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US National Parks:
The Complete Guide


 
In 1872 the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act was signed, triggering the creation of 62 more national parks. Now, you’ll find these protected landscapes all around the globe, preserving natural habitats, wildlife, and historical landmarks. The United States has 63 National Parks in total, each home to vast and rugged landscapes that are perfect for walking. With so much to see and do across 85 million acres of land, a guided tour is one of the easiest ways to hit the highlights of numerous parks.

 


 

Where are America’s National Parks located?

US National Parks can be found across 30 states, with the American West being a particular hotspot. From the spectacular depths of the Grand Canyon to the lush greenery of Yosemite National Park, a Western USA tour picks out the must-see sights of this walker’s paradise. In Utah alone you’ll find Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef and Great Basin, among others, with Rocky Mountain and Mesa Verde just next door in Colorado. However, despite their close proximity, each National Park boasts a unique history and biodiversity.

 

When is the best time to visit the US National Parks?

Depending on the wildlife you’d like to see, or the routes you’d like to hike, the best time to visit the US National Parks can vary throughout the year. The busiest periods are in the summer months thanks to the beautiful weather and abundance of wildlife emerging from the colder seasons.

Spring

Spring is one of the most popular times to visit US National Parks thanks to its comfortable temperatures and flourishing flora. You’ll also find less crowds than during the peak of summer, giving you more space to enjoy some of the best viewpoints. Joshua Tree National Park - known for stiflingly hot summers - is one of the best national parks to visit in the spring, with milder weather and beautiful displays of poppies.
 

 

Summer

Bathed in bright sunshine, US National Parks are exceedingly popular in the summer. Hot temperatures make water-based activities such as swimming and kayaking even more refreshing, while hikers will see wildflowers in full bloom along the trails. Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the summer thanks to its huge range of outdoor activities, including boating, horse riding, rock climbing and swimming.

Autumn

Without the crowds of summer and awash in vibrant oranges and reds, autumn is an ideal time to visit US National Parks. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most iconic parks for vibrant autumn colours. With an endless abundance of deciduous trees, the mountains become a spectacular display of warm colour from October to November. There are numerous hiking trails to admire the views from, with Cataloochee Valley being the best destination for spotting roaming elk.
 

Winter

For a quieter, snow-dusted outdoor escape, the US National Parks offer plenty of winter experiences. Whether you’re looking for the perfect white backdrop for that once-in-a-lifetime photo, or prefer to get equipped with snowshoes and skis, visit a national park during the colder months and you’ll find fewer crowds.

Grand Teton National Park is a particular favourite in wintertime, with the Teton Range becoming a picture-perfect winter wonderland. While some sections of the park are closed due to high snowfall, there’s still plenty to explore via two main highways, or by backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. You’ll also find guided tours, including sleigh rides and wildlife spotting.


 

Visiting the US National Parks – Do’s & Don’ts

As with any group tour, we endeavour to leave no trace and take only memories wherever we visit, and this is especially true of the National Parks throughout the US. In order to keep these stunning landscapes flourishing, there are key tips you should follow.
 

Give wildlife space

 

Seeing a herd of bison meandering vast green hills is a truly unforgettable experience. In order to keep these gentle giants wild - as well as any other animal you might spot throughout the National Parks - you must never approach or feed them. Doing so can interfere with their young, cause them distress, or land you in danger. 

 

Stay on the path

 

Not only do the trails provide you with spectacular scenery and the best viewpoints along the way, but they also keep you safe. Marked paths are regularly checked by park rangers. In addition, marked trails ensure the flora and fauna can flourish. Straying from the routes provided can damage the environment, which can have a knock-on effect on the wildlife living there.

 

Take only pictures

 

To ensure that every generation can enjoy the US national parks for years to come, you should leave the environment in its natural condition, without taking anything but pictures. Rocks, plants and feathers are not souvenirs, and removing them can have a negative impact on the habitat and wildlife that lives there.

 

Don’t smoke

 

There are strict laws against smoking in place throughout the US national parks. Smoking cigarettes and vapes is only allowed in designated smoking areas, preventing damage to habitats and wildlife. Cigarette litter can trigger huge wildfires, destroying many acres of forest and the inhabitants within it, so you must ensure you clean up after yourself.


 

US National Parks wildlife

US National Parks were founded to protect the wildlife that inhabits them. Thanks to the hard work that goes into supporting these diverse ecosystems, you’ll enjoy endless wildlife encounters.

Bear

Where can you find them?: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Katmai, Denali

Bears have had a strong impact on culture and history, long before the first national park came to be. The US National Parks now provide an important home for three species of bear - grizzly bear, black bear and polar bear. While they once roamed the Western region of North America, now they inhabit a much smaller range. These apex predators can often be spotted in Yellowstone National Park.

 

Elk

Where can you find them?: Yellowstone, Grand Teton

Native to North America, elk are the most commonly found mammal in Yellowstone National Park. In the summer months an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 elk roam in up to seven herds. Grazing on a diet of vegetation and tree bark, elk are vital to the growth of the ecosystem.

 

Bison

Where can you find them?: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt

As the largest land mammal in North America and an iconic symbol of the American West, the bison is a truly majestic animal to observe across numerous National Parks. Once almost extinct in 1889, there are now as many as 50,000 in the wild today. The largest bison herd in North America can be found in Yellowstone National Park, often grazing on the grassland. Between July and August you may see newborn calves.

 

Wolf

Where can you find them?: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Katmai, Denali

Another fantastic example of successful wildlife conservation, wolves thrive in the National Parks of the US. While they were once hunted to extinction in the 1930s, they have since been reintroduced, with an estimated 500 wolves residing in the Greater Yellowstone area. Spotting one of these elusive canines is an exhilarating experience - you’re most likely to spot them during dawn and dusk.

 

Bald eagle

Where can you find them?: Yellowstone, Acadia, Everglades, Katmai

As the national symbol of the USA, the bald eagle is a beloved bird found throughout the USA. With huge talons and a mighty wingspan of around 2 metres, they are easily recognised as one of the most iconic birds found across North America.

 

Marmot

Where can you find them?: Denali, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Yellowstone

A type of large ground squirrel, marmot thrive in mountainous regions such as the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and the Black Hills. They can also be found in rough grassland, typically living in burrows. Marmots can be sociable creatures, and communicate with loud whistles.


 

Best US National Parks for hiking

National Parks are a haven of hiking trails, with options suitable for beginner walkers and intermediate trekkers. The US National Parks are no exception, providing some of the most iconic walking routes in the world.

Grand View Point Hike: Best for… a short hike

Located in Bryce Canyon National Park, the Grand View Point trail is a popular route for beginner hikers, and provides some of the best views across the canyon. While there are some stairs to climb, it’s predominantly on flat ground and takes around an hour to complete.
 

Grand Wash Hike: Best for… an easy hike

Found in Capitol Reef National Park, the Grand Wash trail is a favoured easy route for families. Cutting through stunning narrow canyon, this hike takes between one and two hours to complete, and visitors can trek back the same way or catch a car shuttle to Highway 24.
 

The Watchman Trail: Best for… a moderate hike

Often overshadowed by Zion National Park’s popular treks, the Watchman Trail is an ideal step up for novice hikers. Beginning at the visitor centre, this trail takes between one and two hours to complete. Open at all times of the year, it’s a gorgeous hike to complete at any time, though be aware that the trail is completely exposed to sun.

Double O Arch Hike: Best for… a challenging hike

Nestled within the Devil’s Garden area of Arches National Park, the Double O Arch hike is a popular and rewarding trek. Featuring five iconic arches as well as beautiful views of the surrounding landscape, this quintessential hike takes around two hours to complete with some steep drop-offs and rock scrambling along the way.
 

Half-Dome Hike: Best for… a multi-day hike

Spanning 16 miles across two to three days, Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome Hike is not for the faint of heart. With steep, rocky sections, as well as a 400 foot climb to the summit of Half Dome, it’s important to pay close attention to weather conditions, and ensure you are equipped to handle the wilderness. However, at nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, the views from Half Dome are truly unparalleled, and a worthy reward for expert hikers.
 


 

US National Parks activities

While hiking is one of the most popular activities in US National Parks, there are also plenty of other opportunities to embrace the great outdoors. Whether you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping rafting experience or prefer a quiet afternoon of wildlife watching, most national parks offer an activity to suit everyone.
 

Cycling

 

By bike is a great way to take in the scenery of North America’s National Parks, with opportunities for road cycling as well as mountain biking. Arches National Park boasts the Arches Park Road, stretching from the visitor centre to the iconic Devil’s Garden. Meanwhile, Grand Teton National Park offers beginner-friendly easy cycling with the Teton mountain range rising alongside you. For an introduction to mountain biking head to the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, featuring some tough climbs and stunning sandstone cliffs.

 

Kayaking

 

North America’s National Parks feature some of the most pristine waters for a range of water-based activities. By far one of the most popular is kayaking, offering an alternative perspective of the natural landscape. Experienced visitors can kayak on their own where eligible, while others can make use of a park-authorised guide.

Snake River in Grand Teton, meanwhile, is a scenic stretch of water that cuts through the rugged Wyoming landscape. For a slightly different kayaking experience, Everglades National Park in Florida is home to marshes and mangrove forests. While some kayaking trails are more challenging to navigate, others provide a more serene, bird-watching experience.

 

Climbing

 

For those epic, hard-to-reach viewpoints, climbing in US National Parks is a big hit. It’s important to check for required permits at your chosen national park, and ensure you’re preserving the environment around you.

Yosemite National Park is considered one of the world’s greatest climbing destinations, with an abundance of imposing walls, crags and canyons. One of Yosemite’s most famous climbs - and one of the most technically challenging - is El Capitan, first conquered in 1958. Alternatively, Zion National Park offers a combination of beginner-friendly and challenging climbs, with sandstone cliffs reaching up to 2000 feet high. The sun-soaked East Temple wall has eight routes varying in skill level, but can get very hot in the summer months.

 

Rafting

 

With so many winding waterways throughout the US National Parks you’ll find rapids and fast-moving currents that are perfect for rafting. The Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park is a firm favourite, taking thrill seekers on a journey of historic rock formations. Yosemite’s Merced River, meanwhile, runs beneath the famous Half Dome and El Capitan, and certainly packs a punch.

 

Rafting

 

With so many winding waterways throughout the US National Parks you’ll find rapids and fast-moving currents that are perfect for rafting. The Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park is a firm favourite, taking thrill seekers on a journey of historic rock formations. Yosemite’s Merced River, meanwhile, runs beneath the famous Half Dome and El Capitan, and certainly packs a punch.

 

Photography

 

Visit any of the US’s 62 National Parks and you’ll find yourself struggling to put down your camera. These vast natural landscapes are inspirational for photographers of all skill levels. In addition there’s no shortage of wildlife subjects to photograph provided you have the patience to wait for that perfect picture. Popular photography spots include Mormon Row Historic District in Grand Teton National Park, and Landscape Arch in Arches National Park.


 

Best US National Parks

The sheer number of US national parks can make it a tough choice when deciding which to visit. You’ll find varying weather patterns, activities and provided facilities in each park, but the best one for you will depend on your favourite outdoor pursuits. While there are many to choose from, here are Explore’s top picks for US National Parks:

Yellowstone National Park

In the northwest corner of Wyoming you’ll find Yellowstone National Park, the very first national park to be established in the US, and widely regarded as the first in the world. It spans 2.2 million acres, with countless lakes, rivers, canyons and mountain peaks, as well as active geysers and geothermal hotspots.

 

Best time to visit Yellowstone National Park

 

Every season offers a different perspective of Yellowstone National Park. For the sunniest weather summer is, of course, an idyllic time to visit, however you’ll find the park at its busiest due to summer holidays. Beat the crowds in April for a chance to see bear emerging from hibernation, while mating season for elk begins in September. 

 

Top landmarks in Yellowstone National Park

 

Old Faithful

Every season offers a different perspective of Yellowstone National Park. For the sunniest weather summer is, of course, an idyllic time to visit, however you’ll find the park at its busiest due to summer holidays. Beat the crowds in April for a chance to see bear emerging from hibernation, while mating season for elk begins in September. 

 

Grand Prismatic Spring

As the third largest hot spring in the world, Grand Prismatic Spring is a must-visit when exploring Yellowstone National Park. It spans 370 feet in diameter and 121 feet in depth, with bright bands of orange, yellow and green encircling the vibrant blue centre. 

 

Mammoth Hot Springs

Often described as a cave turned inside out, Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs are a unique formation of hot springs, formed from travertine in strange and intricate shapes. There are two terraces to explore with approximately 50 hot springs. Liberty Cap - found on the Lower Terrace - is a firm favourite, standing at 37 feet tall in a cone shape. Orange Spring Mound - found on the Upper Terrace - meanwhile, earns its name through its vibrant colour produced by bacteria and algae.

 

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

As one of the most well-known landmarks in the park, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is over 24 miles long and up to 4,000 feet wide. The most popular viewpoint to admire the canyon is at Artist Point, providing a sweeping view of the Lower Falls. If you’re eager to get up close to the waterfall, embark on the steep descent on Uncle Tom’s Trail.

 

Yellowstone Lake

The largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone Lake is a haven for bird life and trout. Whether you’re relaxing on the shore or out canoeing on the water, the views of this expansive lake are breathtaking. Keen anglers can enjoy a spot of fishing with a permitted licence, though cutthroat trout must be released.

 

Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley boasts some of the best opportunities in Yellowstone to spot bison, pronghorn, wolf and bear. Often nicknamed America’s Serengeti for its large populations of wildlife, Lamar Valley is within close proximity to the Northeast and North Entrances. Whether you’re driving or hiking, make sure to bring binoculars and your camera.

Best things to do in Yellowstone National Park

 

Hiking

Through 3,500 square miles, there are countless hiking trails to choose from. From challenging, steep out-and-back routes for experienced trekkers, to family-friendly trails, you’re guaranteed to find a scenic route to enjoy.

 

Horse riding

By horseback is a great way to soak up the sights and sounds of Yellowstone National Park. From entire day trips to overnight backcountry rides, you’ll find licensed guides on hand to give you the ultimate equestrian experience.

 

Snowshoeing

In winter, with a thick blanket of snow covering the park, snowshoeing is a popular outdoor pastime. Yellowstone boasts numerous trails for snowshoers, and with a knowledgeable guide you can venture off into the backcountry in search of wildlife.

 

Yellowstone Lake cruises

Enjoy a guided tour of Yellowstone’s largest lake, learning about the history of this scenic district. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for elk and bison drinking from the shoreline, as well as eagle and shorebirds soaring overhead.

 

 

Arches National Park

Just five miles north of Moab lies the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. Arches National Park boasts over 2,000 arches found within over 76,000 acres. On a scenic drive or during a hike, you’ll spot many of these weird and wonderful pinnacles and sandstone fins, creating an otherworldly-looking landscape.

 

Best time to visit Arches National Park


While Arches National Park is open year round, temperatures can reach over 35 degrees celsius in the summer season. To avoid the heat, April to May and September to October are some of the best times to visit, though the mild, pleasant temperatures can draw in crowds. Visit early in the morning and mid-week to avoid peak times.

 

 

Top landmarks in Arches National Park

 

Delicate Arch

Out of the 2,000 arches in the park, Delicate Arch is widely regarded as the icon of Utah. Standing unsupported by nearby walls or structures, and looming over a large sandstone basin, Delicate Arch is a serene rock formation that’s sure to delight photographers. You can hike the Delicate Arch trail for an epic view of the arch up close, though you should expect to scramble up some red rock on the way.

 

Landscape Arch

Taking the crown as the longest arch in Arches National Park, Landscape Arch stretches through the Devil’s Garden area. At its thinnest point the arch is just 6 feet thick, yet the rock spans 290 feet. While the trail beneath the arch has been closed due to falling rock, the Devil’s Garden Trailhead is a challenging trail ending at Landscape Arch.

 

Double Arch

The tallest arch in the park, Double Arch is an impressive, looming combination of archways, joined at a 90-degree angle. Surrounded by vegetation - including Utah’s state flower, the sego lily - you’ll find an easy, flat hike to the Double Arch.

 

Devil’s Garden

The Devil’s Garden area of Arches National Park comprises rock fins, arches and hiking trails. The main Devil’s Garden trail is a moderately challenging hike where you’ll spot plenty of arches. Parts of the trail are steep, but within the Devil’s Garden you’ll spot Landscape Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch and Double O Arch.

 

 

Best things to do in Arches National Park

 

Hiking

Wherever you decide to hike in Arches National Park, you’re guaranteed to see spectacular rock formations. The Double Arch trail is a popular, family-friendly route on mostly flat ground, while the Landscape Arch trail is slightly longer but no more strenuous. For those looking for a challenge, the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop is the longest, trickiest trail in the park.

 

Arches Scenic Drive

Connecting all the hotspots throughout Arches National Park, the Arches Scenic Drive provides easy access to stunning viewpoints. The drive is 22 miles long, and if you have 4 to 5 hours, you can spend around 10 minutes at each viewpoint along the way. Alternatively, if you’re on a tighter schedule, drive to the Windows Section to marvel at the largest arches in the park.
 

4x4 Tours

To truly get off the beaten track, a 4x4 tour ticks all the boxes. A half-day 4x4 tour will take you to areas that most visitors may never see, with a knowledgeable guide on hand to answer all your questions.


 

Zion National Park

Home to some of the best canyon landscapes in the USA, Zion National Park is situated in southwestern Utah. With a highest elevation of 8,726 feet, Zion features unique and varied topography, making it a popular park for hiking and canyoneering. In addition, it’s home to over a thousand species of plants, as well as around 78 species of mammals, almost 300 species of birds, and 30 reptiles.

 

Best time to visit Zion National Park


As with any outdoor paradise, the best time to visit Zion National Park can vary depending on your preferred activities. Most people visit during the summer when the Narrows water level is at its lowest, and the weather is warm and sunny. However, June and July see around 500,000 visitors arriving at the park each month, so you may prefer to visit in the Spring or Autumn instead. While water levels may be higher in March and April, you’ll find more comfortable temperatures for hiking.

 

 

Top landmarks in Zion National Park

 

Angel’s Landing

One of the most recognisable hiking trails in the world, Angel’s Landing reaches an elevation of 5,790 feet with views over Zion Canyon. This strenuous hike is not for the faint of heart, but you’ll find a chain railing to guide you along the way. As one of Zion’s most popular landmarks, this trail can be slow-moving in the summer, and experiences plenty of exposure to sunlight.

 

The Narrows

Another of Zion National Park’s most popular landmarks, the Narrows is the aptly named narrowest section of Zion Canyon. With walls stretching up to a thousand feet tall, it’s one of the best hikes for immersing yourself in the geology of the park. However, it’s important to note that this hike involves walking through the Virgin River. Waterproof boots or aqua shoes are imperative to ensure your feet are comfortable throughout this moderately challenging trek.

 

Checkerboard Mesa

With an unusual pattern of cracking - much like a chess board - Checkerboard Mesa is a 6,520 feet mountain immediately southwest of Zion’s entrance. The unique lines and striking colours of this summit make it a popular landmark for photographers. You can get up close to Checkerboard Mesa by embarking on the hiking trail.

 

Weeping Rock

An easily accessible landmark, Weeping Rock is an impressive alcove where sandstone has eroded away. Water trickling down through the formation is eventually squeezed out, creating the appearance of a weeping rock. Here, you’ll find a paved trail and viewing area, as well as a charming garden and stream flowing beneath the wall. To get to Weeping Rock you’ll embark on a short, easy walk, making it an especially suitable landmark for families.

 

 

Best things to do in Zion National Park

 

Hiking

Covering over 146,000 acres, Zion National Park is undoubtedly a hikers paradise, boasting bucket-list worthy trails for hikers of all skill levels. Perhaps the most iconic - and one of the most challenging - is Angel’s Landing, rewarding adventurers with vistas over Zion Canyon. For a more family-friendly walk, the Emerald Pools Trail is a popular route following a stream to a series of protected pools.

 

Drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

If you’re looking to cover plenty of ground, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is a 25-mile road providing direct access between Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. Surrounded by impressive geological formations as well as a scattering of scenic hikes, the drive is a great way to soak up the scenery of Zion on a time limit.
 

Human History Museum

Displaying artefacts from the permanent collection of Zion National Park, the Zion Human History Museum presents the fascinating history of the park. From the impact of the water flowing through Zion Canyon to the Native Americans and pioneers of the area, this museum is a fantastic hub of Zion’s human and geological history.

 

Horse riding

Admire Zion’s landscapes from a different perspective as you explore the national park by horseback. On a guided horse riding tour of Zion National Park you’ll visit stunning viewpoints and tackle winding trails. Depending on your skill level there are relaxing one hour rides along the Virgin River, as well as more immersive three hour rides.

 

Canyoneering

Master the art of canyoneering, a high-energy activity encompassing hiking, scrambling and even rappelling down beautiful canyons. Carved by rushing water and high winds, Zion National Park is renowned for unforgettable canyoneering experiences, offering routes to suit beginners to experts. Get up close to these intricate formations in the safety of a harness and accompanied by a knowledgeable guide.


 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Located in Southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is renowned for distinctive geological formations called hoodoos. These vibrant red and orange spires of rock create an otherworldly experience when exploring the national park, while the forests provide habitats for countless species of wildlife. Another iconic landmark is Bryce Canyon itself, which is technically a group of natural amphitheatres.

While Bryce Canyon National Park is smaller than Zion (Bryce Canyon comprises over 35,000 acres), it has a higher elevation, reaching up to 9,100 feet.

 

Best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park


For sunny, pleasant weather while avoiding the busiest periods, April and October are the best times to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. However, the high elevation can bring ever-changing weather, making May to September the warmest season to visit. If you’re looking for the best conditions for skiing and snowshoeing, November to February are the coldest months with the most snowfall. Be aware that some facilities and shuttles may not operate during the winter season.

 

 

Top landmarks in Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Farview Point

Earning its name for the vast views spanning almost 90 miles, Farview Point is a popular spot. On a clear day you’ll see as far as Navajo Mountain thanks to the fantastic air quality in Bryce Canyon National Park. You may also see the peaks of the Henry Mountains and Navajo Mountain. While there are no hiking trails branching from Farview Point, it’s a fantastic destination for wildlife watching.

 

Bryce Point

One of the best viewpoints in Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce Point is famous for spectacular sunrises. Looking over the many hoodoos of Bryce Amphitheater, watch as the sun sets the formations alight, creating outstanding photography opportunities. Bryce Point is also the starting point for the moderately strenuous Peek-A-Boo Loop trail.

 

Rainbow Point

Situated along the main road in Bryce Canyon National Park, Rainbow Point offers beautiful views across the Pink Cliffs and the surrounding hoodoos . It’s often recommended to spend a few minutes here to understand the geographical landscape of the park, before taking the short walk to Yovimpa Point where you’ll see the Grand Staircase.

 

Thor’s Hammer

One of the most distinctive rock formations in Bryce Canyon National Park, Thor’s Hammer is named after the God of Thunder’s unmovable hammer. It’s doubly appropriately named since thunderstorms and lightning are a frequent occurrence in the park. One of the best ways to see Thor’s Hammer is by driving or hiking to Sunrise Point.

 

 

Best things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park

 

Hiking

On foot is one of the best ways to get up close to unique rock formations in Bryce Canyon National Park. With an interconnected labyrinth of hiking trails, there are a number of walks to suit a range of abilities. One of the easiest hikes is Sunset to Sunrise Point, covering a pathed section of the Rim Trail and encompassing views of the Bryce Amphitheater. The Queen’s Garden trail, meanwhile, is a moderate hike venturing into the heart of the canyon.

 

Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive

The Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive spans the main park road (18 miles), from the park entrance to the Rainbow and Yovimpa Viewpoint. It’s recommended that you start at these viewpoints and work your way back towards the visitor centre. The entire scenic drive takes around two to three hours, with viewpoints located short distances from car parks along the way. Viewpoints include Black Birch Canyon, Natural Bridge, Bryce Point and Sunset Point.
 

Stargazing

In 2019 Bryce Canyon National Park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park. With very little light pollution and outstanding night sky quality, stargazing here is a popular pastime. From presentations delivered by qualified experts to ranger-guided full moon hikes, there are multiple opportunities to learn more about the constellations above, or simply soak up the serene night skies.

  

Horse riding

Witness the beauty of Bryce Canyon National Park from horseback on a half-day or full-day trail ride. Guided by a knowledgeable crew, you’ll learn about the history and geology of the hoodoos as you descend towards the canyon. Whether you’re a seasoned equestrian or a complete beginner, you’ll be well looked after by your horse and crew as you admire the landscape from a different perspective.


 

Canyonlands National Park

Just over 30 miles from Moab, Utah, Canyonlands National Park promises staggering landscapes across its four districts divided by the rivers. From gaping canyons to vast mesas, the 527 square-mile park protects a colourful expanse of red rock. 

The four districts are the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the two rivers, with the Island in the Sky being the most accessible part of the park. Situated on a 1,500 foot mesa there are paved roads as well as plenty of hiking trails. The Needle, meanwhile, is the perfect place for an off-the-beaten-track hiking experience, while the Maze is the most remote district to explore.

 


 

Best time to visit Canyonlands National Park


The summer in Canyonlands National Park can bring temperatures of over 38 degrees celsius, as well as sudden and extreme storms. April brings the most comfortable temperatures for hiking and outdoor activities, with May being the most popular month out of the year. Time your visits for early morning or late afternoon to avoid the peak of the crowds.

The autumn season - September to November - is also a great time for hiking in cooler temperatures, while crowds slowly begin to dissipate. However, be aware that thunderstorms can arrive suddenly.

 

 

Top landmarks in Canyonlands National Park

 

Mesa Arch

Stretching 27 ft long, Mesa Arch creates a stunning frame of the canyon and mountains. On a short, easy hike you’ll reach the Mesa Arch. Arguably the best time to arrive here is at sunrise to really enhance the fiery, orange colour of the rock, but be aware that this is a very popular hiking trail and is likely to be busy.

 

Aztec Butte Granary

Built by the Anasazi - a civilisation from as early as 1,500 B.C - the granaries of Aztec Butte are a fascinating example of historic architecture. Built into alcoves of a steep-sided mesa, these granaries can be seen on the moderately-difficult Aztec Butte trail.

 

Chesler Park

Get up close to the Needles - weird and wonderful sandstone spires - by exploring Chesler Park, a circular meadow of fauna surrounded by tall rock. The Chesler Park Loop itself provides panoramic views from a serene meadow, but can be steep and uneven in sections.

 

The Great Gallery

One of the best-preserved collections of canyon rock art, the Great Gallery is a group of life-size red, brown and white paintings with the largest standing at over two metres in height. On a hike in Horseshoe Canyon you’ll come across these ancient artworks as well as numerous other depictions of animals.

 

Upheaval Dome

Widely regarded as one of the most puzzling geological formations in Canyonlands National Park, Upheaval Dome is an 1,000 feet deep crater. There are two possible theories for its origins, one being a meteorite crash site, and the other being the eroded remains of a salt dome. There are two moderately challenging hikes that you can take to overlook this impressive crater.

 

 

Best things to do in Canyonlands National Park

 

Hiking

With hundreds of miles of hiking routes to explore, Canyonlands National Park is the perfect destination for both beginner and experienced trekkers. The Island in the Sky and the Needles are the best districts for well-marked trails, while the Maze is more suitable for backpacking. Mesa Arch and Grand View Point are two of the most popular easy hikes, while Upheaval Dome and Aztec Butte are more strenuous.

 

Stargazing

Awarded International Dark Sky Park status in 2015, Canyonlands National Park is awash with stars on a clear night. Whether you choose to stargaze alone or accompanied by a ranger, you’ll be awestruck by the constellations that you’re able to see with just the naked eye.
 

Camping

With so much space to explore in Canyonlands National Park, camping is a great way to extend your time and make the most of the great outdoors. There are campsites in Island in the Sky and the Needles districts, each with basic facilities available (such as toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings).

 

Mountain biking

Canyonlands National Park boasts hundreds of miles of idyllic four-wheel-drive roads for mountain biking. The Island in the Sky’s White Rim Road is one of the most popular amongst mountain bikers, and provides beautiful views from below the mesa top. With some steep sections to tackle, the White Rim Road can be a challenging ride. Elephant Hill Road in the Needles district, meanwhile, is one of the most technical, challenging roads in Utah, and should only be tackled by expert mountain bikers.


 

Capitol Reef National Park

One of Utah’s smallest national parks, Capitol Reef National Park is favoured for its secluded hiking trails. Bringing in fewer visitors than larger national parks, you’ll find yourself wandering an impressive oasis of sandstone cliffs. Comprising over 240,000 acres, visitors can hike, drive,  and camp throughout Capitol Reef, as well as visit the lively, charming town of Fruita.

 

Best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park


To avoid the stifling temperatures and larger crowds of the summer, the best time to visit Capitol Reef National Park is in the spring and autumn. May, April, September and October can be busy periods at the park, but you’ll find comfortable weather that makes outdoor activities a breeze. No matter what season you’re visiting, plan to start your days in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid peak times.

 

 

Top landmarks in Capitol Reef National Park

 

Capitol Dome

Towering at 800 feet above the Fremont River, Capitol Dome is an imposing, iconic landmark of Capitol Reef National Park. While not technically a dome but a collection of sandstone finds, it’s an impressive rock formation nonetheless, and is best viewed from the Hickman Bridge trail.

 

Behunin Cabin

While this quaint sandstone cabin may look unassuming at first, this ancient structure has stood the test of time since 1883, once housing some of the early settlers of the Fremont River area. The Behunin Cabin housed a family of fifteen for a year before they moved on to the town of Fruita, but is a well-preserved example of the simple structure settlers once lived in. Renovated in the 1960s, the Behunin Cabin can be found on Highway 24.

 

Hickman Bridge

One of the geological highlights of Capitol Reef National Park, Hickman Bridge is a staggering natural arch looming over the Fremont River. At just under two miles on a well maintained trail, the Hickman Bridge hike is popular for its views of the bridge, river, and distant landscapes.

 

Fruita

Established in 1880 by Mormon settlers as the town of Junction, Fruita was then Nowadays Fruita is a well-preserved historic town with orchards of over 3,000 fruit, berry and nut trees. Visitors can pick from the orchards during the picking season - mid-June to October - and explore the schoolhouse and Gifford Homestead. Under the ownership of the National Park Service, Fruita is also the administrative centre of Capitol Reef National Park.

 

Upheaval Dome

Widely regarded as one of the most puzzling geological formations in Canyonlands National Park, Upheaval Dome is an 1,000 feet deep crater. There are two possible theories for its origins, one being a meteorite crash site, and the other being the eroded remains of a salt dome. There are two moderately challenging hikes that you can take to overlook this impressive crater.

 

 

Best things to do in Capitol Reef National Park

 

Hiking

With hundreds of miles of hiking routes to explore, Canyonlands National Park is the perfect destination for both beginner and experienced trekkers. The Island in the Sky and the Needles are the best districts for well-marked trails, while the Maze is more suitable for backpacking. Mesa Arch and Grand View Point are two of the most popular easy hikes, while Upheaval Dome and Aztec Butte are more strenuous.

 

Mountain biking

Canyonlands National Park boasts hundreds of miles of idyllic four-wheel-drive roads for mountain biking. The Island in the Sky’s White Rim Road is one of the most popular amongst mountain bikers, and provides beautiful views from below the mesa top. With some steep sections to tackle, the White Rim Road can be a challenging ride. Elephant Hill Road in the Needles district, meanwhile, is one of the most technical, challenging roads in Utah, and should only be tackled by expert mountain bikers.


 

Yosemite National Park

Situated in California, Yosemite National Park is a designated World Heritage Site, renowned for its iconic granite cliffs. Almost 95% of the park is protected wilderness, enriching a vast diversity of wildlife and plantlife. Many visitors flock to witness the giant sequoias, climb the epic El Capitan cliff, and admire the countless waterfalls.

Covering over 750,000 acres of land, Yosemite National Park offers plenty of outdoor activities no matter what season you’re visiting. Exploring by foot in Summer is a great way to take in the unique flora and fauna, and spot sneaking wildlife, while the winter offers ice skating, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

 

Best time to visit Yosemite National Park


Most visitors arrive at Yosemite National Park from May to October, taking advantage of the warmer weather and flourishing wildflowers. July and August are the busiest months due to the summer holidays, so you should visit in the Spring or Autumn if you’d prefer to avoid this.

It’s important to remember that some facilities - such as campgrounds, trails and roads - can be closed due to snowfall in winter. To avoid closures and enjoy the best conditions, visit Yosemite between June and September.
 

 

Top landmarks in Yosemite National Park

 

Half Dome

Named after its unique shape, Half Dome is a granite rock formation that can be hiked or climbed. Rising more than 4,737 feet above Yosemite Valley, it’s not for beginner hikers, involving a steep final ascent with the assistance of steel cables. These cables allow hikers to reach the summit of Half Dome without the use of rock climbing equipment, making it more accessible. However, you should be well prepared for a 10 to 12 hour hike.

 

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is home to around 500 giant sequoias. One of the most famous trees in the grove is the Grizzly Giant, standing at more than 90 feet tall and estimated to be around 2,995 years old. Nearby the Grizzly Giant is the California Tunnel Tree. In 1895 a man-made tunnel was carved through the trunk to allow stagecoaches to pass through. Nowadays the tunnel is too small for most cars, but can still be walked through to inspect the inside of this magnificent tree.

 

El Capitan

From many viewpoints in Yosemite National Park, El Capitan dominates the skyline. Standing at 3,000 feet above the valley, it has become a symbolic beacon of the park, and a challenging climb to be conquered. However, for a more peaceful way to enjoy El Capitan, simply reach one of the many viewpoints and wait for the Firefall. Enjoyed during mid to late February, watch as El Capitan’s eastern flunk becomes awash in golden red with the setting sun.

 

Tuolumne Meadows

For a laid-back wildlife-watching experience, Tuolumne Meadows is a serene grassland surrounded by granite peaks. Wildflowers bloom in the spring making it particularly popular for photographers, but thanks to the wide open space, you’ll rarely run into crowds.

 

Glacier Point

Overlooking Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and the high country, Glacier Point is perhaps the most iconic viewpoint in Yosemite National Park. At an elevation of 7,214 feet, it’s also a brilliant spot for bird watching. Glacier Point is accessible by the Glacier Point Road from June to October, and can also be reached via a moderately strenuous hike on the Four Mile Trail.

 

 

Best things to do in Yosemite National Park

 

Hiking

From gentle out-and-back hikes to jaw-dropping climbs to a summit, Yosemite National Park has a multitude of hikes suitable for all skill levels. The Half Dome hike is Yosemite’s most challenging and requires a permit, but is a truly rewarding experience to conquer. The Glacier Point Trailhead hike, meanwhile, is an easy trip to one of the best viewpoints in the park.

 

Cycling

Yosemite National Park provides over 12 miles of paved bike paths, giving you a unique perspective of the scenery. While cycling is prohibited on hiking trails and off-road, there’s plenty of landscape to be admired while enjoying the fresh air. Bikes can be hired during the warmer season, with trailers and tandems available.

 

Rafting

Yosemite National Park provides two main rivers for rafting. The Merced River is perhaps more suitable for beginners due to the smaller rapids, but be aware that during April and May the waves are at their largest. Passing through the grassy canyon, you’ll be surrounded by oak and pine trees, with hillsides in full bloom during the spring. The Tuolumne River, on the other hand, offers an ample step up for thrill seekers. Thundering through boulders and spectacular scenery, you’ll catch glimpses of Half Dome as you sail down the rapids.

 

Horse riding

Follow in the hoofprints of the early pioneers as you explore Yosemite National Park on horseback. From gentle two-hour rides to immersive half-day adventures, you’ll soak up the landscape with your sure-footed companion to guide the way. It doesn’t matter if you have no prior horse riding experience. The Yosemite National Park ranches provide teams of experienced horses and mules to ensure you enjoy the journey.

 

Climbing

Yosemite National Park is considered one of the world’s greatest destinations for climbing. Thanks to the vast size of the park there are a wide range of climbs to suit all skill levels. However, by far the most challenging and famous is El Capitan, requiring years of experience and determination to conquer. Half Dome is another iconic summit that draws countless climbers every year. But if you’re new to climbing and not sure where to start, you’ll find the Yosemite Mountaineering School a fantastic place to begin your bouldering adventure.


 

Grand Teton National Park

Just 10 miles south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park, another of Wyoming’s fantastic showcases of outdoor adventure. While the park is around 310,000 acres, it contains some of the largest peaks in the Teton Range as well as beautifully lush meadowland. In addition, the history of Grand Teton dates back 11,000 years when Nomadic hunter-gatherers began to migrate in search of food and resources.

 

Best time to visit Grand Teton National Park


The best time to visit Grand Teton National Park depends on what you’d like to see or do. For the best conditions for boating and water activities, visit during the summer when the weather is at its best. You’ll also find that wildlife is most active during the summer season, giving you the best chances to spot them while out hiking. However, like many US national parks, summer is by far the busiest season. For fewer crowds visit during the spring or autumn season, but be sure to prepare for rain. For the best winter sports conditions, visit from November to March.
 

 

 

Top landmarks in Grand Teton National Park

 

Mormon Row Historic District

After Mormon settlers arrived in the 1890s the community of Grovont was established, comprising 27 homesteads. Today you’ll find well-preserved barns, including the John Moulton Barn which entices photographers from around the world. Nestled beside the jagged Teton mountain range, these impressive barns have stood the test of time to become an iconic landmark in Grand Teton National Park. Pronghorn, elk and moose are also commonly found grazing in the area.

Jackson Lake

Enlarged by the construction of the Jackson Lake Dam, Jackson Lake spans 15 miles of glacial water tucked into the base of the Teton mountains. Since its expansion it has become a hotspot for water activities, including boating, swimming and fishing. There are also a number of hiking trails, as well as ‘beaches’ along the shore for relaxing.

 

Chapel of the Transfiguration

Built in 1925 the Chapel of the Transfiguration frames a view of the Cathedral Group of mountains. In its earlier years it offered spiritual refreshment to ranchers and passing tourists in the surrounds of the Teton Range. Now, with space for just 65 visitors, this quaint building provides a unique place for worship and reflection in Grand Teton National Park.

 

Best things to do in Grand Teton National Park

 

Hiking

There are over 250 miles of hiking trails to explore in Grand Teton National Park. From rugged canyons to vast glacier lakes, you’ll soak up plenty of beautiful scenery and unforgettable wildlife encounters along the way. For beginner hikers the Jackson Lakeshore Trail is an easy, predominantly flat trek with views across the water to the Teton mountains. Alternatively, the Jenny Lake Loop is an easy but longer walk, with an alternative - but certainly no less stunning view - of the mountains.

To step it up a gear, the Lake Solitude Trail is a more strenuous trek, taking you through Cascade Canyon and ending up at the serene alpine Lake Solitude. For the ultimate trekking challenge embark on the Surprise, Amphitheater and Delta Lakes Trail, climbing a rewarding 3,667 feet.

 

Wildlife watching

Grand Teton National Park’s wildlife is often overlooked in favour of large US national parks. However, on just a simple hike through this rugged landscape, you’ll find a haven of thriving wildlife. Grizzly and black bear are common residents of the ecosystem (always stay at least 100 feet away from bear, wolf and bison), while moose and elk can often be spotted at a water’s edge.

Oxbow Bend is one of the best wildlife viewing areas, with river otter, osprey, bald eagle and beaver all in abundance around the water. Mormon Row, on the other hand, is home to nearby bison, pronghorn and coyote.

 

42-Mile Scenic Drive

Hit multiple points of interest throughout Grand Teton National Park on the 42-mile Scenic Drive. On this loop drive there are designated places for you to stop and take in the scenery safely. Between May and October each year, you can drive to popular locations including:

  • Oxbow Bend
  • Snake River Overlook
  • Jackson Lake Dam
  • Mormon Row
  • Cunningham Cabin

 

Boating

With numerous lakes to choose from, boating is a popular pastime in Grand Teton National Park. You can opt to embark on a scenic cruise with a guided boating service, or rent kayaks and canoes for a serene paddling experience. Thrill-seekers will love thundering down the Snake River on a whitewater raft, while families can enjoy a steady float on the water.


 

Ready to explore the US National Parks?

One of the best ways to explore the US National Parks is on a North America small group tour. Throughout your trip you'll visit some of the most iconic parks, including Yellowstone and Arches, while also enjoying some of the best that the US has to offer.

Whether you're eager to explore Utah's 'Big Five' or want to venture further afield in the Rocky Mountains, discover our range of North America adventures.
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