Budget Travel

15 Most Beautiful National Parks in America

Yosemite National Park, in California, covers more than 1,000 square miles in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sights like the dramatic cliffs known as Half Dome, unforgettable waterfalls, and quiet meadows make this one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Visitors to Yosemite make a point to ogle the amazing waterfalls, which take on a different character in each of the four seasons.

Wildlife abounds in Yosemite. Spotting peaceful deer is common, but bears and coyotes also make the park their home.

Big Bend National Park, in Texas, is one of the park service's lesser-known gems. If you prefer your adventures with some elbow room, the uncrowded park features rivers and canyons to rival its more famous cousins.

Santa Elena in Big Bend is one of the most popular destinations. The park can be explored in a daylong drive, or you can settle in at a campsite or nearby motel for more in-depth exploration.

The stately Chicos Mountains form a backdrop for Big Bend National Park.

The classic cholla cactus is one of the iconic plant species indigenous to Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is a manageable drive from Los Angeles, making it a popular destination for visitors to Southern California.

Spend some time exploring Joshua Tree National Park on your own or with the help of a tour.

Sequoia National Park is home to the immense, ancient redwoods that give the park its name. Encounters with these trees—the largest and oldest living things on earth—can be surprisingly moving.

Olympic National Park, in Washington State, is lush and dramatic in all seasons.

Olympic National Park's Hurricane Ridge is a bit more beautiful than its scary name might suggest.

Glacier National Park is arguably the most beautiful of all our national parks, with mountains that scrape the sky and lovely glacial lakes such as Lake McDonald, where you'll be hard-pressed not to skip stones.

Glacier's Visitors Center is a handy place to learn about the day's activities, wildlife sighting, and possible weather conditions (snow is a possibility at some elevations 12 months out of the year).

Glacier's Highline Trail is not for the faint of heart!

One of the oldest in the national park system, Crater Lake National Park, in Oregon, is deeply colorful and dramatic.

Crater Lake is not only a popular tourist destination, but is also considered sacred by some of Oregon's native peoples.

Yellowstone National Park is a must-see, with the beautiful Yellowstone Falls being one of the most popular sights.

Scenery in Yellowstone is delightful all year long—and the park draws increasing numbers of winter visitors—but spring is perhaps the most extraordinary time to visit.

Your trip to Yellowstone can be as rugged or as pampered as you'd prefer. Spend the day hiking to gorgeous falls, or relax on a guided tour.

While the mountains in Grand Teton National Park are not as dizzyingly high as their neighbors in other Western parks, their profile is certainly the most distinctive.

A visit to Grand Teton National Park in winter is unforgettable.

The sun rises on another day at beautiful Grand Teton National Park.

Acadia National Park, on the coast of Maine, is that rarest of parks that combines rugged mountains with gorgeous seascapes—and even one of America's most beautiful lighthouses.

For a family vacation that combines some education with beachgoing, Acadia can't be beat.

The dramatic cliffs of Acadia National Park are best enjoyed at a safe distance.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in parts of North Carolina and Tennessee, is America's most popular park, drawing more than 9 million visitors each year.

Portions of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains make up beautiful Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Spend some time exploring the lush forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park—but be cognizant of wildlife and trail closings due to bear activity.

Grand Canyon National Park is not only beautiful but unique, with a scape and set of colors that make it difficult to compare with anywhere else in the U.S.

Don't spend all your time in the Grand Canyon snapping photos—but your efforts will certainly be rewarded.

If you've got the nerve, take off down one of the Grand Canyon's many trails.

Beautiful Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park, one of Utah's parks and one of America's most popular.

Pack plenty of water for a summertime trip to Zion—and be ready to pull off for many scenic vistas.

A family trip to Zion will give the little ones a pretty cool answer to that inevitable September question: What did you do on your summer vacation?

Arches National Park will make you feel as if you took off for another planet. Yet it's all part of Utah's amazing array of national parks.

Spend some time exploring Arches National Park, even if you're on your way to one of Utah's other beautiful parks. The more days you stay, the more there is to see.

Some of the formations in Arches will have you saying, "Really?"

Badlands National Park is a lot prettier than its name—and it's worth a multiday stop on any Western road trip.

There's no better place for kids to learn the real history of the west than on a trip to Badlands National Park.

Whether you're planning a vacation or just craving some eye candy, we're celebrating summer with 40 trip-inspiring photos of our most treasured—and gorgeous—national parks. From the Southern California desert to the coast of Maine, here are 15 parks we couldn't live without!

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