National Park Fee-Free Day is here, which means it’s the perfect weekend for visiting a national park and getting in some early autumn hiking. Every fourth Saturday of September the National Park Service and National Park Foundation celebrate National Public Lands Day, and what’s the best way to pay homage to the bountiful beauty of nature? By doing your part to keep it clean!
Seriously, the greatest National Parks in the country, like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park are waiving their entrance fees this Saturday and providing volunteer opportunities like trail restoration, invasive plants removal, and general park cleanups. If you want to be a pal, you’ll participate and take a hands-on approach to keep our parks beautiful, but if not it’s all good, you can still take part in fee-free day. The moose, and deer, and other animals might give you some side-eye though.
If you’re considering making a weekend out of your trip, keep in mind that the fee-free day provides only entrance to the parks, regular amenities and extra activities like camping, boat launches, transportations, and special tours will be at their regular prices, so expect to spend some money.
Not sure where to go? We got you! Examining 13,000 votes on Ranker, we’ve put together a list of the current top ten best national parks in the United States. You can’t go wrong visiting any of the parks on this list, and if you’re looking for something more off the beaten path, we’ve got a list for that too.
Now get out there and pick up some trash!
10. Mount Rainier National Park, WA
Shout out to Washington State, home of the best smoked salmon in the country. While Olympic Park is the more diverse park in Washington and North Cascades is less-visited, Mount Rainier is still a classic park with a lot to offer.
The park’s centerpiece is, of course, the massive volcano that it takes its name from. A trip up to Paradise on the southern ridge is only two hours by car from SeaTac airport. You can stay in the old-school timber lodge with killer views of the volcano. Plus, Paradise gives you access to miles and miles of pristine alpine hikes that’ll take you to the edge of glaciers.
9. Arches National Park, UT
Arches National Park is Utah’s best-kept secret. The park gets about one-quarter the visitors of Zion National Park. And Arches is arguably the more unique spot.
We mean, it’s all in the name. There are massive stone arches formed from raging waters eons ago that make this place unlike any other in America. Plus, this is where the opening scenes for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the best Indy movie) were filmed, giving the place some extra cool Indy cred, if you’re into that sort of thing.
8. Sequoia National Park, CA
Sequoia National Park in Central California is the home of the Ancients. The tall trees are something everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime. There’s a natural majesty to these forests that needs to be seen by your own eyes and felt deep in your soul.
The park is only 90 minutes from Fresno if you happen to be in the Central Valley chasing down some of California’s best tacos. Otherwise, you’re looking at a four-hour drive from either San Francisco (which has Redwood groves closer) or Los Angeles. Whichever way you get there, the drive into the forest it worth the extra miles for the experience of being in a forest older than even Christianity.
7. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Bryce Canyon sits deep in the south-central valleys of Utah. The jagged red and orange canyons cut through the land like a raging fire of rock and stone, making this another place that must be seen at least once.
This one is hard to justify for a single three-day weekend unless you’re already in the area. Bryce is a three-hour drive north of the north ridge of the Grand Canyon. And it’s a very long drive down the I-15 from Salt Lake City. Still, if you’re in southern Utah checking out Zion and Canyonlands already, don’t skip Bryce.
6. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
We’re not going to lie, we’re shocked the Grand Canyon didn’t place in the top five, hell the top three. We know there are 61 parks here, so a top ten ranking is still great but the Grand Canyon feels like a crowd-pleasing winner any way you look at it.
For road trippers, the park is about four hours from both Las Vegas and Phoenix, making the drive long-ish. However you decide to get there, you’ll be treated to one of the great natural wonders of North America. Truly, the size of the place never ceases to amaze. Four hours on the road is a small price to pay for natural beauty on a Grand Canyon scale.
5. Glacier National Park, MT
It’s hard to argue with the massiveness and sheer awe-inspiring vistas of Glacier National Park. The huge rocky peaks, alpine meadows, pristine lakes, rushing rivers, dense forests, and abundant wildlife make this place truly special and deeply wild.
A big selling point of Glacier is that it’s only two hours from Missoula’s airport. That makes this a very easy candidate for a three-day weekend jaunt. If you can time your trip for sunset or sunrise when you hit the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you’ll be treated to a glorious display of magic-hour spectacle along alpine slopes.
4. Zion National Park, UT
Zion is a relatively small park with a lot of natural canyonland beauty packed in. The jagged walls plummet to lush green valleys below along winding rivers. It’s a little slice of canyon paradise tucked away in the corner of Utah.
The park is a hikers paradise but, again, a bit out of the way — unless you’re already in the region. Still, the north rim of Grand Canyon is only two hours away. So this could be a fun day trip if you’re already down that way.
3. Grand Teton National Park, WY
Grand Teton in the top three is a power move. This park has some of the most unique and drastic mountains in the country surrounded by amazingly lush wilderness, raging rivers, and wildlife galore.
The great thing about Gran Teton is that you can basically fly there and be there. The park entrance is a few miles from the Jackson Hole Airport, making this the easiest park to check off a bucket list over a long weekend in, say, the end of May.
2. Yellowstone National Park, WY, ID, & MT
The top two spots feel like splitting hairs. Each park has so much to offer. For us, we probably would have put Yellowstone in the top spot simply based on the depth of wildlife accessible in the park. There are massive buffalo and elk everywhere and you might actually see a wolf. Plus, this is a huge volcanic area, adding the geyser/hot spring/boiling mud elements.
Another factor Yellowstone has going for it is it’s proximity to Jackson Hole. Basically, you can get off the plane, see the Grand Tetons, and be in Yellowstone 90 minutes later. That’s not too bad if you only have a long weekend to play with.
1. Yosemite National Park, CA
Yosemite wins the day, according to the masses. We’d like to argue that other parks should be here but, in the end, this feels right. It’s hard to argue with those massive towering grey mountains, drastic valley walls, and lush ancient forests surrounding it all.
Getting to Yosemite is a bit of trek. You’ll need four hours from San Francisco. You can cut that drive in half by flying into Fresno though. Do that if you can. It equates to extra time you’ll have in the park.