One is spoiled for choice when it comes to visiting the best national parks on the west coast in the US. The diverse landscapes mean that you are in for a treat no matter which park you choose. But, choosing one, or even just a few, is nearly an impossible task.
Towering trees. Steaming geysers. Snow-capped mountain ranges. Red canyons. Glacial landscapes. You already know all about the Canadian parks, so the below west coast national parks showcase the best of the natural beauty found in the United States.
Isn’t time for you to get outdoors and experience these national parks for yourself?
Death Valley National Park, CA
Heat. Desolation. Colors. Yes, colors! One of the most surprising things about Death Valley National Park is just how colorful it is which is completely unexpected in this remote landscape that seems devoid of any life. But the park is filled with color from Artists Palette to the orange sands of the Mesquite sand dunes.
But your entire view fills with pastel colors when you take in sunrise at Zabriskie Point and sunset from Dante’s View. And patterns. Grab a few hiking quotes to inspire you to climb intro your trekking boots and get going. The colored stripes in the badlands invite you to hike deeper into its canyons to the delicate lace-work patterns in the salt flats of Badwater Basin.
To really explore the off-the-beaten path in Death Valley, get a 4WD vehicle and venture into the forgotten depths of the park to the Racetrack Playa. On this extinct lake, rocks move on their own leaving tracks as proof.
Once you enter Death Valley, you’ll easily see why it’s one of the best national parks on the west coast.
Highlights – Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette, Racetrack Playa
Top Tip: Avoid visiting in summer if possible where temperatures are well over 115°F. Heat exhaustion can be deadly if not treated right away. Winter has more comfortable temperatures. But no matter when you visit, always have more water with you than you think you will need.
Where to Stay – Beatty (or Las Vegas is only a 2 hour drive away)
Closest Airport: McCarran International Airport (LAS), 120 miles
Grand Teton National Park, WY
Grand Teton National Park has the perfect combination of scenic overlooks and outdoor activities making it the perfect place for anyone to visit. And that is why it’s one of the best national parks on the west coast.
For those seeking adventure, Grand Teton National Park is full of options. Hiking trails of all levels are throughout the park from the easy trail around Jenny Lake to the strenuous climb up Cascade Canyon. And after hiking, you can grab a kayak and enjoy the tranquil waters of Jenny Lake or go for a swim in Taggert Lake.
But if you just want to admire the landscape, there is no shortage of overlooks giving you varying perspectives on this mountain range. The iconic spots are from Schwabacher Landing and Snake River Overlook. But you also can’t miss the Grand Teton standing large behind the weathered structures of Mormon Row. And, boat rides are available to ferry you across the different lakes for a relaxing taste of nature.
Highlights – Schwabacher Landing, Jenny Lake, Jackson Lake, Mormon Row
Top Tip: It’s less than a 30-minute drive from Grand Teton National Park to Yellowstone making it easy to combine the two into one epic road trip. And you can’t miss sunrise at Schwabacher Landing.
Where to Stay – Jackson Hole
Closest Airport: Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), 13 miles
Sequoia National Park, CA
The towering sequoias fill you with childlike wonder. And you do feel just like a child always needing to strain your head to see as high as you can. The bright red giants dwarf everything around them. You cannot get enough of these trees.
Stand in the sublime presence of the General Sherman Tree, the largest living organism in the world. Walk through mighty sequoia groves at the Congress Trail and in the Sugar Bowl.
But sequoia is so much more than its namesake trees. Stand on top of the world at Moro Rock. Enjoy the hairpin turns and countless curves of the General’s Highway that runs through the park. And incredible hiking trails take you waterfalls, alpine lakes, and stunning vistas.
And if you love hiking, Sequoia’s park boundary meets with Kings Canyon National Park. The drive down into the canyon alone is worth the visit. But from road’s end, there are many great overnight trails that take you deep into the Sierra Nevadas.
Highlights – Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, General’s Highway, Kings Canyon
Top Tip: Most of the park is between 7,000 and 8,000 feet in elevation. If you’ve never been at such elevation, plan to take it easy the first day to see how your body handles it as altitude sickness is a serious health issue. To reduce the effects, drink plenty of water.
Where to Stay – Three Rivers
Closest Airport: Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT), 83 miles
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Whimsical. A visit to Joshua Tree National Park is a journey into the whimsy, a Dr. Seuss landscape come to life. A fun adventure awaits all visitors to Joshua Tree making it one of the best national parks on the west coast.
Each Joshua Tree is unique with its bizarre branches twisting in every direction. Driving through the northern section of park, it’s Joshua Trees as far as you can see. It’s these trees that brighten up the oh-so Instagrammable California desert.
But it’s playtime when at the jumbo rocks that are throughout the park. These massive rocks can be enjoyed even if you don’t go rock climbing. Reaching the top via a scramble gives you a different perspective over the landscape. But to understand the park, take a hike. Short trails such as Hidden Valley or Barker’s Dam are perfect for everyone. Or, see just how big the park is from atop Ryan’s Peak.
In the southern portion of the park, the Joshua Trees fade away and are replaced by the equally whimsical and stunning Cholla cactus. You already know we have a soft spot for California, so visit other interesting places (like Costa Mesa) while at it.
Highlights – Joshua Trees, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Cholla Cactus Garden
Top Tip: It’s best to visit during winter and spring. In summer, temperatures are typically over 100°F. In winter, the day time temperatures are comfortable, but if camping, bring heavy layers as the temperature can drop to freezing.
Where to Stay – Twenty-nine Palms
Closest Airport: Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), 40 miles; Los Angeles International (LAX) 145 miles
Crater Lake National Park, OR
It’s hard to fathom the enormity of Crater Lake even when seeing it in person. It’s mind blowing. And the color of the water is unheard of. It’s heaven trapped inside a caldera of an extinct volcano. The odds of seeing something even close to this is slim and that’s why Crater Lake is one of the best national parks on the west coast.
Everyone must do the Rim Drive circling the entire caldera. Only as you make your way around the lake does it impress upon you on just how big it is. And each bend offers different views of the lake with Wizard Island and Phantom Ship appearing and disappearing.
Hiking trails throughout the park further highlight the lake and the surrounding terrain including waterfalls. But for a unique perspective, take a boat ride around the lake and enjoy the views looking up!
Highlights – Rim Drive, Hiking Trails, Boat Ride
Top Tip: The Rim Drive is typically open from July to October but always check before going. And if you want to do a boat tour, advanced reservations are recommended.
Where to Stay – Klamath Falls
Closest Airport: Klamath Falls Airport (LMT), 60 miles
Olympic National Park, WA
Visiting Olympic National Park feels like visiting multiple parks at the same time. The distinct sections of the park feel separate from one another, yet blend together beautifully to create a truly memorable experience. It’s something you don’t get from the other best national parks on the west coast.
You can look mountain peaks in the eye standing atop Hurricane Ridge. And journey into the moss drenched and atmospheric trails of the Hoh Rainforest. And the park is over flowing with waterfalls with Sol Duc Falls a can’t miss stop.
But it’s the coast line of the Olympic Peninsula where the real magic is found. Sea stacks emerging from the coastal fog with waves crashing on the shore will hypnotize you. These are not your typical beaches.
Highlights – Olympic Beaches, Hoh Rainforest, Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Falls
Top Tip: You need a minimum of 2 days to do the park justice. But plan on at least three days so you are not rushing and can explore the different areas of the park. In summer, have bug repellant when visiting the Hoh Rainforest area.
Where to Stay – Port Angeles
Closest Airport: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), 130 miles
Yosemite National Park, CA
Upon your first sight of the Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, you will be smitten with Yosemite National Park. And whether you are climbing up the Mist Falls or walking along the Merced River, you can feel the grandeur of the park. The thunderous Yosemite Falls, the majestic El Capitan, and the mighty Half Dome leave lasting impressions.
Full of unforgettable hiking trails, there are countless places to peer over the valley. But the best and most iconic spot is at Glacier Point.
But Yosemite is more than its valley. There are the serene Tuolumne Meadows to explore and relax as well as sequoias at Mariposa Grove. With the perfect blend of waterfalls, meadows, peaks, and rivers, Yosemite earns its spot as one of the best national parks on the west coast.
Highlights – Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove
Top Tip: To experience Yosemite away from the crowds, go in the shoulder seasons. And always go early! The Yosemite Valley especially fills up quickly with cars. Getting there early ensures easy to find parking and then use the park’s shuttle bus to get around.
Where to Stay – Go camp within the park!
Closest Airport: Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT), 95 miles
Badlands National Park, SD
It’s unexpected how much you will love Badlands National Park. The name alone doesn’t sound like anything too promising. But you are in for a treat at Badlands making it one of the best national parks on the west coast.
Badlands sound so desolate. But these rise in the middle of a large prairie. And tons of wildlife call the park home including bison, bighorn sheep, mule deer, prairie dogs, and even rattlesnakes. Even more unexpected are all the colors! From the yellow mounds to the variations of pink, it’s all so unexpected.
As you drive around the park, the unusual rock formations will capture your imagination. And the short hiking trails makes it possible for everyone to go a little deeper into this bizarre landscape.
Highlights – Big Badlands Overlook, Yellow Mounds, Badlands Loop Road
Top Tip: The park may look small, but you need a full day to properly explore the place and not feel rushed. And in the summer months, it can get hot, so get an early start to beat the heat.
Where to Stay – Cedar Pass or Wall
Closest Airport: Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP), 68 miles
Mount Rainier National Park, WA
You may not think that you need to visit Mount Rainier National Park as you can see the volcano, almost like a mirage, from Seattle. But Mount Rainier is so much more than it’s dominating peak. It’s an area full of luscious green valleys blanketed in wildflowers, waterfalls, and idyllic vistas with marmot chirps filling the air.
In the perfectly named Paradise region of the park, nature’s perfection is on full display as you enjoy the many hiking trails with Mount Rainier looming large as the backdrop. For a feeling of being out in the wilderness, enjoy any of the amazing trails found in the Sunrise portion of the park. With Seattle nearby, finding an affordable flight should be no problem.
Highlights – Mount Rainier, Hiking trails in Paradise and Sunrise regions
Top Tip: The Paradise region of the park is extremely popular. Because of that, you need to get there early, not only for parking, but to avoid the crowds on the trails.
Where to Stay – Ashford
Closest Airport: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), 85 miles
Glacier National Park, MT
Known as the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park certainly is a gem. It doesn’t take long before you realize why Glacier is one of the best national parks on the west coast. With its glacial valleys, stunning waterfalls, and endless sea of wildflowers, you will fall in love with Glacier.
The jaw-dropping scenery can be admired driving the Going to the Sun Road through the park. But the best way to see the park is on any of the hiking trails. Two can’t miss hikes, both starting at Logan Pass, are Hidden Lake and epic Highline Trail.
But if it’s hiking you love, then you can spend days exploring the trails in the Many Glacier region including Swiftcurrent Pass, Grinnell Glacier, and Iceberg Lake. But to get away from the crowds, head to the Two Medicine region of Glacier National Park. Here you can find gorgeous scenery and a lot less people. Take the fam and grab a full guide on Glacier Park with kids.
Highlights – Going to the Sun Road, Logan Pass, Many Glacier, Two Medicine
Top Tip: Glacier National Park is a haven for hikers. Most of the popular hikes will be snow free and fully open around mid-July. Both grizzlies and black bears call the park home, so make sure you know your bear safety guidelines.
Where to Stay – West Glacier
Closest Airport: Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), 30 miles
Yellowstone National Park – WY, MT & ID
The world’s first national park, there is nothing quite like Yellowstone National Park. It’s epic size and the breadth of scenery astounds at every turn. The wonder like amazement you felt as a child returns when in Yellowstone.
And how could it not? Geysers unleash a torrent of water streaming into the sky, and it’s not just Old Faithful. Thermal pools contain a rainbow of vibrant colors. A grand canyon with an artist’s dream of a waterfall runs through the park. An endless valley of rolling hills protects wild herds of bison transporting us to a bygone era.
The smell of Sulphur may never be far away when in Yellowstone. But when you do smell it, it means you are about to see something incredible. And that’s why Yellowstone is one of the best national parks on the west coast.
Highlights – Artist’s Point, Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Lamar Valley
Top Tip: The park’s roads open for car traffic usually around late May. With all the thermal features within the park, be safe and always stay on the marked paths and boardwalks. And never approach the wildlife in the park. Many visitors have suffered injuries by getting too close to the park’s bison.
Where to Stay – West Yellowstone
Closest Airport: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), 139 miles
Big Bend National Park, TX
Nestled along the border of Mexico is Big Bend National Park. Comprised of the Chisos mountain range and part of the Chihuahuan Desert, it’s a vast landscape that you will certainly lose yourself in. Driving the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive through the park, a feeling of remoteness comes over you, yet the terrain captures your attention.
Hiking trails abound in this park. One of the most popular takes you into the Santa Elena Canyon. Standing on the banks of the Rio Grande River with the imposing canyon walls closing in on you, you will be mesmerized. And after a long day on the trails, you can relax in the natural hot springs.
Highlights – Santa Elena Canyon, Hot springs, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Top Tip: The best time to visit is between January and April when the temperatures are at its coolest and wildflowers will be bloom. During summer, temperatures often are near 100°F with rainstorms nearly every day. And, though a six hour drive away, foodie heaven San Antonio is well worth the trip too.
Where to Stay – the quint town Marathon or resort town Lajitas
Closest Airport: Midland/Odessa International (MAF), 160 miles
Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The largest canyon in the US, Grand Canyon National Park will impress you no matter how much of a cynic you are. Walking along the rim of the canyon, the mind boggles at its size and the many layers before you. And it’s not a one stop view and then done. The canyon constantly changes as you make your way along the rim. And no view disappoints.
The easier part of the park to get to is the South Rim, so it’s also the most crowded. For a different experience without the crowds, head to the North Rim.
But for a truly memorable visit to the Grand Canyon, you got to head down into it! Camp overnight at the bottom after hiking the epic Bright Angel Trail from the rim. It’s an unforgiving trail that promises an adventure. And if it’s an adventure you’re seeking, sign up for a raft tour and traverse the canyon on the Colorado River.
Highlights – South Rim, North Rim, Bright Angel Trail, River Rafting
Top Tip: Always bring layers with you. The south rim is at an elevation of 7,000 feet and the weather can be extreme from season to season and from rim to bottom of the canyon. And, due to the elevation, always carry plenty of water with you.
Where to Stay – Grand Canyon Village
Closest Airport: Flagstaff Pulliam (FLG), 85 miles
Arches National Park, UT
Arches National Park is best experienced as words inevitably fail to do it justice. The red, sculpted rocks are both joyous and awe inspiring. And you feel that particularly when hiking along Park Avenue. Or when marveling at the precipitously standing Balanced Rock.
But it’s the natural arches that attracts visitors. And there are arches of every size and variety in the park. No visit is complete without a hike to Delicate Arch, the icon of the park (and of Utah). But the enormous Double Arch and window arches are also impressive.
Arches is a large, red playground making it one of the best national parks on the west coast. Bring your camera, turn it into a girls’ trip and let’s go.
Highlights – Delicate Arch, Park Avenue, Balanced Rock
Top Tip: Plan an early start to your days.
Where to Stay – Moab
Closest Airport: Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT), 112 miles; Salt Lake City (SLC), 235 miles
Zion National Park, UT
The most popular of the big 5 national parks in Utah, Zion blows everyone away with it’s red canyon walls and impressive scenery. And you can test your fear of heights as you make your way up to Angel’s Landing for an unparalleled 360 view of the park’s canyon.
And be prepared to get your feet wet as your trudge along the Narrows, a spectacular canyon shaped by the Virgin River. But there are plenty of trails that will keep you dry while providing a feast for the eyes including the Watchman Trail and Observation Point.
Many visitors stick to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive as many of the main sights are off that road. However, to get a different perspective of the park (and away from the crowds), take a ride on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.
With so much to do, Zion is easily one of the best national parks on the west coast.
Highlights – Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, Emerald Pools, Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
Top Tip: Zion gets very crowded in the summer. To help ease traffic in the park, you can only get around inside the park on the free shuttle bus so plan accordingly as you’ll need to have everything with you for the day.
Where to Stay –
Closest Airport: McCarran International Airport (LAS), 170 miles
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
The amphitheater of hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park looks almost too perfect to be real. The layers and layers of hoodoos with nearly precise colored stripes is a sight that you will never forget.
Standing at the precipice of the canyon is one thing. But it’s when you venture into the canyon that the park opens up in a whole new way. The hoodoos look completely different as you walk among and below them in the Navajo Loop and Peek-a-Boo Trails.
And you cannot miss nighttime in Bryce Canyon National Park. It has one of the best dark skies in the United States. The wealth of stars in the skies will transfix you.
Highlights – Amphitheater, Navajo Loop Trail, Peek-a-Boo Trail, Night Sky
Top Tip: Do not miss sunrise in Bryce. The entire amphitheater turns bright orange and it’s unbelievable. And always pack layers with you. The temperature often is around freezing no matter the time of year early in the mornings and at night.
Where to Stay – Bryce Town
Closest Airport: McCarran International Airport (LAS), 268 miles; Salt Lake City (SLC). 275 miles
Rocky Mountains National Park, CO
Exploring the majestic Rocky Mountains is one amazing adventure. The Trail Ridge Road that runs the length of the park is the highest paved road in Colorado (and that is saying something!). The drive offers nonstop vistas that makes you feel on top of the world.
With so many hikes to choose from, a popular destination is Bear Lake, one of the lowest elevated lakes in the park with stunning views. Nearby, is the equally impressive Dream Lake and Nymph Lake. A short hike perfect for everyone is to Alberta Falls. And while in the park, you can’t leave without taking in Longs Peak, the tallest peak in the park.
Highlights – Bear Lake, Longs Peak, Trail Ridge Road, Alberta Falls
Top Tip: The entirety of the park is above 9,000 feet. It’s best to plan on spending at least two days in the park so you have time to acclimate, especially if you have never been at such an elevation. Have plenty of water with you at all times and take it easy the first day. And the park road is closed between October and May.
Where to Stay – Estes Park
Closest Airport: Denver International (DEN), 78 miles
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
We tend to forget about the beauty that lies beneath us. And at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the beauty is staggering. And so is the size of the underground chambers full of intricate and massive stalagmites and stalactites. It feels like being on a whole other planet.
In addition to the many caverns in the park, you can enjoy the desert landscape from the Walnut Canyon Drive. Or, you can enjoy the vast desert by taking one of the few hiking trails in the park.
Highlights – Big Room, Walnut Canyon Drive, Hiking Trails
Top Tip: Always bring a warm layer with you as it is chilly in the caverns (56°F). If hiking in the summer, the area gets hot quickly, so its best to hike in the morning and have plenty of water with you.
Where to Stay – Carlsbad
Closest Airport: El Paso International Airport (ELP), 145 miles