The 62 national parks in the United States were dubbed “America’s Best Idea” by the acclaimed writer Wallace Stegner, as they ensure the conservation of our diverse landscapes and the ability for all to appreciate them. But that doesn’t mean all parks are created equal. Outdoors site Outforia ranked the most scenic national parks in categories ranging from wildlife to highest peak to the most popular park on Instagram. While judging the best overall national park is purely subjective, there’s no need to argue over the stunning beauty each of the winners offer. These five boast the most notable stats, with the full scientific breakdown of the methodology below.
Most Instagrammed — Grand Canyon National Park
No surprise here, as Grand Canyon National Park offers some of the most jaw-dropping views in the country, many of which are accessible by car. Also working in its favor is the fact that most visitors stay up on the rim, where the expansive viewpoints are, rather than hiking down into the canyon, making it an easy accomplishment for this park that sees roughly six million visitors a year to rack up 3.8 million Instagram tags.
Most animal species — Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Many head to Yellowstone in search of bison or bears, but for the ultimate wildlife viewing experience, it’s best to head southeast. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to some 1,778 species of wild animals, and the population is quite diverse — more than 200 types of birds, 50 species of fish, and nearly 100 types of reptiles and amphibians live there. Of course, there are the usual suspects as well, including bears, elk, deer, and more. Plus, the park is home to 2,671 plant species, so even the flora-finders will have plenty to keep them busy.
Most roadside natural hotspots — Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone might not boast the most animal species, but it does take the title for scenic spots. Outforia notes 122 total “natural beauty spots” in the park, with 28 natural notspots to pull over at, more than 300 animal species, and peaks topping 11,000 feet. Yellowstone draws more than four million annual visitors to its geysers, trails, canyons, and campsites — add in the near-guarantee of wildlife spotting and you’re looking at the most diverse national park experience.
Least rainfall but still a surprising amount of animal and plant life — Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is quite parched — it only gets 4.4 inches of rainfall each year. Despite this, 486 animal species and 1,164 plant species have been identified within the park. It boasts a surprising amount of life, especially considering that temperatures regularly top 100 degrees in summer and have even broken the 130-degree threshold (we’ll say “no thank you” to a visit on those days).
Highest peak — Denali National Park
You have to really want to get to Denali National Park in order to make it there. Located in south-central Alaska, far removed from any major metropolitan area, Denali isn’t exactly “road-trippable” for most of us. The effort to reach it is rewarded, however, with views of the highest peak in North America, Denali. At 20,310 feet, you may tweak your neck gazing at its towering facade, so pack a day’s worth of food and supplies and head up as high as you can in the park for a better angle.
Scenic Parks Infographic by Outforia