The National Parks Ranked by Scenery!

Clockwise from upper left: Delicate Arch (Arches, Utah); Grandview Trail (Grand Canyon, Arizona); Haystack Pass (Glacier, Montana); Sentinel Dome (Yosemite, California); Navajo Trail (Bryce Canyon, Utah); Third Beach Trail (Olympic, Washington); Sahale Arm (North Cascades, Washington); Chesler Park (Canyonlands, Utah), String Lake (Grand Teton, Wyoming)

There are currently 63 national parks in the United States.  They cover scenery and natural features as diverse as deserts, rain forests, salt basins, tide pools, waterfalls, volcanoes, coral reefs, mountains, canyons, lakes, wildlife, and so much more.  I’ve visited a total of 41 national parks at this point, so thought I’d rank the national parks based on their natural beauty – and tell you which, in my opinion, are the most scenic national parks!

I’m only ranking the parks in the contiguous US in this post (mostly because I haven’t been to Alaska or Hawaii, so it just doesn’t make sense to give you my uneducated opinion).  Also, all of the parks listed here can be accessed by car.  My ranking is based mostly on the scenery you can drive or hike to, though I also took into account things like the number of trails or variation in scenery across the park.  I’d love to know your favorites in the comments!

Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri
Gateway Arch. PC Daniel Betts, CC BY-SA 2.0

47. Gateway Arch, Missouri

I can’t quite figure out why you’d want to look at a city… not to mention the none-too-clean Mississippi River.

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
One of the hot springs. PC Elizabeth Swift, CC BY 2.0

46. Hot Springs, Arkansas

All of the hot springs are capped off for the bathhouses.  About the most exciting thing I saw was the geometric designs in the paving stones.  Though I hear there’s a good view of the city if you’re in the mood to walk uphill.

Congaree swamp. PC anoldent, CC BY-SA 2.0

45. Congaree, South Carolina

Go for the lightning bugs, leave for the mosquitos.  Because, well, it’s a swamp.

Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. PC Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

44. Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio

The waterfalls are nice!

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Indiana Dunes National Park. PC Aryeh Alex, CC BY 2.0

43. Indiana Dunes, Indiana

This would be higher on my list, but most of the sand dunes are covered in trees.

Canoing on Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Canoing on Kabetogama Lake in Voyageurs National Park

42. Voyageurs, Minnesota

Paddling a canoe around islands is fun!

Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. PC Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

41. Theodore Roosevelt, North Dakota

If you like bison and wild horses, you’ll love it!

An alligator in Mrazek Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida
An alligator in Mrazek Pond, Everglades National Park. PC Ken Lund, CC BY-2.0

40. Everglades, Florida

The scenery may be difficult to see because of the trees, but the birds and alligators are sure to please.

At a trailhead in Saguaro National Park, Arizona
At a trailhead in Saguaro National Park

39. Saguaro, Arizona

The cacti are very cool.  If you get too high in the mountains, though, the views are down on the city.

A bison at Wind Cave National Park. South Dakota
A bison at Wind Cave National Park. PC Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

38. Wind Cave, South Dakota

The caves are nice, otherwise, the Black Hills are better (per me).

New River Gorge, West Virginia
New River Gorge. PC John Mueller, CC BY 2.0

37. New River Gorge, West Virginia

For an East Coast park, this one doesn’t do badly.  But the lack of places to see the views of the gorge keeps it lower on my list.

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park. PC Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

36. Mesa Verde, Colorado

The real interest comes from the ancient cliff dwellings – which are very interesting and fun to visit.

Pinnacles National Park, California
The pinnacles. PC Daniel Hartwig, CC BY 2.0

35. Pinnacles, California

Much of the park is dedicated to rock climbing, but a few trails lead you to vistas of the rocks protruding out of the mountains.

Shenandoah National Park, North Carolina
Shenandoah Valley. PC Navin Rajagopalan, CC BY-SA 2.0

34. Shenandoah, Virginia

Misty views to rounded hills and waterfalls make this park a great place to visit if you’re in the neighborhood.

Petrified wood in the Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified wood in the Crystal Forest. PC Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

33. Petrified Forest, Arizona

The stone logs are what it’s all about.  And that’s well worth seeing.

Porter’s Creek in the Great Smokey Mountains. PC Thomas, CC BY-SA 2.0

32. Great Smokey Mountains, North Carolina/Tennessee

The thing that makes this park stand out to me more than Shenandoah is the historic buildings and the greater number of trails and attractions.  Plus it has some really great waterfalls.

Guadalupe Mountains. PC Ken Lund CC BY-SA 2.0

31. Guadalupe Mountains, Texas

The park is scenic, for sure; but they’re not all that spectacular as mountains go.  It’s a favorite for peak baggers and Texans who haven’t seen many trees recently.

Above the Saddle Pass Trail in Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Above the Saddle Pass Trail in Badlands National Park

30. Badlands, South Dakota

I love the colorful dirt/rock formations – I just wish there were more!

Eating breakfast in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Eating breakfast in Joshua Tree National Park c.1995

29. Joshua Tree, California

The rock formations here may not be quite up to Utah standards, but they’re still so fun to explore.

Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive in Great Basin National Park

28. Great Basin, Nevada

At first glance, the park doesn’t seem to offer much.  But start hiking in the mountains, and also check out the caves, and there’s much more here than meets the eye. See my favorite hikes in Great Basin National Park.

Early morning on the Lady Bird Johnson Trail in Redwood National Park, California
Early morning in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwood National Park

27. Redwood, California

Those tall trees are definitely worth looking at.  Go early in the morning for the classic misty sunlight, or visit the coast for a change of pace.

Views over the islands of Acadia National Park, Maine
Views over the islands of Acadia National Park. PC Eric Vaughn, CC BY 2.0

26. Acadia, Maine

The views from the hills over rocks, lakes, forests, and the ocean is definitely unique to the National Park system.

The Window from the Oak Springs Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas
The Window from the Oak Springs Trail in Big Bend National Park

25. Big Bend, Texas

This may be the classic desert park, with mountains, the Rio Grande River, and plenty of canyons and hills to explore. See my favorite trails in Big Bend National Park.

Mammoth Cave. PC MargaretRiver.com

24. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

While there are some waterfalls above ground, the real beauty is in the caves, accessible only by permit or tour.

Cliffs near the orchards in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Cliffs near the orchards in Capitol Reef National Park

23. Capitol Reef, Utah

Of the national parks in Utah, this one isn’t my favorite.  Still, its cliffs and spires are worth seeing.

22. White Sands, New Mexico

How scenic is it to wander for miles across pure-white sand with mountains in the distance?  Yes, please.

Sequoias. PC Matthew Dillon, CC BY 2.0

21. Sequoia, California

Besides the big trees, this park also has mountain trails – which means quite a lot of scenic beauty.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison from Exclamation Point, Colorado
Black Canyon of the Gunnison from Exclamation Point

20. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

This park would rate higher on my list if it had more trails.  As it is, the trails that exist have spectacular views of the narrow gorge.

Lassen Peak from the Cinder Cone, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Lassen Peak from the Cinder Cone

19. Lassen Volcanic, California

The mountain itself is worth climbing, Bumpass is worth it for the mud pots, and the Cinder Cone has great views.

Near the top of Star Dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Near the top of Star Dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park

18. Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

The sand dunes themselves are very scenic, and with the 12,000ft. and higher peaks beyond, it’s spectacular.

Views from Angel's Landing in Zion National Park, Utah
Views from Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

17. Zion, Utah

I know my opinion is not popular here.  Zion ranks low on my favorite national parks in Utah list.  Possibly it’s just the amount of greenery along the canyon – coming from the East Coast, I see lots of greenery every day!

En route to Mist Falls. PC Blake Carroll, public domain

16. Kings Canyon, California

You may have to backpack to get to the great views, but the park rivals many others for its sheer-cliffed alpine scenery.

15. Crater Lake, Oregon

Who wouldn’t want to look down on a blue lake with a volcano-like island in the middle of it?

PC Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0

14. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

This is one of the most scenic caves I’ve ever visited.  Even on self-guided tours, you get to see more cave formations than most people see in a lifetime.

The Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

13. Rocky Mountain, Colorado

While the park is definitely scenic, it just doesn’t compare to the scenery in other parts of Colorado.  So I couldn’t put it as high as I’d have liked to. See my favorite trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park

12. Yellowstone, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho

I was hard-pressed to allow this park to be so low on the list.  But Yellowstone’s beauty is in its colorful pools and crashing waterfalls – lacking the alpine beauty that I prize so highly when it comes to scenery.  It’s still totally worth visiting! See my favorite hikes in Yellowstone National Park.

Badwater Flats, the lowest place in North America, Death Valley National Park, California
Badwater Flats, the lowest place in North America, Death Valley National Park

11. Death Valley, California

I may be in the minority again here with my ranking of this national park.  But there’s so much scenery to see: mountains, slot canyons, volcanoes, historic ruins, salt flats, sand dunes, and so much more. See my favorite hikes in Death Valley National Park.

A misty morning on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park. Washington
A misty morning on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park

10. Olympic, Washington

Rain forests, sea stacks, waterfalls, mountains, lakes – there’s so much variety to choose from! See my favorite hikes in Olympic National Park.

Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon

9. Bryce Canyon, Utah

I love the views in Bryce!  If only it was a little bit bigger, it might be higher on the list. See my favorite hikes in Bryce Canyon.

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

8. Arches, Utah

Good arches are hard to come by, but this park more than delivers!  They say there are 2,000 arches in its relatively small area. See my favorite trails in Arches National Park.

Wildflowers in Spray Park below Mt. Rainier, Wyoming
Wildflowers in Spray Park below Mt. Rainier

7. Mount Rainier, Washington

Meadows filled with wildflowers, gorgeous cascades, a huge, snowy mountain – almost “paradise.”

The Grand Canyon from Skeleton Point along the South Kaibab Trail, Arizona
The Grand Canyon from Skeleton Point along the South Kaibab Trail

6. Grand Canyon, Arizona

Besides being my most-visited national park (10+ times), the views of the canyon are just spectacular! See my favorite trails in Grand Canyon National Park.

Mt. Moran from the Lakeshore Trail in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Mt. Moran from the Lakeshore Trail in Grand Teton National Park

5. Grand Teton, Wyoming

The Grand Tetons are one of my favorite mountain ranges just because they consistently deliver stunning views!  They also have some great alpine lakes and a few waterfalls. See my favorite hikes in Grand Teton National Park.

Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Mesa Arch at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park

4. Canyonlands, Utah

Maybe I’m (just a little?) obsessed with this park.  But with far-reaching canyon views, spectacular rock formations, slot canyons, arches, and more, it’s hard to fault it on natural beauty.

Mt. Baker from Hidden Lake Pass, North Cascades National Park, Washington
Mt. Baker from Hidden Lake Pass, North Cascades National Park

3. North Cascades, Washington

The northern Cascade Mountains look like something out of a sci-fi game: sheer walls, jagged peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, sparkling lakes, wildflowers, and so much more.  The lack of accessible trails makes it difficult to put higher on the list. See my favorite trails in North Cascades National Park.

Logan Pass from the Highline Trail in Glaicer National Park, Montana
Logan Pass from the Highline Trail in Glaicer National Park

2. Glacier, Montana

As the Rocky Mountains go, Glacier is possibly one of its best showcases of beauty.  The lakes, waterfalls, and spectacular mountain views are a view junkie’s paradise. See my favorite hikes in Glacier National Park.

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome

1. Yosemite, California

It’s so hard to choose the top national park for beauty, but I finally settled on Yosemite.  From many of the tallest waterfalls in the world to sheer cliffs to meadows to granite domes to great hiking and multiple viewpoints, Yosemite is just so beautiful.  So maybe it’s not the best – who’s to say what is “best?” – but it’s certainly one of the most scenic! See my favorite hikes in Yosemite National Park to beat the crowds.

Leave your thoughts and comments below!

This Week’s Featured Product!

I chose 14 of my all-time favorite hikes to put into this little guide.  Most of the hikes are in national parks, though I did put in one from Chaco Canyon just because I find it fun and beautiful.