If you’re planning a visit to the west coast, then be sure to add some national parks to your list of things to do. The American West has a several beautiful national and state parks, each offering something unique and distinct, with plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy.
From the scenic views to the fantastic treks, there are many reasons to visit these stunning locations.
Yosemite National Park, California
No visit to California is complete without heading to Yosemite. From mile-high granite domes to North America’s tallest waterfall, giant Sequoia trees and one of the most incredible valleys on the planet, there are so many reasons to visit this epic location.
With nearly 1,200 square miles of pure wilderness to explore, hikers, climbers, backpackers, snowboarders, skiers, and rafters won’t soon get bored.
Millions of people visit the park from April through October, with the summer being the most popular time to visit, so be prepared for crowds and be sure you’ve sorted out lodgings and travel arrangements well in advance if you plan on going then.
No matter what time of year you end up going, be sure to get an early start. If you want to get away from the crowds, try taking one of the paths less traveled; the Valley Loop Trail is a moderate hike that relatively few people walk but is still well worth doing.
Olympic National Park, Washington
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To experience the best of what the Pacific Northwest has to offer, head to Olympic National Park in Washington. This designated World Heritage Site combines coastal, mountain, and forest ecosystems to create a truly remarkable wilderness park.
From backpacking to day hikes, camping, snowshoeing, climbing, wildlife viewing, skiing, fishing, tide-pooling, boating, and more, there is enough to do to keep the whole family entertained.
In fact, there is so much to see and do here, that you really need to give it more than a day or two to explore if you’ve got the time. There are no roads that cross the park, and it’s a huge park, so plan your trip carefully and keep distance and time in mind. If you’re limited on time, it’s best to take your time at a limited number of locations, rather than trying to pack too much in.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Deep and pristine waters of an intense blue color, surrounded by the most incredible scenery – welcome to Crater Lake. The lake lies in a volcanic basin, formed 7,700 years ago when the 12,000-foot-high volcano collapsed following a major eruption.
It’s one of the deepest and clearest lakes in the world, filled almost wholly by snowfall. Because of the incredible depth and purity of the water, the lake has the most beautiful, intense, blue color. It’s well worth visiting just to take in the incredible views of the lake.
However, there is plenty more to see and do here than just take in the scenery. Go on boat tours, hiking, swimming, bicycling, fishing, sky gazing, or backcountry camping.
Summer is the most popular time of year to visit, thanks to the pleasant and sunny weather, but the camp is open year-round. Snow throughout winter is likely, so we wouldn’t recommend planning a backcountry camping trip for this time of year.
Redwood National and State Parks, California
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Along California’s northwestern edge, you’ll find Redwood National and State Parks, a string of protected forests, grasslands, and beaches. Here, you’ll get to see old-growth coast redwoods and some of the oldest, largest, and tallest trees on earth.
It’s perfect for those of you planning a road trip, as you’ll find well-mapped scenic driving roads here, including the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Drive through a tunnel of trees on this 10-mile road that’s got access to numerous trailheads along the way.
Besides the incredible inland forest, there’s also the beautiful California coast to explore. Nestled among the sand dunes, you’ll find plenty of campsites with picnic tables and fire pits – the perfect place to end your day.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
It’s not surprising to learn that Mount Rainier is one of the most visited national parks in America. After all, the active volcano provides the ideal backdrop for some epic adventures, including backpacking, mountain climbing, and hiking. With alpine lakes, wildflowers, waterfalls, and glaciers to marvel at, you don’t want to miss visiting this beautiful park.
Unless you’re an experienced climber, we don’t recommend climbing Rainier. In fact, even those who are experienced are encouraged to climb with a guide. Instead, enjoy epic views of the mountain from the comfort of Sunrise Lodge, in the north-east section of the park.
No matter when you plan on visiting, there is always something to do. Go snowboarding in the winter, enjoy the stunning fall colors in the autumn, and experience epic views of the waterfalls during the summer.
Sequoia & Kings National Parks, California
Imagine soaring mountains, colossal trees, deep canyons, and marble caverns. That’s what Sequoia & Kings National Parks has to offer.
One of the main reasons to visit here is the giant redwood trees. However, there are plenty of other reasons to visit this land of giants, from the amazing tree tunnels you can drive through to the candlelit tours at Crystal Cave and the awe-inspiring views at Moro Rock.
Experience the California wilderness at its best, whether you come here to view the trees, wildlife, or one of the deepest canyons in North America; Kings River Canyon.
If the crowds are putting you off visiting Yosemite, then you should really consider these national parks, which only get about a third of the visitors Yosemite does in the summer.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
North Cascades National Park offers a true wilderness experience, with evergreen forests to hike through, a number of waterfalls to marvel at, extraordinary biodiversity and turquoise lakes to canoe in.
This is another great park to visit if you’re not a fan of large crowds. It may be a little more remote and isolated, but the untouched wilderness atmosphere is precisely what makes it worth visiting. Head here for some of the best hiking in the state or enjoy year-round skiing.
If you fancy kayaking or rafting, then check out the Stehekin and Skagit rivers. If you prefer boating or fishing, then head over to the Ross Lake national recreation area, found in the north unit.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
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There are so many reasons to visit this majestic desert paradise; from the towering boulder formations to the red sunsets, unrivaled stargazing opportunities, and variety of animals and plants.
Even if you’ve been here before, there is so much to do and explore, that it’s always worth coming back to. Come for the mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, stargazing, wildflower viewing, birding, or camping; you can’t really go wrong.
Thanks to the large range of activities on offer, Joshua Tree National Park is the ideal place to visit if you’re traveling with the whole family. No matter what age or skill level you’re at, there will be an activity on offer for you.