America’s west coast national parks will leave you in a state of wonder and awe. From steamy geysers and majestic forests to unusual geological features like rainbow-colored sandstone and towering, narrow slot canyons, these U.S. national parks make for a memorable visit nearly any time of year.
Here’s where to go for hiking, cycling, photography, wildlife viewing, and so much more…(Note: Many of these parks are located in states along the west coast. All of them are located in the Western U.S.)
- National Parks on the West Coast
- 1. Yellowstone National Park
- 2. Yosemite National Park
- 3. Grand Teton National Park
- 4. Zion National Park
- 5. Channel Islands National Park
- 6. Grand Canyon National Park
- 7. Glacier National Park
- 8. Petrified Forest National Park
- 9. Olympic National Park
- 10. Bryce Canyon National Park
- 11. Death Valley
- 12. Joshua Tree National Park
- 13. Rocky Mountain National Park
- 14. North Cascades National Park
- 15. Sequoia National Park
- 16. Crater Lake
- 17. Arches National Park
- 18. Mount Rainier National Park
- 19. Pinnacles National Park
National Parks on the West Coast
1. Yellowstone National Park
As America’s oldest and perhaps most famous national park, Yellowstone delivers…with geothermal hot springs, sparkling rivers, lush valleys, dramatic canyons, and wildlife galore. While it’s not on the actual west coast, it’s one of the nation’s premier parks in the west!
Hikers could happily spend several weeks exploring here. There are dozens of epic hikes in Yellowstone.
Your Yellowstone itinerary should include time visiting geysers and hot springs—Norris Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Old Faithful—and marveling at the stunning Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
(Your national parks packing list should definitely include binoculars!)
Lamar Valley is America’s Serengetti. It’s easy to spot wolf packs and bison herds here. Hayden Valley is another great place to see bison.
Just remember that Yellowstone is huge! In fact, it’s got five separate entrances over 3,500 square miles so be strategic in planning your visit to minimize drive time.
Here is my curated list of the best Yellowstone cabins.
Chris | Explore Now or Never
2. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country, and for good reason!
Seeing the towering peaks from Yosemite Valley should be on everyone’s bucket list. But Yosemite has more than just great views! You’ll also find epic hikes, backcountry trails, and scenic drives.
Every Yosemite National Park adventure should start in Yosemite Valley. A walk through the valley rewards you with stunning views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan.
The best vantage point of Yosemite Valley is from Tunnel View, a popular spot for photographers.
Some of the most iconic national park hikes are in Yosemite. Strenuous hikes like Cloud’s Rest and Four Mile Trail provide once in a lifetime views.
True adventure seekers should get a permit to hike the cables at Half Dome in the Summer.
The best sunset in the park is from Taft Point. In the late afternoon, hike the moderate loop trail out to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point for stunning golden hour views.
If hiking doesn’t interest you, take a scenic drive instead! Glacier Point Road and Tioga Pass Road are both incredibly scenic.
For any adventure in Yosemite, book a spot at one of the park’s many campgrounds or lodges to be close to the action. Or stay in your own private cabin!
Julia | Well Planned Journey
Save on your parks visit: Get the America the Beautiful Pass
The America the Beautiful Pass is your ticket to freedom! For $79.99, it gives you a whole year of access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks nationwide.
It covers entrance for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle or up to 4 adults at sites that charge per person. When you buy through REI, they donate 10 percent of the sale to the National Park Foundation.
Get your America the Beautiful Pass at REI here.
3. Grand Teton National Park
Grant Teton is an amazing story of restoration and nature’s resilience. Once an area of huge cattle ranches and towns, today this natural treasure is a spectacular national park, with snow-capped towering mountains (the Tetons), staircase valleys, rivers, hikes, and incredibly rich wildlife.
There are so many incredible things to do in Grand Teton.
While restoring the natural habitat, the park has preserved the human history in the form of ranchers’ houses, a complete Norman village, ranch fences, and displays.
They form some amazing props for pictures as you can see in our picture gallery of Grand Teton National Park.
The visitor center is beautiful with many displays and helpful rangers that can help plan the visit to your needs.
It also has a gift shop within the building. The grand Teton mountain range is visible from everywhere to form amazing views.
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Along the main highway 191, there are many trailheads and quick scenic spots.
For me the most memorable stop was at Schwabacher landing where we saw a mama moose with her young ones. They played, ate, and fought in the stream, allowing us to watch and photograph the entire 25 minutes of pure exhilaration.
I highly recommend the hike up to Taggart Lake. If you have time, continue on to do all three trails.
Follow the trail up to Lake Taggart which is a 3-mile hike and takes about 2 hours. It passes through forests and meadows with a variety of vegetation and ecosystems, leading up to the quiet and beautiful lake.
Jyoti | Story at Every Corner
4. Zion National Park
Update April 2021: Due to COVID, the park has implemented a shuttle reservation system. Since no private cars are allowed on the Scenic Drive (the main artery through the park), this means you must reserve tickets many weeks ahead on-line as no tickets are sold in the park. Otherwise, you’ll need to walk into the park. Or rent e-bikes! It’s a great way to see Zion.
If you’re after national parks on the west coast to visit, then look no further than Zion National Park.
This is the crown jewel of Utah’s national parks. Zion is filled with sharp peaks, high mesas, rainbow coloured rocks, and twisting canyons.
Follow the same path where natives once walked and gaze at the huge sandstone cliffs.
The best way to experience this amazing place is by strapping on your hiking boots and finding your path. Hiking in Zion is amazing. With so many beautiful hikes to choose from, you won’t know where to start.
Inexperienced hikers might try the “Overlook Trail.” It’s a short 1 mile out and back track to see the Great Arch.
Alternatively, add the “The Narrows” slot canyon to your list, which varies from 5 to 9.4 miles (depending on how far you want to go). Subject to rainfall, this is also one where you could get wet. Shoes that drain well are recommended.
Top tips: It’s always best to arrive early before the crowds and utilize the shuttle service to get around more easily. Carry lots of water. Bring a hat and use plenty of sunscreen for protection.
The summer months can be very hot in the afternoon so keep an eye out for thunderstorms and flash flooding. Spring and late fall can be more temperate.
Camping options abound here. All visitors must purchase a recreational pass.
Zion National Park makes an ideal holiday destination. Check price and availability of cabins and other stays near Zion here.
Chris | The Aquarius Traveller
5. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is often overlooked among the West Coast’s more famous parks. There’s no highway to the park. To get here, you need to travel by boat or plane.
While this remoteness makes the park more difficult to access, it also gives you no crowds. Channel Islands doesn’t offer flashy amenities, but it does offer peace and solitude.
When planning your day trip to Channel Islands, you’ll want to start with one of the more accessible islands, like Santa Cruz.
It’s about an hour and a half to get here, but the sightseeing starts when you get on the boat. You’ll likely see pods of dolphins, and even whales on the way!
Once you arrive, the clear waters offer unparalleled kayaking and snorkeling. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy your food with a cool ocean breeze at the beach.
On Santa Cruz Island, walk the navy road up the hill to get magnificent views, but pack a hat since there’s almost no shade.
The Channel Islands are home to many species that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Keep an eye out for the island fox and the island scrub jay.
Channel Islands National Park offers beautiful California weather year-round, and is an ocean lover’s dream. To note: There is no lodging on the islands. Your best bet is to stay in nearby Ventura or Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara is a beautiful spot to base in particular. Check price and availability on places to stay in Santa Barbara here.
Ale | Sea Salt & Fog
6. Grand Canyon National Park
One of the best National Parks for you to explore is the Grand Canyon. Located right next to Page, Arizona, the Grand Canyon is one of the most famous canyons in the entire world. (Consider a day trip to Scottsdale, too, while you’re here.)
What makes it so special is that this canyon is one of the deepest canyons anywhere, at a staggering 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point. The canyon also stretches for about 277 miles wide and offers visitors some of the most splendid views they have ever seen.
Visitors who come to this park will find a variety of things for them to see and do.
For instance, one of the best hikes for incredible views is the Bright Angels Trail. Or if you don’t want to hike, do know that you can also ride a mule straight into the Grand Canyon which is just fantastic!
There’s also a museum on site where you can learn all about the history of the Grand Canyon. It’s a magical place to visit.
Wayne | The Daily Tourist
7. Glacier National Park
Snow dusted mountain peaks protrude from the green valleys of one of America’s most dramatic landscapes. Glacier National Park is nothing short of breath-taking.
It’s not just easily accessible scenic vistas that make this park worth visiting. The wildlife and hiking trails are the real allure.
From shorter 4-mile loops and glacial blue lakes (Avalanche Lake) to the adrenaline-pumping cliffside Highline Trail, clocking in at over 11 miles, there are hikes for all comfort levels.
Glacier National Park is also one of the best places in the United States for bear sightings. Both grizzly and black bears live within the park boundaries as well as foxes, mountain goats, eagles, and big-horn sheep.
If you only have a few days to explore Glacier National Park, I recommend driving the “Going-to-the-Sun” road that winds up through peaks in the park and hiking the Highline Trail.
There is a regular shuttle that takes you from the end of the trail back to the parking lot at Logan’s Pass.
This will give you all the best views of the valley and the most opportunities for spotting wildlife.
For those of you who want to hike the trail early (which you should) to avoid the mid-morning parking nightmare in the park, Logan’s Pass parking lot is a great place to stealth camp in your camper van or even just your car. Just be sure to pack extra blankets.
Geena | Beyond the Bucket List
8. Petrified Forest National Park
In Northeast Arizona lies a beautiful, unique national park, the Petrified Forest National Park. With its fossils, petroglyphs and painted desert, it’s like you’re in a different world.
The painted desert is a colorful pallet of ever-changing colors. Which is something to gaze at for hours.
The park is famous for the petrified logs that can be found here. There are so many grouped together that they speak of a petrified forest, one of the largest in the world.
Other features of the park are the badlands, wildflowers, and ancient petroglyphs.
The park can be best explored by stopping at the viewpoints and undertaking the walking trails. The viewpoints are along the main road through the park, which is 28 miles long and will take about an hour to drive (without stops).
Unique things to see on the main road, next to the Painted Desert and petrified logs, are an exhibit on Route 66 and Newspaper Rock. On Newspaper Rock are over 650 petroglyphs.
There are seven walking trails here. To get the best overview of the park, do at least the Painted Desert Rim Trail, Agate House Trail, and Long Logs Trail.
Cosette | KarsTravels
9. Olympic National Park
One of the best parks to visit on the west coast is definitely Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.
This gorgeous (and green!) national park spans over 900,000 acres and is one of the most visited US national parks. It also makes a great vacation families. There are so many things to do with kids in Olympic National Park.
It is also renowned for its diverse landscapes as you will find rainforests, mountains, beaches, and more.
If you’re traveling to Olympic National Park during the summer, everything is pretty much open and accessible. This makes the many Olympic National Park hikes open and ready for visitors.
There are over 611 miles of hiking trails in this Washington park and you will find a trail for every skill level and hiker. One of the best easy hikes is the one to Sol Duc Falls; the 1.6-mile hike leads hikers to one of the most iconic sites in the park.
If you’re a more advanced hiker, you will love the Klahhane Ridge Trail that will lead you 6.8 miles to Lake Angeles.
While most travelers opt to visit Olympic National Park in summer, don’t write it off in winter!
While many of the park’s usual offerings are closed for the season, you can still venture through the magical and mysterious Hoh Rainforest and with far fewer crowds.
There are so many fantastic reasons to visit Olympic National Park. It truly is one of the gems of the west!
Megan | MeganStarr.com
10. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is home to thousands of hoodoos. Hoodoos are irregular-shaped stone columns or pillars and when they are crowded together, they make an incredible, alien-like landscape.
The biggest concentration of hoodoos is in the large bowl-shaped Bryce Canyon Amphitheater. This is where the main park facilities are located and where the best views are to be found.
There are plenty of viewpoints, including the appropriately named Sunrise Point and Sunset Point as well as Inspiration Point and Bryce Point.
These are all worth visiting at different times of the day and can be easily reached by hiking along the Rim Trail or driving. It is also definitely worth hiking down into the canyon.
The most popular of the great hikes in Bryce Canyon is the Queen’s Garden – Navajo Loop Trail. This 3-mile trail takes you past many of the most famous hoodoos and is well worth the effort. (It’s a steep climb in/ out of the canyon)!
If hiking is not your cup of tea, the other way to enjoy the hoodoos is the drive to Rainbow Point. This 17-mile drive takes you along the rim of the entire canyon, with multiple turnoffs along the way to enjoy the views.
In addition to the national park lodging, there is a small village just outside the park with accommodations, restaurants and, in summer, a western dinner show that is fun to watch.
James |Parks Collecting
11. Death Valley
Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48 states. It’s the hottest, lowest, and driest place in North America where triple digits temperatures lasting for months are the norm.
Tourists from all over the world come here to explore the enigmatic landscapes of Death Valley at Devil’s Golf Course, Racetrack Playa, and the Bad Water Basin (the lowest point in North America), and see how animals that live here have adapted to the harsh environment.
Most recently, Death Valley made headlines as the hottest place on earth when it hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit in August of 2020.
The record was set in 1930 with 134 degrees; however, this fact is now often questioned, as experts say the thermometer readings were not accurate.
While you might want to wait for temperatures to cool down and save your trip for late fall and winter, visiting the hottest place on the planet definitely should be on your US bucket list! (Death Vally is a great place to visit in California in January.)
One of the prettiest hikes in Death Valley is Golden Canyon.
The entrance to Death Valley costs $35, and if you plan to visit other national parks in the region such as Yosemite or Sequoia, I recommend purchasing America The Beautiful National Parks Pass.
Death Valley is four hours away from LA and under two hours from Las Vegas, which makes it a perfect spot if you plan a longer west coast road trip.
Daria | The Discovery Nut
12. Joshua Tree National Park
When in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is a spectacular National Park to add to your trip.
Located near Palm Springs, it is easily accessible and a perfect place to spend a day exploring.
Joshua Tree is a unique national park in that it contains two different ecosystems within the park. The northern end of the park contains the Mojave Desert, which is at a slightly higher elevation.
This area contains many of the Joshua Trees the park is named after. The southern part of the park is considered the Colorado Desert. Here, visitors can see more yucca and cholla cactus.
Joshua Tree officially became a National Park in 1994 and contains 790,000 acres of land, just slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island.
Make sure to not visit the park in the summer months as it can get really hot in the desert.
During your visit, popular hikes include Barker Dam, where you can see tons of Joshua Trees and the Cholla Cactus Garden. Skull Rock is also a great stop.
If interested in a longer hike, take the 4-mile loop out to the Lost Horse Mine. Here visitors can see a preserved mill from the gold rush days.
The 90-minute Keys Ranch tour is a good option if you do not want to hike. No matter what, Joshua Tree National Park has a ton to see and something for everyone.
Francesca | Homeroom Travel
13. Rocky Mountain National Park
As one of the most visited national parks in the country, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is bound to impress.
Located just an hour and a half or so outside of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its incredible wildlife spotting opportunities, sparkling mountain lakes, excellent hiking, and beautiful scenic drives.
Most visitors base themselves in one of the surrounding small towns, especially the beautiful Estes Park, and use the town as a launching pad from which to explore.
Some of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include the trail to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake–a very high-reward hike for only about four miles round-trip–and the ever-popular Bear Lake.
More challenging options include Sky Pond and Chasm Lake.
Hiking isn’t the only way to explore the Rockies, though. The park’s scenic drives, including the famous Trail Ridge Road and Fall River Road, offer absolutely magnificent views with no hiking required.
While the most popular time to visit is the summer (by a landslide), this is a year-round national park. If you’d like to try your hand at snowshoeing around Bear Lake, watching the elk rutting season from a safe distance, or enjoying the best of the spring wildflowers, you’ll always find a reason to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.
Kate | Our Escape Clause
14. North Cascades National Park
Lesser known than many big name parks but cherished by locals, North Cascades National Park offers some of the most spectacular mountain scenery anywhere in the USA.
Featuring a stunning line of sharp peaks and an uncommonly remote feel, this is the place to go for alpine hiking without the crowds.
Despite being just a few hours from Seattle, North Cascades is lightly trafficked, with the vast majority of casual hikers sticking to the more accessible highlights in Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks.
Highway 20, the main road through the park, is quiet enough that it actually closes in winter.
An essential part of any great Pacific Northwest road trip, this amazing road journey is worth the trip on its own, featuring incredible scenery and charming little mountain towns such as Marblemount and Newhalem.
Ross and Diablo Lakes are postcard-worthy scenic gems. Colonial Creek Campground, on south Diablo, is truly one of the most beautiful campgrounds in a state full of them.
In addition to views out over the serene glassy lake directly from your tent, the terrific Thunder Knob and Thunder Creek hikes both start right from the campground.
There are many other great hikes in the area, as well, including highlight trails such as Cascade Pass and Desolation Peak.
Keep in mind, though, that if hiking is your main focus, you should wait until at least July when most of the snow will be gone.
If you won’t be camping, check price and availability on places to stay near North Cascades here.
Dean and Laynni | Routinely Nomadic
15. Sequoia National Park
The main attractions in Sequoia National Park are the giant sequoia trees that give the park its name. Although redwoods grow taller, for overall size, sequoias are the largest trees in the world.
Many of the largest trees have been given names. The biggest tree on earth is the General Sherman Tree, which can be reached along a paved path from a nearby parking lot.
At one point, the trail goes through a tunnel cut through the trunk of a giant tree that fell across it.
The General Sherman Tree is the start of the Congress Trail, a three-mile easy loop past many other enormous named trees.
Highlights include the Chief Sequoya Tree and the President Tree. Although the trees tend to grow alone, there are also two small groves (called the House and the Senate).
Standing among a collection of these giants is truly awe-inspiring.
There are plenty of other trails in the park to enjoy, including the Big Trees Trail, which circles a meadow that is a popular place to see wildlife such as black bears in the late afternoon.
Don’t miss a visit to the Giant Forest Museum, which has interesting displays about the trees.
The adjacent Kings Canyon National Park also has some sequoias, including the Grant Grove, home to the third largest tree on earth, the General Grant Tree.
James | Parks Collecting
16. Crater Lake
Crater Lake National Park may be Oregon’s only national park, but it is mighty and more than deserves its national park status!
This beautiful West Coast National Park is an absolute must-see.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the entire United States, a lake nestled in the remnants of a volcano that formed a caldera after the eruption of Mount Mazuma nearly 8,000 years ago.
The lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep, and the water’s clarity is astounding. You can view over 100 feet deep into its colors from the water’s surface.
There are several worthwhile things to do in Crater Lake National Park but any trip should start with a drive circumnavigating the caldera via Rim Drive.
This beautiful 33-mile drive takes a little over an hour to complete, but when you factor in photo stops, it can easily take up to half a day.
There are 15 designated vista points. Two favorites are Watchman Overlook and Cloudcap Overlook (the latter is a favorite sunset spot).
You also shouldn’t miss taking a boat trip to Wizard Island, one of two islets in Crater Lake, as well as doing some hiking in the vicinity.
Beginner hikers will enjoy the easy stroll to Plaikni Falls, whereas more experienced hikers will enjoy climbing Crater Peak, a seven-mile roundtrip summit hike.
Allison | Small Town Washington
17. Arches National Park
If you’re a national park lover, Utah is the state for you!
This compact state boasts a whopping five national parks, and each one offers something extremely different from the next.
One of the most unique landscapes you’ll find in all of Utah is in Arches National Park. This park is known for, well, its arches.
There are some 2,000+ documented arches in the park itself, and even more in its vicinity!
In fact, as per the National Park Service, Arches has the highest number of natural arches concentrated in one place anywhere in the world. It seems like everywhere you look is another arch!
The most famous of these is Delicate Arch, an arch which requires a 3-mile roundtrip hike.
It’s not a particularly difficult hike, but if you’re visiting in summer, you’ll want to go either at sunrise or sunset to avoid the worst of the heat (and the crowds).
Be sure to bring a headlamp! Other worthwhile natural arches to add to your Arches National Park itinerary include Double Arch, the Windows, Turret Arch, and Skyline Arch.
But there are so many more that you could visit! Those are just the most famous ones.
Other interesting places to see in Arches National Park include Devil’s Garden (an epic 2-mile hike where you’ll pass a dozen or so arches), the hoodoos of Fiery Furnace, Petrified Dunes Viewpoint, and the Moab Fault Overlook.
Allison | Eternal Arrival
18. Mount Rainier National Park
Due to its year-round snow-capped peaks and proximity to its namesake 14,410-foot active volcano that towers over 369 square miles of protected federal land, Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most spectacular and diverse national parks on the west coast.
A single hiking trail can begin in the pine forest before taking you to the base of a rushing river, to the top of a towering waterfall, and onto a prairie of blooming flowers for some of the most picturesque views of that towering 14,410-foot Mount Rainier in the backdrop.
And those features aren’t just found on a single trail.
Since the national park is centered around Mount Rainier, you can catch a glimpse of the mighty mountain from nearly anywhere in the park.
Some of the best hikes are the reflecting lakes of Tipsoo Lake and Reflection Lake trails, the pine-forested Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, snow-covered Skyline Trail and the panoramic stunner Fremont Fire Lookout Trail.
While hiking is at its peak inside the park from April to September, the best time to visit is from late-July to early August.
Due to its unique and cold climate, the park’s host of colorful flora typically begins blooming during that timespan. That’s when places like Paradise Valley really come alive.
Jarrod | Ramble around the World
19. Pinnacles National Park
It is the smallest, as well as the newest, national park in California, having just received its designation in 2013.
Pinnacles gets its name from the beautiful, towering rock formations that jut from the landscape, formed by a volcano more than 20 million years ago.
Today, the park boasts more than 30 miles of hiking trails, so you can explore the rocks as well as caves, chaparral, fields, forests, and beautiful wildflowers in the springtime.
Many of the hiking trails intersect, allowing you to customize the length and difficulty level of your hike.
In addition to hiking, Pinnacles National Park is a great place for wildlife viewing.
The park’s most sought after resident is the California Condor, with its magnificent nine-foot wingspan. Other native species include turkey vultures, hawks, bats, kangaroo rats, and golden eagles.
Note: Pinnacles has two entrances – one to the west and one to the east – and they aren’t connected by roads.
The west side of Pinnacles National Park is more remote and popular with day trippers looking to hike or rock climb.
The east side offers more services and is home to the park’s pool and campground, but tends to get a lot busier!
In fact, plan to arrive early if you are visiting the east side for the day; parking fills up early and you’ll have to walk or take a shuttle to get to the main trailheads otherwise.
Gwen | California Family Travel
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