Two thousand sixteen marked the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service, and our national parks definitely deserve to be celebrated. Whether you want to go underground and marvel at Carlsbad Caverns or see the unmatched beauty of Yellowstone for the first time, don’t put off your visit for another year.
Ask yourself, and be honest: When was the last time you took the family to somewhere as magnificent as one of our national parks?
The western part of the United States is rich in geological wonders, unique animal life and unbelievable natural history. Here are seven of the most amazing western national parks, in seven different states. We can’t encourage you enough to explore them all!
1. Sequoia National Park – California
Ever wonder what the largest living thing on earth is? Well, you’ll find it at Sequoia National Park. His name is General Sherman and he is a massive sequoia tree reaching 275 feet in height and weighing in at over 4.1 million pounds! This is something you must see in your lifetime. Our kids still talk about him.
Pro Tip: The elevation changes at the park are dramatic and the temperature changes can be, too. Dress in layers no matter when you visit. Also, don’t miss the 400-step climb up Morro Rock. The view is amazing!
2. Crater Lake National Park – Oregon
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and has the clearest water on the entire planet! Formed from a collapsed volcano, this is one of those places you have to see with your own eyes to believe.
Pro Tip: Just an hour and a half away, Ashland, OR, is one of our favorite small towns in America.
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park – New Mexico
Everyone told us, “You must visit Carlsbad Caverns.” Let me tell you, we’ve been to quite a few caverns across the United States, but none like this. Prepare to have your mind blown as you spelunk through this underground marvel. There is a reason over 41 million people have made the journey to its depths since 1923.
Pro Tip: From May to October, hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the cave at dusk, so plan your trip around those months.
4. Great Sand Dunes National Park – Colorado
Imagine sand dunes that stretch for 30 miles and rise to 700 feet in the middle of a region you’d never expect them to be. Think Tatooine from Star Wars.
Pro Tip: Bring a lot of water. Don’t underestimate the impact of the hike or the altitude.
5. Zion National Park – Utah
Utah is home to five national parks. The most popular of the five is Zion. It’s like a perfect postcard, except it’s real! You’ll see dozens of waterfalls, slot canyons, rivers, unbelievable hiking and views that your camera will never do justice to.
Pro Tip: Take a boat ride on the Virgin River – it is one of those lifetime memories. Only offered when the flow rate is at 150cfs or more, so call ahead.
6. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
What can I even say to describe the majesty of the Grand Canyon? Simply put, it is the most mesmerizing gorge on earth. When you can see a natural feature from outer space that still inspires awe, you should probably take the time to see it up close and in person.
Pro Tip: If you can only visit one vista, Lipan Point on the south rim, 20 miles east of Grand Canyon Village, is the one I’d suggest. It’s perfect no matter the time of day, sunrise to sunset.
7. Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming
The nation’s first national park is our favorite. Massive geysers, bison everywhere, bears, wolves, elk, forests, waterfalls, canyons and rivers. Yellowstone is a veritable outdoor dreamland and a must for every American. If we could only visit one of the 59 national parks, this would be the one.
Pro Tip: Everyone knows about Old Faithful, but don’t stay with the crowds. Yellowstone has over 900 miles of hiking trails for all skill levels that will give you a taste of just how amazing this park is.
The hashtag the National Park Service has been using this year to celebrate the centennial is perfect. It is simple, personal and encouraging: #FindYourPark. Follow the hashtag to see gorgeous photos and discover new natural wonders.
Get out and enjoy these treasures of America that belong to you. Believe me when I tell you that your kids will never remember their best day of television, but they’ll remember the day they found their park.