North America – the third largest of the world’s continents – is home to some of the most staggeringly beautiful protected areas of natural wilderness in the world.
From the geysers of Yellowstone to the mesmerizing fjords of Newfoundland, we’ve teamed up with luxury tour operators Insight Vacations to choose our collective favorite best and most beautiful National Parks in North America…
1. Glacier National Park, Montana, USA – one of the prettiest national parks to explore in America
One of the few US National parks which you can explore without a car and easily one the most beautiful, Glacier National Park in Montana is home to around two thousand lakes, a thousand miles of rivers, breezy meadows, dense green forests, towering peaks, and plenty of wildlife including bighorn sheep and mountain lions.
Obviously, though the glaciers are the park’s biggest draw – it’s home to 25 small glaciers and also huge flows of ice that carved these immense valleys thousands of years ago.
2. Banff National Park, Canada – famously one of the most beautiful national parks in North America
A place which often tops the most beautiful places in the world lists is Banff National Park – Canada’s most popular and most cherished tourist attraction. It’s the most famous Canadian Rockies park and offers both sublime scenery and plenty of thrilling outdoor activities.
It’s also home to some gorgeous lakes including the very special Peyto Lake and the bustling Lake Louise (where you can go canoeing).
Other places that shouldn’t be missed are the Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and Tangle Creek. Expect waterfalls, lakes, canyons, spectacular viewpoints and a seemingly unending procession of majestic mountains, rivers, glaciers and stunning forest scenery.
3. Death Valley National Park, California, USA
Located in the desert in Southern California, Death Valley National Park is home to various exotic creatures, most noticeably migratory birds and other animals. While you’re there, make sure you see Mustard Canyon, Salt Creek, and the Devil’s golf course.
You can also enjoy some amazing sand dunes and sand that is all different colors, something that not everyone has had the chance to experience.
Since natives and travelers alike used to travel through this area during the Gold Rush years, it is believed gold is still buried in several places somewhere in this park.
4. Jasper National Park, Canada – one of the best National Parks to explore in North America
Jasper National Park – which neighbours Banff – also deserves a place on this list and at an incredible 11,000 square kilometres it’s the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies.
There are also plenty of activities on offer including taking a Harley Davidson tour, mountain biking, trekking, and renting a boat.
Don’t leave without driving along the phenomenal Icefield Parkway – a scenic highway located between Jasper and Banff – which features bright emerald green lakes, cascading waterfalls that adorn towering rock spires, and more than 100 ancient glaciers.
5. Yosemite National Park, California – one of the famously top national parks in North America
This is one of our favorite national parks and one of those places that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime!
Created by glaciers which gouge through the canyon of the Merced River, the Californian park is easily one of the most awe-inspiring geological spectacles on the planet.
The park is brimming with 3000ft near-vertical cliffs adorned with tumbling waterfalls, magnificent rock domes, grassy meadows framed by towering oak, cedar and fir trees and wildlife galore – just watch out for the black bears!
6. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska – one of the most stunning national parks
Part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site this one is the largest one of the world’s largest international protected areas. Alaska is home to some spectacular unspoilt scenery and this park offers 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, wild coastlines, dewy rainforests and deep fjords.
The highlights though are the sixteen glaciers that spill into the 65-mile-long Glacier Bay and the chance to spot humpback whales, porpoises, and seals.
7. Yellowstone National Park, mostly Wyoming USA – one of the most famous national parks in North America
This is another one of America’s legendary US parks and this one is the oldest and the most famous national park, attracting a whopping three million visitors every year.
The popular protected area is a melting pot of jaw-dropping mountain scenery, azure lakes, pretty meadows and varied wildlife (including large herds of heavy-bearded bison). Although it’s the park’s volcano – one of largest in the world – which really sets the place apart.
Thankfully, it hasn’t exploded for 640,000 years but it still provides incredible displays of thermal activity including geysers, thousands of fumaroles jetting plumes of steam, mud pots gurgling with acid-dissolved muds and clays, and plenty of hot springs!
8. Joshua Tree National Park, South California USA
This is another of our favorites. The 1250 square mile park is known for its unearthly and unsettling beauty filled with incredible rock formations and grotesquely gnarled plants, which aren’t trees at all, but a type of yucca.
We drove to the park’s highest point – an eerily silent vista overlooking Coachella Valley and Salton Sea (only slightly marred by the smoggy air pouring out from the Los Angeles Basin) and stayed until sunset.
As dusk arrived the desert floor become bathed in red light and the spiky trees turned into ghost-like black silhouettes. A very unique National Park which is not to be missed!
9. Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Utah is a western state home to some seriously beautiful natural scenery and Zion National Park is one of the places to head to see some of the finest landscapes in the area.
It’s known for its huge sandstone cliffs, narrow sheer-walled canyons, scenic drives, emerald lakes with cascading waterfalls and forest trails but most visitors head for Zion Canyon.
Probably the most immediately spectacular of the many geological wonders in Utah it’s where sheer red and white sandstone cliffs tower up to 2,500 feet above the North Fork of the Virgin River.
10. Grand Canyon National Park
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, The Grand Canyon appears on many a traveler’s bucket list.
It’s so vast and so hypnotically beautiful you can’t quite believe you share the same planet and can often leave visitors (like us) feeling like they’re visiting a surreal movie set.
It’s an endless expanse and inconceivable abyss – more than one mile deep and at its widest is eighteen miles across. For a little bit of extra excitement take a helicopter tour, swim in the waterfalls, or raft through the park’s whitewater rapids.
11. Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949 but it offers some stunning unspoiled scenery, with its most mesmerizing scenery is contained within Gros Morne National Park.
Filled with beautiful bays, scrawny beaches, straggling villages, and wizened sea stacks with a gorgeous backdrop of fjord-cut mountains, this protected wilderness definitely deserves a place on this list.
The park’s forested lower slopes are home to thousands of moose, snowshoe hares, and woodland caribou and minke whales regularly feed in Bonne Bay.
12. Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
Although it is considered a relatively small national park, Acadia is popular because numerous U.S. presidents have visited it. It is especially popular in the fall months when the leaves turn vibrant shades of red, orange, and gold.
In addition to beautiful leaves, the park also boasts beautiful pinewood groves and the Egg Rock Harbor Lighthouse, which provides you with a 360-degree view of the area that is nothing short of spectacular.
You can visit it anytime and enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever been exposed to.
13. Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
Everglades National Park is the biggest national park in the United States, but since it consists mostly of swampland, it is not accessible to most people most of the time.
Still, there are ways you can get there by getting into a small boat or rowboat, and a few of the areas people love the most include Eco Pond, Shark Valley, and Royal Palms.
On the outskirts of the park you can find a few homesteads and B&Bs, and thanks to preservation efforts in the area, there is still a lot for you to see if you do decide to visit it. In fact, it is one national park you are certain never to forget.
14. Redwood Forest National and State Park, California, USA
One of the most popular and best national parks in North America, the Redwood Forest National, and State Park is found along the Northern Coast of California, and not only are the trees extraordinary in size but if you view them from above, you can tell that they are truly a beautiful shade of red in color!
There are several visitors centers and lots of areas to hike and camp, and while you’re there, make sure you check out the many picnic areas, groves, and campgrounds, one of them being the Jebediah Campground, which you are certain to enjoy.
15. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA
Some of the settlements in this park are more than 10,000 years old, and the park itself stretches from Colorado into New Mexico. You can stay in either Aspen or Denver to enjoy the park, which consists of log cabins, various campgrounds, and lots of hiking trails.
You can also enjoy kayaking in the Colorado River, so if you love the great outdoors, this is the place for you. Of course, if you visit this park, you’ll also have to watch out for some of the grizzly bears that are notorious in this area of the state.
16. Arches National Park, Utah, USA
This is a great park when you’re a thrill-seeker because it offers more than 2,000 stone arches and huge rock formations to climb, mountain bike on, and even jump off of. This is indeed a red rock wonderland because it is both gorgeous and a lot of fun.
Of course, you don’t have to be an adrenaline junkie to enjoy this park. You can take a leisurely stroll through it and enjoy its amazing beauty.
Arches National Park truly has something for everyone, and you’ll never regret visiting it.
17. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA
Whether you like to scuba dive, backpack, or go boating, Isle Royale National Park can quench your desire for a little outdoor activity.
This park is a true gem even though many people don’t even know it’s there.
Located on an isolated island in Lake Superior, you’ll find a lot of things to do once you get there. This remote island offers a little more than 200 square miles of wilderness, waterways, and so much more, so if you love any type of outdoor activity, this is the place for you.
18. Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA
Located at the highest peak in the United States – Mt. McKinley – this national park has lots of animals that many people have never seen, including caribou, reindeer, grizzly bears, and moose, to name a few.
Attractions there include Polychrome Park, Savage River, and Wonder Lake. Touring the park is a breeze because there are regular bus tours offered all throughout the day.
Because of its rare wildlife, the park is protected, and you’ll be able to enjoy its snow-capped mountains all year long!
19. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA
Many people consider this the best national park to visit if you love photographing beautiful sites. The landscape of the park is phenomenal and it has a rugged, cowboy-like feel to it.
There are a lot of wide-open spaces there and nature that is untouched by the modern world.
The park stretches from the Teton Mountains to Jackson Hole to Jenny Lake, and if you’re anywhere near the state of Wyoming, you owe it to yourself to visit this park because it is truly a gem.
20. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee, USA
One trip to this great park and you’ll understand why it is the most visited park in the United States. It truly offers something for everyone, so whether you love to go camping, biking, or hiking, you’ll feel welcome here.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts nearly 80 historical landmarks all throughout the area.
You can enjoy beautiful wildlife and plant life, and whether you’re a nature lover or a history buff, you’ll find something about the park that you love. It is also rich in Cherokee Indian Native American history.
We also have posts on…
- The most beautiful places to visit in Alaska
- The most beautiful places to visit in the USA
- The most beautiful places to visit in Canada
- The most beautiful places to visit in Hawaii
- The most beautiful places to visit in Mexico
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Becky Moore – Owner, writer and photographer
My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I’ve lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up visits to over 40 countries. I’m a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian – from cloudberry liquors to Nordic noirs. When not wandering the world and running Global Grasshopper, you’ll find me walking my ex Athens street dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Lanes on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about my favourite places; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Borneo, Finland, Greece, Berlin, Laos, California and the surreal and beautiful landscapes of a wintry Iceland.
I’ve been quoted in Forbes, National Geographic, The Times, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Thrillist, British Airways Magazine, Entrepreneur, express.co.uk, Wanderlust, Telegraph Travel, Daily Mail and metro.co.uk. Find me on Linkedin or Facebook.