Top US National Parks
One of America’s greatest treasures is its National Park system. With their snowcapped mountains, sparkling shorelines, scenic trails and rustic campgrounds, America’s national parks attract more than 270 million visits each year.
Yellowstone was the first national park, designated in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Today, federal law has designated nearly 400 national parks, which cover more than 84 million acres in every state in the Union except Delaware. From Maine to California, here’s a look at ten of the top national parks within the contiguous United States. Why not visit one of them this 4th of July to truly experience America?
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Just an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital, Shenandoah National Park is a corridor of wooded oasis within the congested East Coast.
Popular activities in the Sheanandoahs include hiking along the Appalachian Trail or driving around the 105 miles of crested mountains known as Skyline Drive. For a July 4th visit, bring you patience along with your camera, as crowds are expected and campgrounds will be sold out.
The park is open year-round, although portions of Skyline Drive are closed for winter storms and at night during deer hunting season. Summer temperatures in Shenandoah Park are a comfortable 10-15 degrees cooler than in the valley below.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Rugged coastline, scenic lighthouses, historic carriage roads and the Atlantic seaboard’s tallest mountain are just some of the highlights of Acadia National Park. The first designated national park east of the Mississippi River, Acadia offers an up-close experience with mountain, forest and shoreline eco-systems.
An ideal time to visit the year-round park is during the summer. Moderate temperatures (highs in the low 80s, lows in the low 50s) and a host of ranger-led activities make Acadia a popular July 4th destination as well. For your Independence Day visit, plan to enjoy a boat cruise, hike, children’s program or evening guided walk.
Entrance Fees: $10-20 per private car (July and August are peak season, so expect the higher fee)
For more information: Visit http://www.nps.gov/acad/.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Visit the Grand Canyon and be amazed by its shear immensity and breathtaking beauty. Situated in the northwest corner of Arizona, the Grand Canyon is home to the mile-deep Colorado River, which splits the park into South and North Rims.
The South Rim, which plays host to 90% of the park’s visitors, is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and offers easy access to Interstate 40. The North Rim is open from May to October and is accessible only by car from Highway 67. Both rims feature unbeatable river rafting, guided tours, backcountry hiking, ranger programs and mule trips.
For a July 4th visit, expect comfortable temperatures in the South Rim — and even more moderate in the higher elevated North Rim. Be prepared, however, that down in the canyon, temperatures often exceed 105 F with frequent thunderstorms.
Entrance Fees: $25 per private vehicle
For more information: Visit www.nps.gov/grca/ or call visitor information at (928) 638-7888.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho
Yellowstone was America’s first national park, established by Executive Order of President Grant in 1872. Straddling the borders of three western states — Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is best known for Old Faithful. The park is also home to a host of smaller (but still extraordinary) geysers and a variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk.
Most park entrances are closed during the winter months (September or October until April or May), making Independence Day perfect timing for Yellowstone. While you’re visiting, enjoy backcountry hiking, camping, bicycling, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and llama packing.
Temperatures in Yellowstone are moderate in the summer, but given the high elevation (most of the park is above 7,500 feet), conditions can be unpredictable.
Entrance Fees: $25 for private car, good for up to one week.
For more information: Visit www.yellowstone.net or call the visitor’s center at (307) 344-7381.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
One of America’s largest prairies and the world’s richest Oligocene epoch fossil bed, the Badlands National Park is also home to bison, bighorn sheep and black-footed ferrets.
If you’re planning a 4th of July visit to the Badlands, you can enjoy examining fossils, identifying wildflowers, trail hiking, and on-site camping (nothing beats the nighttime stars in the South Dakota sky!)
Located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, the Badlands offers easy access for cars via Interstate 90. The park is open year-round, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In July, the weather is hot and dry with occasional torrential thunderstorms.
Entrance Fees: $15 per private car, valid for one week.
For more information: Visit www.nps.gov/badl/ or call Park Headquarters at (605) 433-5361.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Best known for its stunning red rock spires, Bryce Canyon offers the outdoor-loving family a host of adventures in one of America’s largest national parks. The park covers a 2000-foot range of elevation, peaking at 9,100 feet along the rim.
If you’re visiting for Independence Day, you might enjoy a four-hour, wrangler-guided horseback ride into the canyon, a day-long hike along a canyon trail, or a sunset stroll around the canyon’s rim. Who needs fireworks with views like these?
Plan on warm temperatures for July days, with cool nights.
Entrance Fees: $25 per private car, but parking is at a real premium in Bryce Canyon — there’s just one space for every four cars that enter, so consider availing yourself of the park’s free shuttle service
For more information: Visit www.nps.gov/brca or call Visitor Information at (435) 834-5322.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is best known for its jagged mountains that rise up out of the pristine glacial lakes. This breathtaking scenery is home to numerous wild animals, including moose, black and grizzly bears, elk, bald eagles, gray wolves, coyotes and bison.
If you’re making a July 4th trip, plant to enjoy backcountry camping, trail hiking, biking, bird watching, boating, fishing or horseback riding. Summer weather is typically in the high 70s and 80s, with cooler nights in the 40s. Afternoon rain showers are common.
Entrance Fees: $25 per private car, good for one week.
For more information: Visit www.nps.gov/grte or call Visitor Information at (307) 739-3300.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, Tennessee
Ancient mountains, rich deciduous forest and a diversity of animal life characterize the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which sits astride the North Carolina – Tennessee border.
With over 800 miles of trails, the park is a hiker’s paradise, but visitors also enjoy fishing, picnicking, bird watching and even driving through the park. The Great Smoky Mountains are a sanctuary for protected animals, including the park’s 1,500 bears.
The park is open year-round, 24 hours a day, although some access roads and campgrounds close in winter. If you’re planning an Independence Day trip, you’ll be in good company: The Smoky Mountains are America’s most visited national park.
Entrance Fees: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the only major parks in the country that doesn’t charge entrance fees.
For more information: Visit http://www.nps.gov/grsm/ or call Visitor Information at (865) 436-1200.
Everglades National Park, Florida
America’s largest wetland, the Everglades National Park is home to a diversity of endangered (and dangerous) animals. Furry and scaly friends include the American crocodile, the West Indian manatee, the Florida panther and 27 species of snakes (only 4 are poisonous, though).
If you’re looking for a little adventure this Independence Day, why not take advantage of one of the Everglade’s 47 designated wilderness camp sights — most of which are accessible only by boat.
As you might imagine, summer weather in the Everglades is hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees and humidity exceeding 90 percent. Rainy season (and not coincidentally, mosquito season) is June through October, so bring your bug spray. The Everglades National Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day.
Entrance Fees: $10 per private car, good for one week.
For more information: Visit http://www.everglades.national-park.com/ or call the Visitor Information at (305) 242-7700.
Yosemite Valley National Park, California
One of the first wilderness parks in the United States, Yosemite Valley National Park covers 1,200 square miles of mountainous terrain in California’s Sierra Nevada. Best known for its waterfalls, Yosemite also boasts a rich topographical terrain of valleys, meadows and ancient giant sequoias.
Yosemite is open year-round, although during the winter months (November – May), some areas are inaccessible by car due to snow. If you’re planning an Independence Day visit, expect average temperatures in the mid to high 80s with occasional afternoon thundershowers.
Most of Yosemite’s waterfalls come from melted snow in the high country, which means that by July, flow will be low. You’ll still be able to enjoy plenty of blooming wildflowers, though, including elephant’s heads, gentian and shooting stars.
Entrance Fees: $20 per private car, which is good for one week.
For more information: Visit www.yosemite.com or call Yosemite Visitor Information at (209) 372-0200.