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Must-See National Parks In The West


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Bertine Hansen



The Western United States is a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a vast array of breathtaking landscapes and natural wonders. From towering canyons to majestic mountains, the region is home to some of the most stunning national parks in the country. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or simply someone in search of awe-inspiring beauty, exploring the national parks in the West is an absolute must.


These national parks not only provide the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in nature but also offer a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and experience a sense of tranquility and serenity. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, each park has its own unique allure and promises unforgettable adventures.


In this article, we will take a virtual journey through some of the must-see national parks in the West. So, pack your bags, put on your hiking boots, and let’s embark on an unforgettable adventure!


Before we dive into the list, it’s worth noting that all of these national parks are protected areas managed by the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS is responsible for preserving the natural beauty and cultural heritage of these parks, ensuring that they can be enjoyed by future generations. So, as you explore these parks, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and be a responsible visitor.


Yosemite National Park

Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Yosemite National Park is a true gem of the West. Renowned for its awe-inspiring granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and ancient giant sequoia trees, Yosemite offers a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.


The park is home to iconic landmarks such as Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls, which attract adventurers from all over the world. The breathtaking Yosemite Valley, carved by glaciers millions of years ago, showcases the park’s stunning beauty and serves as a base for countless hiking trails.


One of the most popular hikes in Yosemite is the trek to the top of Half Dome, a challenging but rewarding 16-mile round trip that offers breathtaking panoramic views. Another must-see is the Mist Trail, which takes you past the thundering Vernal Fall and up to the top of Nevada Fall, providing spectacular views along the way.


In addition to hiking, Yosemite also offers opportunities for camping, rock climbing, and wildlife watching. Keep an eye out for black bears, California mule deer, and the elusive Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.


If you prefer a more leisurely experience, you can simply drive through the park and marvel at the jaw-dropping vistas from Tunnel View, where you can see Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall all in one breathtaking frame.


Yosemite National Park is a year-round destination, with different activities available in each season. In the summer, you can enjoy hiking, biking, and camping, while the winter months transform the park into a snowy wonderland, perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.


When planning your visit to Yosemite, make sure to book your accommodations well in advance, as the park can get crowded, especially during peak season. Camping is a popular option, with several campgrounds available in the park, but there are also lodges and cabins for those seeking a bit more comfort.


Yosemite National Park is a testament to the power and beauty of nature, and a visit here promises to leave you in awe of its grandeur. So, lace up your hiking boots and immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of Yosemite.


Yellowstone National Park

Spanning across three states – Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho – Yellowstone National Park is a true natural wonderland and is widely regarded as the first national park in the world. Established in 1872, this iconic park is home to remarkable geothermal features, pristine lakes, and an abundance of wildlife.


The star attraction of Yellowstone is its famous geyser, Old Faithful. This powerful geyser erupts approximately every 90 minutes, shooting steaming water high into the air, mesmerizing visitors with its natural spectacle. Along with Old Faithful, the park boasts over 10,000 hydrothermal features, including hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles, which create a surreal and otherworldly landscape.


Besides the geothermal wonders, Yellowstone is known for its diverse and abundant wildlife. The park is a sanctuary for animals such as grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, bison, elk, and moose. Visitors have the chance to spot these incredible creatures while exploring the park’s numerous hiking trails or taking a wildlife tour with a knowledgeable park ranger.


Yellowstone is also a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The park offers an extensive trail system that caters to hikers of all abilities, from leisurely strolls to challenging multi-day backpacking trips. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a must-see attraction, with its striking waterfalls and colorful canyon walls, while the Lamar Valley is a prime location for wildlife watching.


For those seeking a unique experience, a visit to the Yellowstone Lake is a must. This massive lake, covering over 136 square miles, offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and even kayaking to remote geothermal areas. Fishing enthusiasts can cast a line and try their luck at catching native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.


When planning a trip to Yellowstone, it’s important to note that the park has distinct seasons, each offering its own unique charm. Summer is the busiest time, with long daylight hours and vibrant wildflowers. Fall brings stunning foliage and fewer crowds, while winter transforms the park into a winter wonderland, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.


Yellowstone National Park is truly a natural masterpiece, showcasing the raw power and beauty of the Earth. Whether you’re captivated by geothermal wonders, mesmerized by the wildlife, or simply seeking solace in nature, Yellowstone is a must-visit destination that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.


Grand Canyon National Park

One of the most iconic natural wonders in the world, Grand Canyon National Park is a must-see destination for any adventurer or nature enthusiast. Located in Arizona, this awe-inspiring park boasts an immense and incredibly deep gorge carved by the mighty Colorado River over millions of years.


The Grand Canyon is a true testament to the power of nature, with its majestic cliffs, vibrant colors, and expansive vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see. The sheer size and scale of the canyon are enough to leave visitors in awe and wonder.


There are many ways to explore the Grand Canyon, and each offers a unique perspective. Hiking is a popular activity, with trails ranging from easy walks along the rim to challenging multi-day treks into the depths of the canyon. The Bright Angel Trail and South Kaibab Trail are two popular options for hikers, allowing you to descend into the canyon and experience its magnificence up close.


If hiking is not your preference, you can still enjoy breathtaking views by visiting the various lookout points along the rim. The Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends out over the canyon, provides a thrilling and panoramic view of the towering cliffs and the river below.


For an even more unique perspective, consider taking a helicopter or small airplane tour over the canyon. This aerial view allows you to appreciate the vastness of the Grand Canyon and its intricate geological features, making for an unforgettable experience.


In addition to the incredible landscapes, the Grand Canyon is also a haven for wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for mule deer, California condors, and the elusive mountain lions that roam the park. Exploring the Grand Canyon at sunrise or sunset offers breathtaking moments as the light transforms the colors of the canyon walls.


It’s important to note that the Grand Canyon is a popular destination, so planning ahead is essential. Accommodations within the park can fill up quickly, so it’s advisable to book in advance. Camping is available, but there are also lodges and hotels for those seeking more comfortable accommodations.


A trip to Grand Canyon National Park is an opportunity to witness one of the world’s most dramatic and awe-inspiring landscapes. Whether you marvel at its vastness from the rim, venture into the depths on a hiking trail, or soar above it in a helicopter, the Grand Canyon promises a truly unforgettable experience.


Glacier National Park

Tucked away in the rugged mountains of Montana, Glacier National Park is a true hidden gem of the West. Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” this enchanting park is characterized by its towering peaks, shimmering alpine lakes, and sprawling glaciers.


Glacier National Park offers a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with over 700 miles of hiking trails to explore. The most famous trail in the park is the awe-inspiring Highline Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the jagged peaks and valleys below. For a more challenging adventure, the Grinnell Glacier Trail rewards hikers with up-close views of the pristine glaciers and stunning turquoise-colored lakes.


One of the highlights of Glacier National Park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a scenic highway that winds its way through the heart of the park. This engineering marvel offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, deep valleys, and dramatic waterfalls. Be sure to take your time and make stops at the many pullouts to fully appreciate the beauty of this iconic road.


Glacier National Park is also a haven for wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears, black bears, elk, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep as you explore the park. The park’s diverse ecosystems are home to over 280 species of birds, making it a paradise for birdwatchers.


For those seeking a unique experience, consider taking a boat tour on one of the park’s beautiful lakes. The famous Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas offer opportunities to relax on the tranquil waters and soak in the surrounding natural beauty.


Glacier National Park is a destination that showcases the stunning beauty and fragility of the alpine environment. However, it’s important to note that the park’s glaciers are rapidly receding due to climate change. Visitors have a unique opportunity to witness these disappearing glaciers firsthand and understand the importance of environmental conservation.


When planning a trip to Glacier National Park, it’s recommended to check the park’s website for any trail or road closures, as well as for information on backcountry permits and campground reservations. The park offers a range of accommodations, including campgrounds, rustic lodges, and cozy cabins, ensuring there’s an option for every type of traveler.


Immerse yourself in the untouched beauty of Glacier National Park and explore its rugged terrain, crystal-clear lakes, and majestic peaks. A visit to this remarkable park is guaranteed to leave you in awe and create memories that will last a lifetime.


Zion National Park

Nestled in the southwestern corner of Utah, Zion National Park is a true paradise for those seeking stunning red rock landscapes and thrilling outdoor adventures. Known for its towering sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and picturesque Virgin River, Zion captivates visitors with its breathtaking beauty.


One of the most iconic features of Zion National Park is the Zion Canyon, a deep and narrow gorge that stretches for miles. The canyon walls, with their vibrant hues and unique rock formations, provide a stunning backdrop for hiking, climbing, and exploring.


The park offers a variety of hiking trails, catering to all skill levels. The Angels Landing Trail is a famous and exhilarating hike that takes you to the summit of a towering rock formation, providing panoramic views of the entire canyon below. If you prefer a more leisurely hike, the Riverside Walk meanders along the Virgin River, surrounded by towering cliffs and lush vegetation.


Another must-see attraction in Zion is The Narrows, a mesmerizing slot canyon hike where you wade through the river as towering cliffs close in on both sides. This unique experience is both awe-inspiring and refreshing, allowing you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the park.


For adventure enthusiasts, Zion National Park offers rock climbing opportunities on its famous sandstone cliffs. With routes for all levels of experience, climbers can enjoy the thrill of ascending the vertical walls and taking in the stunning views from unique vantage points.


Wildlife is abundant in Zion, ranging from mule deer and bighorn sheep to countless species of birds and reptiles. Keep your camera handy as you may have the chance to spot some of these incredible creatures during your visit.


When planning your trip to Zion, be sure to check the park’s website for any trail closures or limited access, as some popular hikes may require permits. The park offers both campgrounds and lodges for overnight stays, but reservations are highly recommended, especially during peak seasons.


Zion National Park is a place of dramatic beauty and endless adventure. Whether you’re conquering the heights of Angels Landing, exploring the Narrows, or simply taking in the awe-inspiring vistas, a visit to Zion promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you with a renewed appreciation for the power and majesty of nature.


Joshua Tree National Park

Nestled in the Southern California desert, Joshua Tree National Park is a unique and captivating destination that showcases the beauty of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. This remarkable park is characterized by its iconic Joshua Trees, towering rock formations, and vast desert landscapes.


The Joshua Tree is a distinct and fascinating tree species that can only be found in the desert regions of the American Southwest. These peculiar trees, with their spiky branches and twisted forms, create a mesmerizing sight against the backdrop of the arid desert landscape.


One of the best ways to explore Joshua Tree National Park is by hiking its various trails. Hidden Valley Trail offers a relatively easy and picturesque trek through a rocky valley, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the unique desert ecosystem. The Barker Dam Trail provides an opportunity to see ancient petroglyphs as you meander through Joshua Tree’s fascinating history.


Joshua Tree is also renowned for its world-class rock climbing opportunities. With its abundant granite and monzogranite formations, the park attracts climbers from all over the world. Whether you’re a seasoned climber or a beginner, there are routes suitable for all skill levels.


Stargazing is a must-do activity in Joshua Tree National Park. With its remote location and limited light pollution, the park offers incredible opportunities to witness a mesmerizing night sky. The Milky Way illuminates the desert, providing a breathtaking celestial show that will leave you in awe.


For those seeking a unique desert experience, consider camping in Joshua Tree. The park offers several campgrounds where you can pitch your tent under the starry sky and experience the tranquility of the desert at night. Just be sure to come prepared with plenty of water and supplies, as the desert can be harsh and unforgiving.


When planning your visit to Joshua Tree, it’s important to note that temperatures can reach extreme levels, especially during the summer months. It’s advisable to visit in the cooler seasons or plan your activities accordingly to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion.


Joshua Tree National Park is a place of natural wonder and raw beauty, where the desert landscapes and unique flora come together to create a truly unforgettable experience. Whether you’re exploring the trails, climbing the iconic rocks, or simply basking in the serenity of the desert, a visit to Joshua Tree promises an adventure like no other.


Rocky Mountain National Park

Nestled in the heart of Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is a breathtaking wilderness that offers stunning alpine scenery, towering mountains, and a diverse array of wildlife. Encompassing over 415 square miles, this iconic park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.


One of the highlights of Rocky Mountain National Park is the vast network of hiking trails that cater to all levels of experience. Whether you’re seeking an easy stroll or a challenging summit, there’s a trail for everyone. The Cascade Falls trail is a popular choice, offering hikers a glimpse of the park’s beautiful waterfalls and lush foliage. For a more adventurous trek, the Longs Peak trail takes you to the park’s highest summit, providing sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.


Rocky Mountain National Park is renowned for its incredible wildlife. The park is home to a variety of wild animals, including elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, and moose. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the opportunity to spot unique species such as golden eagles and white-tailed ptarmigans. Keep your eyes peeled as you explore the park, as spotting wildlife in their natural habitat is truly a remarkable experience.


In addition to hiking and wildlife watching, Rocky Mountain National Park offers a plethora of outdoor activities. You can go camping in one of the park’s campgrounds, fish in the pristine mountain lakes and rivers, or even try your hand at rock climbing on the park’s rugged cliffs. Wildlife drives, such as the popular Trail Ridge Road, allow visitors to take in the stunning scenery and appreciate the park’s breathtaking vistas without leaving the comfort of their vehicles.


When planning a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s important to consider the seasonal changes. The park experiences distinct seasons, with the summer months being the most popular for outdoor activities. However, autumn brings a breathtaking display of fall foliage, while winter offers opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the park’s winter wonderland.


With its alpine lakes, snow-capped peaks, and vibrant meadows, Rocky Mountain National Park is a playground for adventure and an escape into the beauty of nature. Immerse yourself in the splendor of this majestic landscape, breathe in the crisp mountain air, and discover the wonders that await in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Death Valley National Park

Located in eastern California, Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes, boasting the title of the hottest, driest, and lowest place in North America. Despite its ominous name, Death Valley is a mesmerizing desert wonderland that beckons visitors with its stark beauty and unparalleled landscapes.


The park is characterized by its vast salt flats, rugged mountains, and unique geological formations. One of the most famous attractions is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. This expansive salt flat stretches for miles, creating a mesmerizing and ethereal landscape.


Another must-see in Death Valley is the stunning Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. These undulating sandy hills, shaped by the wind, offer a photographer’s paradise and a surreal landscape to explore. Witness the ever-shifting sands and experience the tranquil beauty of the desert.


For adventure enthusiasts, Death Valley offers a plethora of outdoor activities. Hiking trails lead through canyons, up mountains, and to unique geological features such as the infamous Racetrack Playa, known for its sailing stones that mysteriously move across the flat surface.


One of the most popular trails is the Golden Canyon Trail, which takes you through colorful and towering canyon walls, offering a glimpse into the geological wonders of the park. The Mesquite Spring Oasis trail is another gem, leading hikers to a hidden desert oasis surrounded by towering palm trees.


While Death Valley may be known for its extreme heat, it also offers breathtaking night skies. The absence of light pollution allows for unparalleled stargazing opportunities, making it a designated International Dark Sky Park. Witness a breathtaking display of stars and constellations that will leave you in awe.


It’s important to note that visiting Death Valley requires careful planning, especially during the summer months when temperatures often exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to carry plenty of water, sun protection, and plan your activities accordingly. The park offers various accommodations, including campgrounds and lodges, but availability may be limited, so advanced reservations are recommended.


With its extreme landscapes and unique geological features, Death Valley National Park is a place of striking beauty and raw power. Embrace the harshness of the desert, marvel at the vastness of the salt flats, and explore the hidden wonders that await in this remarkable national park.


Olympic National Park

Nestled in the northwestern corner of Washington State, Olympic National Park is a captivating wilderness that showcases the incredible diversity of the Pacific Northwest. From rugged coastlines to lush rainforests, and towering mountains to pristine lakes, this park offers a mesmerizing blend of landscapes.


One of the highlights of Olympic National Park is its stunning coastline. Stretching for over 70 miles, the park’s rugged beaches are adorned with sea stacks, tide pools, and stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Ruby Beach and Rialto Beach are popular spots for beachcombing and sunset views, while the rugged wilderness of Shi Shi Beach rewards intrepid hikers with its remote beauty.


Another unique feature of Olympic National Park is its temperate rainforests. The Hoh Rainforest, with its ancient moss-drenched trees and lush greenery, transports visitors to a world straight out of a fairytale. The Quinault Rainforest is equally enchanting, boasting some of the largest spruce and cedar trees in the world.


For those seeking mountain adventure, Olympic National Park is home to the majestic Olympic Mountains. The range features craggy peaks, glaciers, and alpine meadows. The iconic Hurricane Ridge offers panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and is a popular destination for hiking, wildlife viewing, and winter sports activities.


The park is teeming with wildlife, giving visitors ample opportunities for sightings. Keep an eye out for majestic elk, black bears, mountain goats, and numerous bird species as you explore the park’s diverse ecosystems. Guided wildlife tours are available for those seeking a more immersive experience.


Olympic National Park also offers a variety of recreational activities. With numerous hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging multi-day treks, outdoor enthusiasts can explore the park’s stunning landscapes. Lake Crescent, with its crystal-clear waters, provides opportunities for swimming, boating, and fishing.


When planning a visit to Olympic National Park, it’s important to be prepared for varying weather conditions. The park experiences a maritime climate with abundant rainfall, so pack layers and waterproof gear. Campgrounds and lodges are available within the park, but reservations are recommended, especially during the peak summer season.


Olympic National Park is a true gem of the Pacific Northwest, offering a diverse array of natural wonders. Immerse yourself in its captivating landscapes, breathe in the fresh forest air, and experience the magic of this remarkable national park.



The national parks in the American West are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. From the towering cliffs of Yosemite to the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone, the breathtaking vistas of the Grand Canyon to the diverse landscapes of Olympic, each national park offers a unique experience that will leave you in awe.


These protected areas are not only a haven for nature lovers but also serve as a reminder of the importance of conservation and preserving our natural heritage. As visitors, it’s our responsibility to be respectful and follow Leave No Trace principles to ensure these parks can be enjoyed by future generations.


Whether you’re hiking to iconic landmarks, marveling at stunning vistas, or immersing yourself in the tranquility of nature, each national park provides an opportunity for adventure and exploration. From the rugged coastlines of Olympic to the vast deserts of Death Valley, there’s something for everyone in the diverse landscapes of the West.


Plan your visit wisely, taking into consideration the best times to avoid crowds or experience unique seasonal activities. Be prepared for changing weather conditions, pack essential gear, and respect the rules and regulations set forth by each park to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.


As you embark on your national park adventures, remember to take the time to appreciate the intricacies of each park’s flora and fauna. Spotting wildlife, uncovering hidden trails, and capturing stunning photographs are memories that will last a lifetime.


Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a novice explorer, the national parks in the West are waiting to be discovered. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and set off on a journey of breathtaking beauty and unforgettable experiences in the wild and wonderful world of national parks.