These Are the 10 Most Beautiful U.S. National Parks, According to Two Photographers Who Visited Them All
From the snowy peaks of Grand Teton to the sandy dunes of Death Valley, the U.S. national parks have plenty to offer visitors. Whether you’re planning a trip across the country to check every park off your list or just visiting a national park near you, you’re bound to enjoy a beautiful trip back to nature.
After exploring every national park during a 7-month long road trip, Renee and Matthew Hahnel detailed their experience in their new book, “Roaming America” from Lannoo Publishers. Their mission is to inspire others to get out and explore the nation’s treasures, explaining that “these parks are ours… they’re protected for a reason — so we can get out and see them.”
During an interview with Travel + Leisure, the two travel photographers ranked their favorite parks based on park facilities, trails, scenery, photography opportunities, transport, and crowd level. Here are the results in descending order.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park was the couple’s favorite national park to visit because of its stunning scenery, amazing wildlife, and proximity to Jackson. The Hahnels said watching the sunrise light up the mountains from their campsite was one of the most memorable moments from their trip.
Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
The first of several Alaskan parks on the list, Kenai Fjords is known for its incredible glacial landscape. Compared to other parks in the state, Kenai Fjords is relatively accessible and can be explored by boat, flight, or foot. Even in the middle of summer, the couple felt like they were by themselves in the wilderness while exploring this park.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska
This national park is the largest in the U.S., and its expansive size means that it’s home to plenty of natural beauty. Although parts of Wrangell-St Elias can only be reached by plane or foot, you can still drive into the park to explore the more accessible areas.
The Hahnels said flying into the park and seeing glaciers everywhere was one of the most memorable moments of their trip.
Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska
Huge mountains and grizzly bears — that’s what you’ll find in this stunning Alaskan park. Denali National Park & Preserve is home to the highest mountain peak in North America, which is impressive in its own right, but the wildlife that you may see during your visit makes this park a must-visit destination for animal lovers.
The Hahnels described the park as an “African safari in Alaska” because they saw so many animals during their trip.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Despite the summer crowds, the Hahnels ranked Mount Rainier National Park among their favorites because of its outstanding beauty. The photographers described it as “one of the most magical places in the world” when all the wildflowers were blooming.
Pro tip: escape the crowds at the park’s most popular viewpoints by hitting the trails during the peak summer season.
Yosemite National Park, California
The pair ranked another classic, well-loved park as No. 6 on their list. Yosemite is known for its incredible scenery of ancient sequoia trees and giant granite cliffs. The couple recommends venturing away from the crowded valley and taking a scenic drive or hike on one of the park’s less-visited, high-country trails.
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Alaska
At this national park you’ll bask in wonder at Alaska’s impressive glaciers. You can visit Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve by boat to get a closer look at its famous glaciers and rugged coastline, or you can explore the area by foot.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Not to be confused with Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve in Alaska, this Montana park offers an experience all its own. Coming it at No. 8 on this list of top national parks, the Hahnels note that the park has always been one of their favorites. Because of its northern location and extreme climate, this park is best visited between May and September when it’s fully open to visitors.
Take a drive on the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road for unforgettable scenery, and keep your eyes out for bears and mountain goats!
Katmai National Park, Alaska
Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
Rounding out the Hahnel’s top 10 national parks is Lake Clark National Park & Preserve. The duo said they would have ranked it higher on the list if it was more accessible, but note that the park’s remote location is part of its charm.
Runners-up to the Hahnel’s list of favorites include Olympic National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
The couple notes that every national park is worth visiting in its own right — and that the best park for you to explore may be the one closest to you.