America's most visited park logged 9.4 million visitors in 2007, according to the National Parks Service. And for good reason.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts 800 miles of hiking trails, up rugged Appalachian Mountain peaks -- 16 of them greater than 6,000 feet. Straddling the mountainous border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the park is traversed by rivers and streams that reveal countless waterfalls. Part of the park's appeal is the diversity of recreation available there, from picnics and scenic drives to hiking and wildlife watching.
Founded in 1940, the park owes its creation, in part, to some of the biggest names in American conservation: John D. Rockefeller Jr., who donated $5 million to the effort, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in the White House when the park was dedicated.
There's no bad time to visit, but the spring and early summer profusion of wildflowers earned this park the nickname of Wildflower National Park, and fall leaf peeping through the park's undulating ridges and its namesake mist can be magnificent.
Fog casts a veil over Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains at 6,643 feet. The park preserves the world’s best examples of deciduous forest and a matchless variety of plants and animals.
What, you haven't seen the Grand Canyon? With 4.4 million visitors in 2007, Arizona'sGrand Canyon National Park is the nation's second-most visited park. It's also generally included in every list of 7 Natural Wonders of the World, often as the only U.S. site. You could have seen a zillion photos of the canyon, and it will still make your jaw drop to see it in person. Millions of years of geologic history are laid bare by the Colorado River, the colors are breathtaking and shift with the angle of the sun, and the hiking or white-water rafting experience is second-to-none. President Theodore Roosevelt preserved the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908, and it was designated a national park 11 years later. If you want to see the more remote North Rim, visit between late May and early October, before heavy snows close the roads. Most people stick to the more easily accessible South Rim, and they don't regret it. Also, see why The Grand Canyon is one of 8 endangered national parks.
The 317-foot Vernal Fall is seen from a gorge in California’sYosemite National Park. In addition to waterfalls, the park boasts deep valleys, ancient sequoias, and hundreds of animal species.
Winter sunlight appears to set Yosemite National Park’s Horsetail Fall aflame. The third most visited national park, Yosemite is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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Fog from a nearby hot spring nearly conceals two bison grazing on winter grasses in Yellowstone National Park. The park is also home to elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, and other Rocky Mountain fauna.
The Lone Star Geyser erupts in Yellowstone National Park. Located in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, the park has more geysers and hot springs than anywhere else on Earth.
Sweeping vistas are a main attraction at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The park contains 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams, plus ecosystems ranging from wetlands to pine forests to montane areas to alpine tundra.
Rock outcroppings called sea stacks are home to birds and other animals on the Pacific shore of Washington’s Olympic National Park. The shore is one of three distinct ecosystems within the park.
Olympic National Park encompasses 1,441 square miles of the Olympic Peninsula. Because of the park’s relatively unspoiled condition and outstanding scenery, UNESCO has declared it both an international biosphere reserve and a World Heritage site.
Autumn brings vibrant color to a valley in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Though visitors can enjoy the park year-round, September and October bring pleasant days, brisk nights, fewer crowds, and a better chance of seeing elk than in summer.
The peaks of the Teton Range are seen at sunrise from Schwabacher Landing, a popular viewing point. Unencumbered by foothills, the regal and imposing peaks make one of the boldest geologic statements in the Rockies.
Rising in Utah’s high plateau country, the Virgin River carves its way through Zion Canyon to the desert below. The park’s striking vertical topography—rock towers, sandstone canyons, and sharp cliffs—attracts 2.5 million visitors a year.
Sea and mountain meet at Acadia National Park in Maine. Most of the park is on Mount Desert Island, a patchwork of parkland, private property, and seaside villages.
Although Brandywine Falls draws most of the tourists to Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, less crowded Blue Hen Falls, pictured here, offers an oasis in the middle of a heavily forested valley.
A cardinal perches on a branch along the popular Towpath Trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Established in 2000, the park features marshes with abundant wildlife, vistas of tree-covered hills, and secluded trails through rugged gorges.