National parks in the US are some of the most sought-after destinations in the world, but they also serve some incredible purposes. National parks help preserve some of the nation’s most beautiful natural landscapes, protect countless species of indigenous wildlife, and educate, inspire, and bring joy to the millions of visitors to the parks every year. From the Grand Canyon, to Yellowstone, to the Great Smoky Mountains, 63 national parks span the country preserving the natural environment and opening it up for the public to experience. Whether you enjoy hiking, history, nature, or just taking in the beautiful scenery, BusBank’s comprehensive overview of the national parks will help you plan your next national parks charter bus trip.
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When most people think about the national parks, they immediately conjure up images of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or perhaps Sequoia National Park, but national parks aren’t all about sweeping canyon vistas and towering mountains. In the Northeast region, you can find stunning coasts, dramatic inlets, and rocky cliffs at Acadia National Park. Primarily located on Mount Desert Island in Main, visitors will encounter stony shores, rugged trails, and granite peaks carved by glaciers during the last ice age. If you’re looking to go camping, spot some whales, take in the sweeping views of the Northern Atlantic coast, or witness the stunning fall foliage, Acadia National Park is for you.
Travelers in the southern part of the region will want to check out Shenandoah National Park. Located approximately 75 miles from Washington D.C., and likewise accessible from cities like Richmond, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and more. One of the biggest draws of this park is Skyline Drive which stretches for over 100 miles and offers scenic views of the Piedmont area, Shenandoah Valley, and Blue Ridge. Scenic overlooks can be found every few miles along the drive providing spectacular views of the hills, valleys, and seasonal forests.
The newest national park, New River Gorge, is located in West Virginia and is perfect for history lovers, nature lovers, or those seeking a whitewater rafting adventure. The 63rd national park is home to 100 miles of trails, world-famous whitewater passages along New River, and several points of interest like New River Gorge Bridge, Sandstone Falls, Grandview, Nuttallburg, and more.
The Southeast region is a dynamic region that allows visitors to experience something unique and different from one national park to the next – from a deep and sprawling cave system to sunny tropical waters and everything in between. Located near Charleston, Augusta, and Charlotte, Congaree National Park’s beautifully haunting old-growth bottomland hardwood forests offer visitors a choice: brave the rugged trails through challenging wetlands or simply take an easy stroll down the famous Boardwalk that runs through the park. Further north, in Tennessee, visitors can find the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the nation. Endless sprawls of undisturbed hills and mountains featuring scenic drives, hiking opportunities, and famous destinations like Clingman’s Dome, Newfound Gap, Cades Cove, and more, are all within reach of the amenities and entertainment found in nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Further north still, between Nashville and Louisville, is Mammoth Cave National Park. Stretching for over 400 underground miles, Mammoth Cave is the world’s most expansive cave system. Visitors to Mammoth Cave National Park can embark on some of the many guided tours through the ancient and alluring caves themselves, or seek adventure above ground along the Green River or throughout the park’s many trails.
Visitors in the south will be treated to something totally different. Coastal and offshore national parks like Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and Virgin Islands National Park treat millions of visitors to untouched shorelines, historical forts, peaceful islands, and adventures at sea. If you’re looking to explore the reefs, swim with sea turtles, or simply bask in the sun on palm-lined fine-sand beaches, you won’t want to miss these National Parks.
From the striking geological deposits and rich fossil beds of Badlands National Park, to the labyrinth of island-dotted waterways of Voyageurs National park, the midwest region is home to much more than just the low-lying plains and croplands people tend to imagine. Isle Royal National Park on Lake Superior near the Canadian border consists of some 400 islands featuring rocky shorelines, picturesque coniferous forests, and a diverse array of northern wildlife. On the shores of nearby Lake Michigan travelers can find Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. You may not expect to find either sand dunes or beaches in Indiana but visitors to this hidden gem of a national park will be treated to sweeping lake views and fine-sand shores. Near Lake Erie, right in the middle of Cleveland and Akron you can find Cuyahoga Valley National Park, home to spectacular overlooks, towering waterfalls, and prehistoric geological formations.
For a change of pace, visitors should look to Gateway Arch National Park, the smallest and one of the newest-named national parks in the country. Conveniently located in downtown St. Louis near the starting point of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, Gateway Arch National Park showcases the city’s role as the gateway to the west. Whether you’re looking to experience the Arch itself, check out the museum, or simply stroll through the park, Gateway Arch National Park has something for everyone. The second smallest national park, Hot Springs National Park, is also packed with things to do and see, from enjoying the thermal springs to visiting the historic bathhouses to hiking the scenic trails. South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park is famous for its “boxwork” and “frostwork” calcite formations. Above ground, travelers to this park can enjoy the rolling prairies and forested hillsides where wildlife like elk, bison, pronghorn, mule deer, and prairie dogs freely roam.
Stretching from the northern border all the way to the country’s southern border, the Intermountain Region is where you can find a wide range and a large number of national parks ranging from Glacier National Park’s alpine landscapes in the north to Big Bend National Park’s dramatic desert biomes in the south.
One of the most popular parks not only in the region but in the country, Yellowstone National Park, is filled with iconic points of interest including the Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring, Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, and Norris Geyser Basin. Grand Teton National Park, also located in Wyoming, is a great place for hiking, boating, climbing, or just taking in the natural splendor of the over 300,000 acres of pristine mountainous landscape.
Arches National Park in Utah boasts some of the most famous (and most photographed) natural arches in the world. Utah is also home to Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park, which feature a symphony of geological formations including badlands, smooth canyons, and natural arches.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is another of the most popular and iconic national parks, but what many people don’t realize is just how much there is to do in this national park. Visitors can enjoy the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the Historic District, Havasupai Falls, Desert View Drive, North Rim, and more. Whether you want to take a guided tour of the canyon or simply take in some of the most stunning views in the country, Grand Canyon National Park is the place to go. Arizona is also home to Petrified Forest National Park, a unique park featuring petrified trees that once grew on the site over 200 million years ago.
For a different sort of canyon, Colorado is home to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park where travelers can find rich and vegetated canyons carved into Precambrian rock over countless centuries by the Gunnison River. Colorado is also home to Rocky Mountain National Park where visitors can experience one of the tallest national parks with a peak elevation of more than 14,000 feet. Tall Ridge Road makes it easy for anyone to get a glimpse of some of the park’s spectacular views. Visitors should also check out Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, Old Fall River Road, Mills Lake, and more.
In nearby New Mexico, travelers can experience Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands National Park. Carlsbad Caverns National Park features a series of over 100 caves within the Chihuahuan desert in the southern part of the state. These caves are famous for the massive stalactites found within. Nearby White Sands National Park features dramatic and otherworldly sand dunes with chalk-white sand composed of gypsum crystals.
Home to some of the most famous and most visited national parks, the Pacific West offers travelers the opportunity to take in a good number of national parks all within relatively close proximity. Mount Rainier National Park in Washington invites you to spend some time in paradise – literally! Paradise is a beautiful section of the park that is home to glacial waterfalls and stunning wildflowers in the warmer months crisp, piney, snow-capped trails in the cooler months. Visitors to the park should also visit Myrtle Falls, Reflection Lake, Narada Falls, and Patriarch’s Trail. Overlooks and passes like Cayuse Pass, Chinook Pass, Ricksecker Point, and Sunrise Point, allow everyone to witness stunning panoramic views from thousands of miles above sea level. The state is also home to North Cascades National Park, where visitors are treated to dramatic mountain vistas, and the famous turquoise waters of Diablo Lake, and Olympic National Park, where you can experience lush coastal trails and moody smooth-stone shores.
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon was formed by the collapse of the ancient volcano Mount Mazama. A road called the Rim Drive encircles the lake and affords visitors incredible views of the lake, Wizard Island, and the many volcanic formations.
California is home to a staggering nine national parks. The largest park in the state and in the contiguous United States is Death Valley National Park. Spanning over 3 million acres, this park is one of extremes – extreme temperatures, extreme elevations, and extreme geological features. Joshua Tree National Park is another otherworldly park that exists at the ecological crossroads of the high Mojave Desert and the low-lying Colorado Desert, which results in a famously alien array of flora and fauna including the bristled Joshua trees for which the park is named.
One of the most visited national parks in the state is Yosemite National Park which attracts over ten thousand visitors a day! As with many of the parks in this guide, Yosemite will require several days to see it all. Travelers won’t want to miss Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Tunnel View, Glacier Point, El Capitan, or Bridalveil Fall. Whether you enjoy hiking, climbing, camping, biking, history, or just taking in the beauty of the over 1,000 square miles of nature, Yosemite is a national park you won’t want to miss.
North of Los Angeles is Sequoia National Park and even further north toward the Oregon border is Redwood National Park where you want to head if you want to see some of the largest trees in the world. Coastal Redwoods in Redwood National Park have the edge when it comes to height, but Sequoias are much wider. Either way, you will be treated to some of the most impressive forests in the world. For an adventure at sea, travelers should visit Channel Islands National Park. Consisting of five islands off of the coast of Southern California, Channel Islands National Park is an untouched wonder that is accessible by ferries from Ventura or Oxnard.
For some of the more adventurous travelers, more natural treasures abound in Alaska and Hawaii. Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui is home to some of the most beautiful sunsets, some of the most dramatic and beautiful coastal roads, and some of the most unique flora and fauna such as the nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) and the the ‘ua’u (Hawaiian Petrel). Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about an hour south of Hilo, is home to volcanic craters, rainforests, petroglyphs, deserts, and even active volcanos including Kilauea which is considered the world’s only “drive-in volcano.”
Alaska is home to the second greatest number of national parks after California. Denali National Park features iconic views of the mountains, up-close adventures with wildlife, and even the opportunity to snowmobile through the park in the winter months. Gates of the Arctic National Park in the far north is indeed a cold and snow-beset park in the winter, but during the warmer months the park because a popular place for hikers, ornithologists, kayakers, or anyone who wants to take in the crisp and picturesque northern views. Katami National Park is a famous park for bear-watching, and Kenai Fjords National Park offers guests the chance to explore stunning waterways along Alaska’s dramatic fjords and take in views you won’t find anywhere else outside of Scandinavia. Finally, the largest national park in the state and in the United States is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Spanning more than 13 million acres and several dynamic biomes from tundra to temperate rainforest, this park offers a taste of all of Alaska in one park.