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This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.

America's 63 national parks are beloved destinations for both citizens and visitors from around the world, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. This past year, the entire National Park System (which, in addition to the parks, includes places such as national forests, battlefields, and scenic byways) saw 237 million recreational visits. Some of the country's most famous landmarks, such as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, are contained within these federally protected places, so it's easy to see why so many people flock to experience what has been called "America's best idea." It's for these reasons that Travel + Leisure editors decided to add a category for the best U.S. national parks to the World's Best Awards for the first time in its 26-year history.

Boardwalk on the shore of the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, morning sun, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Credit: Getty Images/imageBROKER RF

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. U.S. national parks were rated on their natural attractions, activities, lodging, wildlife, accessibility, and cleanliness.

Many of the expanses that T+L readers chose as their favorites are located in the West, with Wyoming, Alaska, Washington, and California notching multiple favorites. Some parks are quite remote and receive few annual visitors. For instance, Katmai, in Alaska, only sees a scant 37,000 annual visitors each year, but lucky readers who did visit rated it highly for its plentiful moose and bear sightings, resulting in a third-place finish. Other parks — including No. 8 Great Smoky Mountains, which received 12.5 million visitors in 2019 and 12.1 million in 2020 — are incredibly popular year after year. In the Smokies, it was the leaf-peeping that readers couldn't get enough of.

Like Katmai, some parks are prized for incredible animal encounters, including No. 2 Grand Teton, which one reader described as "transcendent at dawn when wildlife is abundant." Other parks, such as Redwood, which ranked No. 19, are beloved for their natural wonders. As one reader said: "Every American should see these trees once in their life. Just awe-inspiring." Other places earned high marks for impressive non-terrestrial features, like stargazing. In fact, Mesa Verde, which nabbed the No. 25 spot, was recently certified as an International Dark Sky Park.

However, the national park that takes first place in readers' hearts is, appropriately, America's original: Yellowstone. Read on to see why it earned the category's top spot — and which other parks made the list.

1. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

Steaming hot spring with colored mineral deposits and turquoise water, Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Credit: Getty Images/imageBROKER RF

The nation's first national park, established in 1872, has so many iconic features it's almost impossible to list them all. Among its draws: Old Faithful and other stunning geothermal features like the Grand Prismatic Spring; herds of bison roaming all over; packs of wolves in the Lamar Valley; and, of course, sweeping mountain views. It's this array of outdoor adventures that makes it such a marquee destination and keeps travelers coming back. "I was overwhelmed, in a good way, by the magnitude of this park," wrote one reader. "I visited once in high school with my family, but going to Yellowstone as an adult was a totally different experience. We heard wolves at night while camping, swam in a gently flowing river, and loved soaking in the vast spaces of the park."

Many visitors described Yellowstone as one of the country's greatest treasures — or as one put it, "the granddaddy of them all." Said another, "By far the most amazing park we have visited out of about 12 national parks. Stunning beauty." And while many flock to the park in the summer months, some readers noted that winter is just as special a time to visit. "The experience was wonderful," one voter attested. "It was absolutely beautiful with a small group of snowmobilers and an informative guide." 

Yellowstone also gets top marks for its attention to accessibility, which can be difficult to come by in some national parks, including some wheelchair- and stroller-friendly trails that everyone can enjoy. As one reader explained, "It was safer than I thought it would be with my grandkids. They've done an amazing job with informative placards, accessible parking, and walkways." 

Score: 91.15
More information: nps.gov/yell/

2. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 89.76
More information: nps.gov/grte 

3. Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Brown Bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska
Credit: Mark Kostich/Getty Images

Score: 89.60
More information: nps.gov/katm 

4. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Clouds hold tight to the tops of the mountains surrounding Moraine Park on a mid-July morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 89.25
More information: nps.gov/romo 

5. Yosemite National Park, California

Scenic view of mountains against sky,Yosemite National Park,California,United States,USA
Credit: David McCurry/500px/Getty Images

Score: 88.61
More information: nps.gov/yose 

6. Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park

Score: 87.41
More information: nps.gov/glac 

7. Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska

The Alaska fall foliage and a wispy-clouded Denali stun on a gorgeous autumn evening.
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 87.13
More information: nps.gov/dena 

8.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

A sunset view of the great Smokey mountains with colorful skies
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 86.55
More information: nps.gov/grsm 

9. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Rock Formations and Turquoise Waters of Spire Cove in the Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward, Alaska
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 86.37
More information: nps.gov/kefj 

10. Zion National Park, Utah

The beautiful mountain that climbs on the Angels Landing Trail trekking in Zion National Park
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 85.87
More information: nps.gov/zion 

11. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Scenic view of landscape against cloudy sky,Grand Canyon National Park,Arizona,United States,USA
Credit: J.J. Taylor/500px/Getty Images

Score: 85.26
More information: nps.gov/grca 

12. Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park in Washington at Ruby Beach at dusk.
Credit: Sean Pavone/Getty Images

Score: 85.11
More information: nps.gov/olym 

13. Wrangell—St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Aerial Landscape of snowy mountain peak as seen from airplane at Wrangell-St. Elias
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 84.75
More information: nps.gov/wrst

14. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mt Rainier National Park is spectacular to see early in the morning, with plenty of cloud inversions. Washington State.
Credit: Louis Ruth/Getty Images

Score: 83.65
More information: nps.gov/mora 

15. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

A Raft Of Sea Otters In Water Near Boulder Island, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Credit: Andrew Peacock/Getty Images

Score: 83.02
More information: nps.gov/glba 

16. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park in California, USA
Credit: Getty Images/Cavan Images RF

Score: 82.73
More information: nps.gov/seki 

17. Acadia National Park, Maine

The overlooking Frenchman Bay in Acadia National Park, Maine
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 82.49
More information: nps.gov/acad 

18. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

View of Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains from the park's famous Skyline Drive Buck Hollow Overlook.
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 82.30
More information: nps.gov/shen 

19. Redwood National Park, California

The massive Redwood trees in the Redwood State and National Park in Northern California.
Credit: Michael Hanson/Getty Images

Score: 81.93
More information: nps.gov/redw 

20. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

The shores of Lake Kabetogama in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 81.71
More information: nps.gov/voya 

21. North Cascades National Park, Washington

North Cascades National Park, Washington state during winter time
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 81.36
More information: nps.gov/noca 

22. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Scenic view of landscape against sky during sunset, Bryce, Utah, United States
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 80.62
More information: nps.gov/brca 

23. Arches National Park, Utah

Landscape and Red Rock Formations at Arches National Park - Utah, in winter
Credit: Kryssia Campos/Getty Images

Score: 80.30
More information: nps.gov/arch 

24. Kings Canyon National Park, California

Scenic view of waterfall in forest,Kings Canyon National Park,California,United States,USA
Credit: Patrick Reed/500px/Getty Images

Score: 79.97
More information: nps.gov/seki

25. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mountains along the way to Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez, Colorado
Credit: Getty Images

Score: 79.86
More information: nps.gov/meve 

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021.