A traveller’s guide to North America’s most incredible national parks

North America is home to some of the planet’s most naturally beautiful places. With more than 100 national parks spread across the two countries, there’s a plethora of epic opportunities for the adventurous traveller. From ancient forests to volcanic hotspots, we’ve not only listed 6 of our favourite national parks but have spoken to the experts at each destination – from local businesses to tourism offices – for their top recommendations of things to do and see.

It’s time to grab your backpack and your favourite travel buddy and head for the open road.  Follow us on our journey as we travel the US from south to north and make our way into Canada.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee–North Carolina border
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1) Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee–North Carolina border

Insights and images by David Angotti with SmokyMountains.com 

Need to know:

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the US’ top-visited national park. In fact, each year, it receives more visitors than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. 

Must visit/do:

A Smoky Mountains experience is not complete without a visit to Cades Cove, which combines the most appreciated aspects of the Smoky Mountains into a scenic, 11-mile driving loop. Expect to see beautiful mountain views, wildlife and historical structures.

In addition to Cades Cove, a drive to Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome top the list. Both the journey and the views at the summit make this worthwhile. On summer days, splashing in Porter’s Creek is difficult to beat. 

Top tips:

You’ll need your own car. Unlike some national parks that can be seen using the park transportation system, the wide array of activities combined with the huge geographical area means you need your own vehicle to experience the park to its fullest. 

Redwood National Park, Northern California
Redwood National Park

2) Now we head west to Redwood National Park, Northern California

Insights by the lovely folks at Elk Meadow Cabins

Fastest mode of transport: Car + plane
Average distance: 4,308.8km
Find all travel options (+ route map and prices) here

Need to know:

The Redwood Coast is an underappreciated and hidden gem of Northern California: think serene coastlines, gorgeous views and the most pristine ancient forest on earth.

Must visit/do:

Best place for a ‘Forest Bathing’ saunter is Prairie Creek Redwood, the crown gem of the redwood forest.

Top tips:

Take the time to slow down. This place needs time for the human mind to absorb the wonders of this ancient forest. 

Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park

3) Then we head north to Arches National Park, Utah

Insights and images by the kind team at Redrock Express

Fastest mode of transport: Plane + car
Average distance: 1702.9km
Find all travel options (+ route map and prices) here

Need to know:

Arches National Park is home to more than 2000 natural sandstone arches along with numerous rock pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks and fins. It’s so unique it should be on the top of everyone’s list!

Must visit/do: 

Walk the trails to see the arches and rock formations up close.

While you’re in the area, be sure to visit Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky region: this mesa perched 1500ft in the sky has some truly spectacular vistas. 

Top tips: 

Head to nearby Dead Horse Point State Park. It might be unknown to most of the world but has long been a local favourite due to stunning views of the cliffs and canyons and friendly walking paths. (Base yourself in Moab: all three of these parks can be accessed via a short drive from here.)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park

4) Staying northbound: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Insights and images by the kind folks at The Wildland Trekking Company

Fastest mode of transport: Car + train
Average distance: 508km
Find all travel options (+ route map and prices) here

Need to know:

A stunning park with towering alpine peaks, deep wilderness, abundant wildlife and truly dramatic vistas.

Must visit/do:

Drive Trail Ridge Road, one of the highest paved roads in North America, and hike the Ute Trail to soak up phenomenal views of the Continental Divide, surrounding mountains and Great Plains.

Top tips:

Head west on I-70 toward Breckenridge and Vail for music festivals, beer gardens, hiking and downhill mountain biking at the ski areas.

Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia
Mount Revelstoke National Park

5) Now we cross into Canada to Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia

Insights and images by the lovely people See Revelstoke

Fastest mode of transport: Bus + plane
Average distance: 1,968.8km
Find all travel options (+ route map and prices) here

Need to know:

Located in the world’s only inland temperate rainforest, Mount Revelstoke National Park might be small but is one of Canada’s greatest national parks. Not only is it filled with art installations, but visitors can easily access the alpine – even those with reduced mobility.

Must visit/do:

Check out the historic Nels Nelsen ski jump, and step into ‘Nels Knickers’ to get a feel for what ski jumping in the early 1900s was all about.

Top tips:

Plan to spend at least two days in Revelstoke. This authentic, small mountain town offers loads of adventures and cultural experiences without the crowds. 

Waskesiu Lake Prince Albert National Park Saskatchewan Canada
Prince Albert National Park

6) Final stop: Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan

Insights by the amazing team at Tourism Saskatchewan

Best mode of transport: Plane + car
Average distance: 847km
Find all travel options (+ route map and prices) here

Need to know:

Prince Albert National Park was designated by National Geographic as one of Canada’s 50 Places of a Lifetime. Not only is it one of the country’s most spectacular national parks, but it has none of the crowds and commercialism of other popular parks.

Must visit/do: 

The magical trail to the heart of the Boundary Bog is a magical trail that is like being on another planet. 

The Height of Land Tower is the best view in the park, and the fall colours are stunning. 

Top tips:

The west side of the park is home to one of the only free-roaming herds of Plains bison.

These are just 6 of our favourite national parks but we couldn’t go without mentioning a few more top recommendations and a little bit about why you need to go:

That’s it folks. It’s been a pleasure getting to know some of North America’s national parks a little better.

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This article was written by our friends at Thrillism, who love a good adventure and want to reshape how you find and book your next escapade. The world and your next adrenaline shock await – so get out there!

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