hike the Gumbo Limbo Trail
  • Go Geocaching (in the park!)
  • Do the Bayshore Trail

Everglades City tours

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Hawaii (2) national park bucket list

I’ve been to Hawaii twice but I haven’t been to either of the national parks yet. These parks will make you feel like you’re on the moon with all of the lava rock.

Both parks are great for hiking and culture and have some of the most memorable national park experiences, like watching the sunrise in Haleakala and seeing lava flow into the ocean at Hawaii Volcanos.

Haleakala

  • Go stargazing
  • Do some horseback riding
  • Bike down Haleakala (only if you’re comfortable biking)
  • Go paragliding
  • Watch the sunrise from the summit
  • Explore the summit area
  • See a rainbow in the park
  • Do some birdwatching
  • Drive the Road to Hana
  • Hike the Pā Ka’oao Trail
  • See Pepe’s Paint Pot
  • Do the Keonehe’ehe’e Trail
  • Hike the Halemau’u Trail
  • Visit Hosmer Grove
  • See honeycreepers, found nowhere else on earth
  • Do the Pīpīwai Trail
  • See the Pools at ‘Ohe’o

Hawaii Volcanoes

  • See lava flow into the ocean
  • See lava
  • Hike Napau Trail to Pu’u Hiluhulu
  • See the Pu’u Loa petroglyphs
  • See the steam vents
  • Hike to the top of Pu’u o Lokuana Cinder Cone
  • Hike the Kamakapa’a Trail
  • Bike the Palm Trail
  • Explore Mauna Ulu
  • Walk along the Keanakakāo’i Crater
  • See the Sulphur Banks
  • Hike the Halema’uma’u Trail
  • Hike the Crater Rim Trail
  • Do the Kīpukapuaulu loop hike
  • See the footprints and Maunaiki
  • See a Nēnē (Hawaiian Goose)
  • Hike the Kīluea Iki Trail
  • Visit the Thurston Lava Tubes
  • Go stargazing
  • See the Holei Sea Arch
  • Watch the sunset at Halemaumau Crater
Indiana dunes national park beach

Indiana national park bucket list

One of the newest national parks is also the only national park in Indiana: Indiana Dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan. This is a small park and what I call a “city park” because it’s basically in a city and you’re driving on regular roads, not just a scenic drive in the park.

This is definitely not a favorite of mine but it’s still beautiful and great for hiking. It’s not the most impressive park out there but it should definitely be on your national park bucket list.

Indiana Dunes

  • Hike the Dune Succession Trail
  • Hike the West Beach Trail
  • Hike the Long Lake Trail
  • Visit Indiana Dunes State Park
  • Enjoy Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Beach
  • See Mount Baldy
  • Hike the Cowles Bog Traik
  • Hike the Dune Ridge Trail
  • Hike the Pinhook Bog Trails
  • Bike the Porter Brickyard Bike Trail
  • Hike the Glenwood Dunes Trail
  • Relax at Lake View Beach
  • Hike the Great Dunes Trails
  • Hike the Heron Rookery Trail
  • Go horseback riding on the Glenwood Dunes Trail
  • Hike the Great Marsh Trail
  • See the Century of Progress homes
Photo by Margaret River

Kentucky national park bucket list

One of three cave national parks in the US is also the only national park in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s the longest cave in the US and offers a variety of styles of tours for all types of adventure. I love caves so this is high on my bucket list for national parks.

Mammoth Cave

  • Do a Historic Tour
  • Do the Gothic Avenue Tour
  • Do a Violet City Lantern/Star Chamber Tour
  • Do the Mammoth Passage Discovery tour
  • Do the River Styx Tour
  • Do the Frozen Niagara Tour
  • Do the Domes and Dripstones Tour
  • Do the Grand Avenue Tour
  • Do the Wild Cave Tour
  • Hike the Sloan’s Crossing Pond boardwalk
  • See the River Styx Spring
  • Hike the Heritage Trail
  • Hike the Green River Bluffs
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Maine national park bucket list

Ahh, Acadia, another park high on my own national park bucket list. This would be an amazing park to visit in the fall to see the leaves changing (another bucket list trip for me) and do all the hiking. It is the only national park in Maine (full national park status) and one of the few parks in the Eastern US.

Acadia

  • Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain
  • See the leaves change in the fall
  • Hear the thunder at Thunder Hole
  • Visit Sand Beach
  • Watch the sunset at the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
  • Do a ranger-led boat tour
  • Do a ranger-led bike tour
  • Do some tidepooling
  • Relax on Echo Lake Beach
  • Go horseback riding
  • Hike the Gorham Mountain Loop
  • Hike the Great Head Trail at Sunrise
  • Hike Bald Peak and Parkman Mountain
  • Hike Canada Cliffs Loop
  • Hike the Jordan Cliffs Loop
  • Hike the Jordan Pond Path
  • Hike the Norumbega Mountain Loop
  • Hike the Perpendicular and Razorback Loop
  • Hike the Beachcroft and Champlain South Ridge for sunrise
  • Hike the Beehive Loop
  • Hike the Penobscot and Sargent Mountain Loop
  • Hike the Precipice Loop
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Michigan national park bucket list

Isle Royale is Michigan’s only national park and it is great for water activities and backpacking trips. This is quintessential midwest nature in all of the best ways. The best way to experience the park is on the water, so be sure to do that in some way.

Isle Royale

  • Do a guided boat tour
  • Do some Scuba diving
  • Go fishing
  • Do a backpacking trip
  • Do some kayaking or canoeing
  • Take a seaplane
  • Visit the Rock Harbor area
  • Hike to Scoville Point
  • Climb Mount Franklin
  • Hike to Suzy’s Cave
  • Paddle (or boat) to Raspbeerry Island
  • Visit the Windigo area
  • Hike to Grace Creek Overlook
  • Hike the Windigo Nature Trail
  • Explore Washington Harbor by canoe
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Minnesota national park bucket list

Voyageurs is Minnesota’s answer to Isle Royale, another beautiful midwest park. A really cool thing to do here is drive the ice road in the winter. There are a lot more hiking trails here than Isle Royale but you really couldn’t go wrong with either one. Don’t skip adding these midwest parks to your national park bucket list.

Voyageurs

  • Do a guided tour
  • Go snowshoeing
  • See Kettle Falls
  • Drive in on the Ice Road in winter
  • Hike the Blind Ash Bay Trail
  • Hike the Echo Bay Trail
  • Hike the Kab-Ash Trail
  • Hike the Oberholzer Trail
  • Hike to Beaver Pond Overlook
  • See the Kabetogama Lake Overlook
  • Hike the Black Bay Trail
  • Hike the Anderson Bay Trail
  • Hike the Cruiser Lake Trail
  • Hike the Locator Lake Trail
  • Hike the Beast Lake Trail
  • Do some backpacking and camping
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Montana national park bucket list

Glacier is easily one of the best and most popular national parks and for good reason. It’s incredibly beautiful and a favorite for a lot of people. It’s the only national park in Montana, except for a sliver of Yellowstone, and you can even visit Canada from here!

Glacier

  • See bears
  • Visit Polebridge
  • Hike to Iceberg Lake
  • Hike to Avalanche Lake
  • Hike to Grinnell Lake
  • Go whitewater rafting
  • Hike Ptarmigan Tunnel
  • Go to Two-Medicine
  • Visit Waterton
  • Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Hike to St. Mary’s Falls
  • Hike to Hidden Lake Overlook
  • Hike down to Hidden Lake
  • Hike the Highline Trail
  • Hike the Johns Lake Loop
  • Hike the Grinnell Glacier trail
Great Basin National Park

Nevada national park bucket list

Great Basin is Nevada’s only national parks and it’s in my top five parks so far. I love it so much! This park is in the middle of nowhere and not on the way to anything. It’s literally on America’s Loneliest Road.

It’s home to the second highest peak in Nevada, the only glacier in Nevada, alpine lakes, and some of the oldest living things on Earth, Bristlecone trees. If this isn’t already on your national park bucket list, it needs to be.

Great Basin

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New Mexico (2) national park bucket list

New Mexico has two amazing national parks and one of them is in my top five parks as well, Carlsbad Caverns. Both are great but I love Carlsbad Caverns. These both make great additions to a West Texas road trip. I know White Sands is high on a lot of national park bucket lists and it’s definitely worth the trip.

Carlsbad Caverns

  • Walk in through the natural entrance
  • Do the Big Room loop
  • Do a Slaughter Canyon Cave tour
  • Do a Left Hand Tunnel Tour
  • Do a Lower Cave tour
  • Do a Hall of Giants Cave tour
  • Hike Rattlesnake Canyon
  • Hike to Guadalupe Ridge
  • Drive the Walnut Canyon Scenic Drive
  • Hike to Juniper Ridge

White Sands

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North Dakota national park bucket list

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a landscape similar to Badlands and Petrified Forest but a lot less people, so if you like either of those, this one needs to be on your bucket list for national parks.

Theodore Roosevelt

  • See bison
  • Visit the north unit
  • Visit the south unit
  • Go to the Dakota Nights Astronomy festival
  • Hike the Painted Canyon Nature Trail
  • Hike the Ridgeline Trail
  • Hike the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail
  • Hike to Sperati Point via the Achenback Trail
  • Hike to Caprock Coulee
  • Hike the Maah Daah Hey Trail
  • Hike the Petrified Forest Loop
  • See wild horses
  • See pronghorn
  • See a bobcat
  • See prairie dogs
  • See a badger
  • Do some birding
The ledges trail Cuyahoga valley national park

Ohio national park bucket list

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is another city park in the midwest. I didn’t have high expectations for it, and it’s not my favorite park, but it has one of my favorite national park hikes: The Ledges Trail.

It’s a great park for hikers and non-hikers alike and it’s super easy to get to. It’s particularly beautiful in the fall and you can find orchards here! While it’s not as grand as some western parks, it still deserves a spot on your national parks bucket list.

Cuyahoga Valley

  • See Blue Hen Falls
  • See Brandywine Falls
  • Hike the Ledges Trail
  • Hike the Boston Run Trail
  • Look for wildlife at Beaver Marsh
  • Bike the Towpath Trail
  • Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
  • Go stargazing
  • Go kayaking on the river
  • Go Questing
  • Go sledding in the winter
  • Hike to The Ledges Overlook
  • Admire the Old Carraige Overlook
  • Hike some of the Buckeye Trail
  • Hike the Pine Grove Trail
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Oregon national park bucket list

Crater Lake is a beautiful park that can be visited in both summer and winter for entirely different experiences. It’s not a huge park but it is very unique. Hit the trails, spend a night at the park lodge, and visit Wizard Island for a wonderful Crater Lake experience.

Crater Lake

  • Take a dip in the lake
  • Take a boat out to Wizard Island
  • Watch the sunrise over the lake
  • See Plaikni Falls
  • Stop at all of the overlooks
  • Stay at Crater Lake Lodge
  • Hike up Garfield Peak
  • Take the trolley tour
  • Go fishing
  • Hike part of the PCT
  • Hike the Cleetwood Cove trail down to the lake
  • Hike to Godfrey Glen
  • Hike the Wizard Summit trail on Wizard Island
hiking in congaree national park

South Carolina national park bucket list

The best way to experience this little park is to get on the water and do some kayaking or canoeing. If you’re super short on time, the boardwalk is a great easy hike. You could probably spend a couple days here, but one day would be plenty to get a good feel for the park.

Congaree

  • Do the boardwalk
  • Go kayaking/canoeing
  • Look for all the bugs
  • Hike the Weston Lake Loop Trail
  • Hike the Fork Swamp Trail
Wind Cave national park bison south dakota

South Dakota (2) national park bucket list

The Black Hills area of South Dakota is wonderful and it’s also home to two national parks! Badlands and Wind Cave are both great for seeing wildlife, have some hiking you can do, and of course, one has a cave to visit!

While you’re in the area, visit Jewel Cave National Monument, too. Wind Cave and Jewel Cave are the second and third longest caves in the US. (Lechugilla at Carlsbad Caverns is number four and Carlsbad Caverns itself is 15 in case you were wondering.)

Badlands

  • See bison
  • See prairie dogs
  • See bighorn sheep
  • Hike the Saddle Pass Loop
  • Hike the Notch Trail
  • Hike the Window Trail
  • Hike the Medicine Root Loop
  • See the Badlands covered in snow

Wind Cave

  • Do a candlelight tour
  • Hike to the highest point in the park at Rankin Ridge
  • See bison
  • See prairie dogs
  • Hike the Prairie Vista loop
  • Hike Wind Cave Canyon (#2)
  • Hike Cold Brook Canyon (#1)
  • Wind Cave Tour (with crawling)
  • Garden of Eden tour
  • Natural Entrance tour
  • Fairgrounds tour
farm in cades cove great smoky mountains national park

Tennessee national park bucket list

Next is Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the only national park in Tennessee and the most visited national park in the US. It sits at the opposite end of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Shenandoah making it nice and easy to visit both parks.

Though it is a long drive between the two, it’s worth it. While I think GSMNP should be on your national park bucket list no matter what, a visit in the fall will make it even better. Though it is extremely busy so keep that in mind. There is no bad time to go, really.

Great Smoky Mountains

  • See the fall colors
  • Drive the Blue ridge Parkway
  • Check out one (or all) of the Quiet Walkways
  • Hike to Clingmans Dome
  • Do the Alum Cave Trail
  • Escape the crowds on a winter visit
  • Hike part of the Appalachian Trail
  • See bears
  • Drive the Cade’s Cove Loop
  • Hike to Rainbow Falls
  • Hike to Charlie’s Bunion
  • Hike the Chimney Tops Trail
  • Get off the beaten path and see Mouse Creek Falls
  • See the Hen Wallow Falls
  • See the Juney Whank Falls
  • See the lightning bugs
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Texas (2) national park bucket list

These Texas national parks are parks you’ll have to work for. Tucked away in the middle of nowhere west Texas you’ll find Big Bend on the Mexican border and Guadalupe Mountains on the New Mexican border.

One is huge and overwhelming, the other small and silent. While Big Bend isn’t on the way to anything at all, Guadalupe Mountains is right by Carlsbad Caverns. You could easily visit these and the New Mexico parks on one trip.

Big Bend

  • Hike the Santa Elena Canyon trail
  • Cross the border to Boquillas, Mexico
  • Hike the Boquillas Canyon Trail
  • Do the Chisos Basin Loop Trail
  • Relax in the hot springs
  • Stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge
  • Hike the Lost Mine Trail
  • Do the Chimneys Trail
  • See Balanced Rock on the Grapevine Hills Trail
  • Hike Devil’s Den
  • Do the Mariscal Rim Trail
  • Hike the Mule Ears Spring Trail
  • Go stargazing

Guadalupe Mountains

  • Hike the Smith Springs Loop
  • Hike to Manzanita Springs at Frijole Ranch
  • Go backcountry camping
  • See a mountain lion
  • Hike McKittrick Canyon
  • Hike the Permian Reef Trail
  • Hike the Devil’s Hall Trail
  • Climb Guadalupe Peak
  • Hike The Bowl Trail
  • Do the El Capitan/Salt Basin Overlook Trails
  • Do the McKittrick Nature Trail
  • Visit the Dog Canyon area
  • Hike the Pinery Trail
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US Virgin Islands national park bucket list

Another park a lot of people probably don’t know about is the Virgin Islands National Park. This is another park that is best visited by water but it does have some hiking trails, too. This is one I would love to visit soon and might be able to easier since we’re in Florida now!

Virgin Islands

  • Do some boating
  • Go fishing
  • Snorkel in Hawksnest Bay
  • Relax on Cinnamon Bay Beach
  • Snorkel off of Cinnamon Bay Beach
  • Hike the Francis Bay Trail
  • Hike the Lind Point Trails
  • Hike the Salt Pond Bay and Ram Head Trails
  • Hike the Tektite Trail
  • Hike the Yawzi Point Trail
la sal mountains at sunset moab utah arches national park

Utah (5) national park bucket list

I will forever sing the praises of the Utah national parks because I love them so much and they should all be at the top of your national park bucket list. Ok, they don’t have to be but they are amazing and you can see five on one trip!

You’ll get to see some of the most iconic Utah scenery and national park views here, like Delicate Arch, The Narrows, and Angels Landing. These parks are great for hiking and adventure seekers.

Arches

Bryce Canyon

  • Hike the Fairyland Loop
  • Hike Queens Garden/Navajo Loop
  • See the waterfall at Mossy Cave
  • Go horseback riding
  • Hike the Peek-a-boo Loop
  • Go snowshoeing in the winter
  • Do a moonlight ranger-led hike
  • Watch the sunset at Sunset Point
  • Hike the Bristlecone loop
  • Hike the Rim Trail
  • Hike the Hat Shop Trail
  • Hike to Swamp Canyon

Canyonlands

  • Drive White Rim Road
  • Climb Whale Rock
  • See Mesa Arch at sunrise
  • Do a scenic flight
  • Hike to Aztec Butte
  • Hike Upheaval Dome
  • Admire Grand View Point Overlook
  • Stop at Newspaper Rock
  • See the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon
  • Go backpacking in the maze (not for beginners)
  • Do the Chesler Park Loop
  • Go rafting
  • Try mountain biking
  • Hike to Murphy Point
  • Hike to White Rim Overlook

Capitol Reef

Zion

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Shenandoah national park

Virginia national park bucket list

At the other end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is Shenandoah National Park, another eastern US park that is perfect for visiting in the fall. I didn’t love Shenandoah but we didn’t really get to hike because it was so busy.

This is a park thats high on my bucket list for national parks to go back and actually hit the trails. I would love to go back in the fall when its less rainy, too, but I’ll take what I can get.

Shenandoah

  • Drive Skyline Ridge
  • Hike part of the Appalachian Trail
  • See the leaves change in the fall
  • Go stargazing
  • See bears
  • Bike Skyline Ridge
  • Hike to Overall Run Falls
  • See Rose River Falls
  • Hike to South River Falls
  • See James Run Falls
  • Hike the Fox Hollow Loop
  • Hike the Lands Run Trail
  • Admire Mary’s Rock from Panorama
  • Hike White Oak Canyon
  • Hike the Rose River Loop
  • Hike to Dark Hollow Falls
  • Do the Bearfence Rock Scramble
  • Admire the view from Bearfence Viewpoint
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Washington (3) national park bucket list

Washington is a magical state. It has beaches, mountains, rainforest, and waterfalls galore and you can see all of that in its national parks. Really you could see all of that in just Olympic National Park.

All three Washington parks are super high on my own national park bucket list since I haven’t been to any of them yet, just Seattle when I was little.

Mount Rainier

  • Hike up Rampart Ridge
  • See Narade Falls
  • Admire thee view from Panorama Point
  • See thee wildflowers blooming
  • See Myrtle Falls
  • See Nisqually Glacier
  • Hike to Silver Falls
  • Admire the view from Reflection Lake
  • Hike the Skyline Trail
  • Hike to Snow Lake
  • Visit Grove of the Patriarchs
  • See Comet Falls
  • Do the Sourdough Ridge Nature Trail
  • Hike to Tipsoo Lake
  • Go snowshoeing in the winter
  • Hike the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail

North Cascades

  • Hike to Diablo Lake
  • Hike the Cascade Pass Trail
  • Hike the Hidden Lake Trail
  • Hike the Maple Pass Loop
  • Hike the Rainbow Loop
  • Hike the Thunder Knob Trail
  • Do some bird watching
  • Hike to Thornton Lake
  • Hike to Pyramid Lake
  • Hike to purple Creek/Juanita Lake
  • Do some backpacking
  • Camp in the park

Olympic

  • Check out the tidepools
  • See Shi Shi Beach
  • Camp at Shi Shi Beach
  • Hike the Hoh Rainforest
  • Get away from the crowds in the South Fork of the Hoh Rainforest
  • Visit Hurricane Ridge
  • See the High Steel Bridge
  • Admire Lake Crescent
  • Do the Mount Storm King Hike
  • See Sol Duc Falls
  • Explore First, Second, and Third Beaches
  • Visit Ruby Beach
  • Go backpacking in Enchanted Valley
  • Hike the Klahhane Ridge Trail
  • Visit Lake Quinault
  • Hike the Marymere Falls Trail
  • Explore Land of the Ancients
  • Visit the Quinault Rainforest
  • Explore Kalaloch Beach
  • Visit Rialto Beach
mammoth hot springs yellowstone national park

Wyoming (2) national park bucket list

Last, but certainly not least, Wyoming. Home to two of the most amazing national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. I really liked both of them but need to go back and see more of Yellowstone.

Ok, and hike more of Grand Teton since most of my experience with it was in the winter and you can’t do as much then. There are so many great things to do in Jackson which is a great gateway town (or Bozeman) for crossing both of these off your national park bucket list.

Grand Teton

  • See bears, wolves, moose, and bison
  • Take the ferry across Jenny Lake
  • Kayak on Jackson Lake
  • Paddleboard on String Lake
  • Climb Grand Teton (only for experienced climbers!)
  • Hike to Hidden Falls
  • Hike to Cascade Canyon
  • Go Rafting
  • See Cunningham Cabin
  • Check out Mormon Row
  • Do a Colter Bay boat tour
  • Admire the iconic Snake River Overlook
  • Visit Oxbow Bend
  • Admire the view from Schwabacher Landing

Yellowstone

  • See Old Faithful
  • Stay at the Old Faithful Inn
  • See the bubbling Mud Pots
  • Admire the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
  • See wolves, moose, bison, and bears
  • Walk the Mammoth Springs terrace
  • See Steamboat Springs erupt
  • Check out Grand Prismatic Spring (from the boardwalk and above)
  • See Norris Geyser Basin
  • See the Artist Paint Pots
  • Climb Avalanche Peak
  • Hike to Bunsen Peak
  • See Mystic Falls
  • Do a snow coach ride in the winter
  • Go snowmobiling in the winter

What’s on your national park bucket list?  Anything I should add to this national park bucket list?  What’s the coolest national park thing you’ve done?

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