I never think, when I start itching to travel again, to just seek out the nearest national park. That’s Shenandoah for me, and it’s only about an hour and a half away from my home in DC. For people living out West, there are a ton more options: Less than 10 of the country’s 59 parks are east of the Mississippi, with huge numbers of them in California, Utah, Arizona, and Alaska.
And they’re all truly spectacular. While there are obviously the popular destinations of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, there are at the same time less visited ones, particularly in the more remote parts of Utah and Alaska, that are nonetheless mindblowingly awesome. Here are pictures from each of the 59 designated national parks, along with their locations. You know, in case you’re itching to travel a bit.
Yellowstone is the oldest and probably most spectacular of the national parks in the United States (though that’s a tough competition). It sits in northwestern Wyoming, with edges spilling into southeastern Idaho and southwestern Montana.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, in southeastern Alaska near the panhandle, has one of the sharpest reliefs in the world: 10 miles from the coastline are the St. Elias Mountains, some of the tallest on the continent.
Death Valley National Park straddles California and Nevada just east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It contains Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States, and is also known for being America’s hottest and driest spot.
Big Bend National Park is in southern Texas, and runs 118 miles along the Rio Grande, thus making it an international border. It’s named after the big bend you can see in the river on a Texas-Mexico map.
The Great Smokies covers part of the Appalachian Mountains and part of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The Appalachian Trail passes through it, and it is the most visited national park in the United
Congaree is located in South Carolina, and is known for its swamps and its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests. It’s a great park to canoe or kayak through and was founded as a result of a conservation campaign led by the Sierra Club.
The Dry Tortugas National Park is situated at the westernmost end of the Florida Keys, and includes Fort Jefferson, the largest piece of masonry work in the Western Hemisphere, as well as seven other islands. It is only accessible by seaplane or boat.
The northernmost national park, Gates of the Arctic is entirely in the Arctic Circle in the Brooks Range in Alaska. It is larger than Belgium, and is not accessible by road: you either have to hike or fly in.
The Everglades in southern Florida is the third largest national park in the lower 48 states, after Death Valley and Yellowstone, and it protects the Everglades wetlands and the huge number of endangered species that live there.
Hot Springs National Park in central Arkansas is the smallest National Park, and includes parts of the town Hot Springs. The springs are not in their original natural condition, but have been changed to work as therapeutic baths.