Elk in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
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9 Best National Parks for Outdoor Enthusiasts


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From lush forests in the Northwest, to scenic drives in the Southeast, to celestial mountains and striking red rocks in the Southwest, America has never lacked in presenting all of its natural beauty. But with so many options, it might be hard to narrow down which national park is the best to visit for your favorite outdoor activities such as fishing, backpacking, or camping. Especially when the National Park System is actually made up of 423 sites, it can be overwhelming to figure out which areas you're allowed to hunt in or whether it's even worth it to bring your dog along. We listed the best national parks in the U.S. for hunting, fishing, backpacking/camping, and even stargazing. We also gave suggestions for what the best national parks are if you're bringing your kids, dog, or both.

When people hear the words "national park," their minds wander to the 63 beautiful areas that have the distinction officially in their names. But apart from the 63, the other 360 sites include historic sites, monuments, seashores, recreation areas, preserves, and more. And while these other areas are worth a visit, our guide focuses only on selections from the 63 national parks of the U.S.

Best National Park for Hunting: Grand Teton National Park

Elk in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

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Believe it or not, roughly a tenth of U.S. national parks actually allow hunting. While hunting permissions and regulations vary based on the region, almost all of these sites prohibit sport hunting within park grounds, only permitting it within the nearby national preserves. One of the few national parks that allows hunting within park grounds is Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park. The park only allows elk hunting and holds an annual elk reduction program some time between mid-October and mid-December based on what elk management looks like that year. Grand Teton elk are part of the Jackson Herd, which is one of the largest elk herds in North America. Hunters are required to have a Wyoming hunting license and a park permit to participate and should heed the rules and regulations to know which reduction areas are open.

Address: 103 Headquarters Loop Moose, WY 83012
Phone: 307-739-3399

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Best National Park for Fishing: Everglades National Park

Landscape with an aerial view of wetlands in Everglades National Park at sunset, Florida, USA

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While plenty of well-known national parks offer great fishing, this Florida paradise offers species that are almost entirely different from the others. Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the country and serves as a refuge for endangered species such as manatees, Florida panthers, and crocodiles. But the park is also a fishing wonderland. Offering both saltwater and freshwater fishing, the beautiful wetland has a variety of incredible fishing areas that hold redfish, speckled trout, tarpon, snook, cobia, permit, peacock bass, and largemouth bass. Fishing licenses are required, except for Florida residents that fish from the shore. Anglers that are 16 years old and up will need separate freshwater and saltwater Florida fishing licenses, and three-day licenses costs $17. Make sure you pick up a current copy of the Everglades Fishing Regulations available at all visitor centers and entrance stations before you head out on the waters.

The National Park Service also warns that high mercury levels have been found in Everglades bass and other species in northern Florida Bay. Any bass caught north of Main Park Road shouldn't be consumed, while bass caught south of the road shouldn't be eaten more than once a week. Saltwater species also caught in the northern Florida Bay shouldn't be eaten more than once a week including spotted seatrout, gafftopsail, catfish, bluefish, crevalle jack, or ladyfish.

Address: 40001 State Road 9336 Homestead, FL 33034
Phone: 305-242-7700

Best National Park for Camping & Backpacking: Glacier National Park

Young Couple enjoying the view in Glacier National Park in northern Montana

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Glacier National Park is one of the best parks to backpack and camp because of all the rugged wilderness it has to explore and the picturesque backdrops near its camping areas. This Montana park has 700+ miles of backcountry trails that run through pristine alpine lakes, glacier-covered mountain peaks, wildflower-filled meadows, and deep valleys, along with 1,000+ campsites to choose from. And if backpacking is too much of a commitment, there is no shortage of amazing shorter trails for hikers. Along its gorgeous landscape, backpackers will also probably run into some of the park's extraordinary wildlife including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black and grizzly bears, bobcats, gray wolves, cougars, coyotes, elk, moose, bison, and Canadian lynxes.

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The best time to visit the park may vary year to year, but is normally in between late July and late September. You'll need backcountry camping permits to access the park's 65 backcountry campgrounds, and they cost $7 per person, per night. You'll want to make advance reservations since campsites are pretty competitive until after Labor Day, when backcountry use declines. Reservations can only be made online, but if you can't secure one, 30% of the campsites are set aside for walk-in permits. Make sure to arrive as early as you can to snag your campsite because permits aren't issued after 4:30 p.m. at any location.

Address: 64 Grinnell Drive West Glacier, MT 59936
Phone: 406-888-7800

Best National Park to See Wildlife: Yellowstone National Park

The American bison or simply bison (Bison bison), also commonly known as the American buffalo or simply buffalo, Yellowstone National Park

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Despite the overcrowding and recent floods, Yellowstone National Park features some of the richest wildlife viewing in the U.S. It's the oldest, largest, and one of the most-visited national parks because of its famous geysers and mountainous landscapes. It's also highly visited because it has the largest bison population in the nation. But bison isn't the only reason why seeing wildlife in this popular national park is worth the crowding chaos. Known as the American Serengeti, the 2.2-million acre park contains the largest concentration of mammal species in the lower 48. This includes elk, grizzly and black bears, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, wolverines, mountain lions, gray wolves, and pronghorn. You'll find a ton of wolves in Lamar Valley and bison, elk, and grizzlies in Hayden Valley.

Just make sure you know and follow all rules when it comes to viewing wildlife. You don't want to become one of the many idiot tourists that gets injured or worse because you tried to take a selfie with a bear, bison, or some elk.

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Address: 2 Officers Row Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Phone: 307-344-7381

Best for Stargazing: Great Basin National Park

Stars reflecting in lake at 10,000 feet in Great Basin National Park, Nevada

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One of the most fascinating aspects of nature is that it has just as many features to present at night as it does during the day. International Dark Sky Parks are designated lands that are distinctly known for their nocturnal environments, with regulations on lights used at night. In other words, these areas are some of the best places to see the stars. With little light pollution, you'll be able to see the heavenly night skies in a way you won't anywhere else. And in Nevada, Great Basin National Park is one of these cosmic paradises.

The park is free to visit all year-round and offers some of the darkest night skies left in the U.S. It's one of the nation's least-populated regions, and its topography is what helps shield the area from skyglow radiating from distant cities. Bring a pair of 7x50 binoculars, red flashlight, and star chart to some of the park's excellent viewpoints such as Mather Overlook, the Baker Archaeological Site, and the Ranch Interpretive Site for the most stellar sights. Anywhere in the park with an open horizon is a great place to just look up and behold the views. The park also has fun astronomy programs that typically happen every Saturday from May to September. These include stargazing train rides, guided full-moon hikes, and even an annual astronomy festival.

Address: Nevada 488 Baker, NV 89311
Phone: 775-234-7331

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Best Pet-Friendly National Park: New River Gorge National Park

Concho Rim Overlook in New River Gorge National Park

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America's newest national park is located in West Virginia and has quickly become the best pet-friendly national park. If you're bringing your furry best friend along with you to explore the great outdoors, you'll still be able to check out all the trails at New River Gorge National Park. The region has 70,000 acres of gorge created by the New River to explore, which lead to incredible overlooks, spectacular rock formations, lush woodlands, and breathtaking waterfalls. You can even bring your pet to the rock-climbing crags as long as you have a fellow climber help watch them while you scale one of the 1,400 established rock climbs. Just make sure that your pet is on a leash that is no longer than six feet at all times and you always pick up their waste.

Address: 104 Main Street Glen Jean, WV 25846
Phone: 304-465-0508

Best National Park to Bring the Kids: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Backpacker hiking around Sequoia trees in the Sequoia National Park

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Taking your kids on a nature getaway is a task in itself. You'll need a park that captures their attention away from from all the screens and inspires them to wonder more about the natural world they live in. This means a park that is convenient to travel to with jaw-dropping features, easy hikes, and uniquely fun activities. So how about taking them to the majestic forests of giant trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks?

Yes, these are two separate national parks, but they're less than 20 minutes away from each other which is why it's worth visiting both. The parks house some of the world's biggest and oldest trees that can be seen by most of the easy designated hiking trails. Two of the most iconic giant sequoia trees are the General Sherman Tree and the Grant Tree. The General Sherman Tree is the world's largest tree by volume and can be seen in Sequoia National Park. The Grant Tree is historically known as the Nation's First Christmas Tree and is found in Kings Canyon's Grant Grove. You don't have to rely on giant trees to keep your kids' attention the entirety of your trip. The parks' wilderness landscapes offer granite domes to climb, scenic drives, and day hikes to great vistas, serene rivers, and sensational waterfalls. Your kids can learn more about the history of the area through the interactive exhibits at the Giant Forest Museum and participate in the Junior Ranger program.

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Traveling to these parks is convenient too. Free shuttle buses run from campgrounds and the Giant Forest Museum, where there are larger parking areas. Just make sure to bring a small bag for snacks, water, extra clothing, money, and a park map, and your family will be all set for a great time.

Address: 47050 Generals Highway Three Rivers, CA 93271
Phone: 559-565-3341

Best National Park to See Waterfalls: Mount Rainier National Park

Myrtle Falls, a landmark of Mount Rainier National Park

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Two of the best national parks to see waterfalls are in Washington State: Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. You can't go wrong with visiting either. But because of the recent influx of visitors to national parks over the past couple of years, Mount Rainier is a better choice if you're looking for less crowds. Mount Rainier is still a popular national park to visit, but Olympic statistically saw just over one million more tourists last year according to the NPS.

As one of the most glaciated national parks in the lower 48, Mount Rainier has 25 active glaciers that fuel the powerful multitudes of waterfalls and cascades. The region features a diverse range of 150+ waterfalls including different types of cascades, horsetails, and plunges, many towering over 300 feet tall. The region is an easy day-trip from Seattle, so you can spend an afternoon on one of the 260+ well-maintained trails to see old-growth forests, river valleys, high subalpine meadows, lakes, streams, wildflowers, and of course glaciers. A few of the waterfalls can even be seen on some of the biking trails.

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Address: 39000 State Route 706 E, Ashford, WA 98304
Phone: 360-569-2211

Best National Park to See Fall Foliage: Shenandoah National Park

Skyline drive through the colorful autumn forest of Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

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Seeing fall foliage is absolutely breathtaking in some national parks, but leaf-peeping in Shenandoah National Park is arguably the best. Most national parks known for their fall leaves offer iconic hikes and drives to see the season's gorgeous changing colors, but they precede Shenandoah in the NPS rankings for the most visits in 2021. That means the serene experiences you're looking for in the vast gradients of reds, oranges, gold-yellows, and browns might be tainted with the sounds and sights of overcrowding. And even though Shenandoah can attract its fair share of crowds in the fall, it'll probably be less hectic than other famous fall foliage parks such as Maine's Acadia National Park or Great Smoky Mountain National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border.

The best time to check out Shenandoah's peak fall foliage is in October. The colors start changing early in the month at higher elevations and make their way down the hillsides and valleys as time passes by. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, the region offers different ways to see its changing leaves. Skyline Drive is the popular 105-mile public road that runs through the park and has 75 different overlooks and pullouts along the way for tourists to stop and behold the views. It runs along the Blue Ridge Mountains crest, but can see heavy traffic on the weekends. However, you can choose to hike one of the 500 miles of hiking trails to dive into the array of waterfalls and rock formations underneath the vibrant canopy. Shenandoah is also one of America's most accessible parks since it's about an hour's drive from Washington, D.C.

Address: 3655 U.S. Highway 211 East Luray, VA 22835
Phone: 540-999-3500

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READ MORE: Alternatives to Seeing Yellowstone's Best After the Recent Floods

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