With the recent world events disturbing traditional travel, visiting National Parks has become increasingly popular all over the world. Well, not just National Parks, any piece of nature in particular!
Because we should all be able to enjoy the beauty of the nature around us and visiting a National Park is a great way to put your mind at ease and have some fun, I listed the best national parks on the west coast of America with the help of some other amazing travel bloggers who can give you first-hand advice!
This post not only includes national parks in the United States, but also some National Parks in Canada. You’ll find out why should visit one of these parks, the best things to do in the National Park, the best time to visit and where to stay!
So, which of the following west coast national parks would you like to visit?
What is a National Park?
You might be wondering what the difference is between a regular piece of nature and a National Park.
Well, National Parks are federally protected land for the preservation of nature and wildlife. This means that they are carefully maintained so that nature can do its thing and everyone can visit to enjoy its beauty!
Sounds great right?
Lucky for all of use there are a lot of National Parks located on America’s west coast!
Western National Parks Map
The best west coast National Parks
Zion National Park
Contributed by Ale Leon from Sea Salt & Fog
Zion is one of the most beautiful national parks on the west coast. Located in southern Utah, Zion’s red rock canyons are reminiscent of the old west.
The landscape at Zion is wild – gorgeous meadows are flanked by crimson red canyons speckled with shades of green. You don’t have to work very hard for a good photo here, nature does most of the work for you!
There are many things to do in Zion, and the best way to see everything the park has to offer is on foot. One of the most epic trails in the park is The Narrows. This strenuous hike has you wading through the river, at times only 20 feet wide. Meanwhile, canyon walls tower up to a thousand feet above you, blocking out the sun.
If mellow hikes are more your style, both the Pa’rus and the Canyon Overlook trail are great options. The Pa’rus trail is an easy 3-mile stroll or bike ride where you’ll be surrounded by meadows and is great for sunset.
The Canyon Overlook trail is a one-mile hike that ends with views of Zion Canyon and the road that winds its way through the park. This is another good spot to watch the sunset or sunrise.
The best time to visit Zion is in the spring or fall months when the weather is cooler and the crowds have begun to subside. The park is popular, so if you’re seeking solitude, you’ll need to head over to the Kolob Canyons area of the park.
Yosemite National Park
Contributed by James Ian from Parks Collecting
Yosemite National Park is easily one of the most beautiful national parks on the west coast. It is most famous for the pale granite monoliths such as Half Dome and El Capitan, that surround the incredible Yosemite Valley, as well as the waterfalls like Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls, that cascade down the cliff faces.
There are plenty of things to do in Yosemite, including the scenic drive through the park over the Tioga Pass (closed in winter). Visitors can stop off at Olmsted Point along the route for beautiful views of Tenaya Lake. Two more famous viewpoints are Glacier Point, which has truly breathtaking views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, and Tunnel View, where El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Fall are all in view.
To see waterfalls, the hikes to the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls are absolute must-dos. There are stunning views of the valley and peaks along the way. Another great hike is the Mist Trail, which passes two major waterfalls.
Yosemite Valley is also a great place to see wildlife, and black bears and elk are commonly sighted in the grassy meadows at dawn and dusk.
For something different, Yosemite National Park is also home to the unique annual Firefall, when Horseshoe Falls glows like fire in the late afternoon sun for a couple of weeks in February.
The best months to visit Yosemite are June and September. Although the park is open year-round, some of the roads and many of the trails are closed due to snow from late fall to early spring, and the July-August summer months get very crowded.
There are several campgrounds in the lodge, but for a more upscale experience, stay at the classic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley.
Crater Lake National Park
Contributed by Debbie Fettback from World Adventurists
The crown jewel of Oregon, Crater Lake National Park, is home to one of the most scenic byways in the USA, the 33-mile Rim Road. During the gorgeous drive, the bold blues are mesmerizing at every one of the 30 pullouts, each giving a different perspective of the lake.
A famous viewpoint is Wizard Island, with the best viewing from the pullout just north of Watchman’s Peak. At the Pumice Castle Overlook there is a unique orange “castle” on the side of Redcloud Cliff. There are also several incredible hikes with incredible views of the lake.
Crater Lake was created 7,700 years ago after the peak of Mount Mazama fell as the result of a volcanic eruption. After the volcanic hole cooled, it took 600-800 years for it to fill with rainwater and snowmelt. The lake remains a bold blue as the volcanic terrain limits the nutrients and stops streams from entering the lake.
The only way to explore Crater Lake from the water is to take a boat tour to Wizard Island. The tour includes a stop at the island to view the 800-year-old trees growing on the island. Personal boats or flotation devices are not allowed into the lake but swimming is allowed within designated areas.
To spend more time than a day trip in Crater Lake, there are campsites available or stay at the historic Crater Lake Lodge. With its location on the rim of Mount Mazama’s Crater, the lodge offers some of the best views of Crater Lake.
Redwood National Park
Contributed by Allison from She Dreams of Alpine®
Head to Redwood National Park to feel small next to the tallest trees on earth! But this park (which is also connected to several state parks) actually offers much more to see than just the towering trees. Along with the absolutely incredible old-growth redwood forests, you’ll also experience ocean views at this coastal location in northern California.
Hike the easy Lady Bird Johnson Trail to get a taste of the trees, some of which are more than 370 feet tall – taller than the Statue of Liberty! Or try one of the many other trails, like the McArthur Creek Loop Trail, to stroll through forests and along the coastline To truly be at one with the trees, you can camp in the park itself at one of the four developed campgrounds or get a permit to backpack and camp in the backcountry.
Thanks to the massive trees, most of Redwood National Park is pretty shady, and rain is very common. Late summer and early fall are probably the best times to visit, but if you check the weather forecast, you can have fun exploring here year-round.
Redwood National Park is also a perfect beginning or ending stop on a coastal California road trip, so be sure to add it to your bucket list!
Capitol Reef National Park
Contributed by Megan Johnson from Red Around The World
Capitol Reef National Park isn’t the least visited national park in Utah but it is the most overlooked. While there is no bad time to visit, the best time will be fall for a few reasons: fewer crowds, better weather, and orchards full of fruit. The best place to stay is either camping in the park or in the nearby town of Torrey.
This is one of the most beautiful parks in the western US for a lot of reasons, big and small. You can find rock art from Native Americans that lived in the area on the petroglyph trail as well as Mormon pioneers that passed through Capitol Gorge. It has slot canyons and sprawling views so no matter what you like, there is a hike for you.
It’s an International Dark Sky Park which makes it one of the best places for stargazing in Utah thanks to so little light pollution. In the spring you can see the prickly pear and claret cup cactus blooming and in the fall, best of all, you can pick fruit in the orchards in the park. Some things you can pick are apples, pears, peaches, and plums. If you visit in the spring, you could catch the trees while they’re blooming.
While it may not have the reputation of some of the other Utah national parks, Capitol Reef can hold its own with its variety of park features.
Arches National Park
Contributed by Nikki from She Saves She Travels
One of the most beautiful national parks on the west coast is Arches National Park in Utah. The natural rock and arch formations are stunning against the desert backdrop of the southwest topography. It’s a unique adventure perfect for any outdoor enthusiast.
There are many incredible sights and amazing Arches National Park hikes for all skill levels. The top park highlights include:
- Delicate Arch. It’s the famous arch and a symbol for the state of Utah, including the state license plate.
- Balance Rock. Visit the giant boulder meticulously perched upon a rock and wonder how it’s still standing.
- The Windows Section. See several arches close to each other on a walkable path.
- Landscape Arch. Defying gravity, this arch is very wide and the stone at the top of the arch is extremely narrow, making visitors question how many more years it will be there.
Arches National Park can be seen any time of year. In the winter some trails may be closed due to ice or snow, including the famous Delicate Arch. At the peak of summer, Arches National Park gets really busy and the park rangers prohibit cars from entering while parking lots are full. Plan your hike to Delicate Arch early in the morning or the evening to avoid crowds.
It’s best to arrive at the park no later than 9 am during peak travel season. Also, pack more water than needed – the desert gets extremely hot and dangerous if visitors are not properly prepared.
Mount Rainier National Park
Contributed by Chantelle from Flannels or Flip Flops
Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State is one of the most beautiful west coast National Parks!
The Mountain itself is a volcano and part of the Cascade Range and the summit of Mount Rainier is 14,411 feet tall! Almost anywhere you go in the park you will be treated to breathtaking views of this giant. From some of the hikes, you can also see other volcanoes in the range, such as Mount St Helens, and Mount Adams.
The park is gorgeous and comprised of 4 main areas.
Paradise is the most popular area. It is located in the south-west of the park. This is where you will find the best hikes, a visitor center, a lodge to stay in, and epic views around every turn. Many of Mount Rainier’s waterfalls are found in the Paradise Area. This area is popular year-round with snowshoeing and sledding available in the winter.
The north-east portion of the park is called Sunrise area and is the highest point in the park. This is where you will find phenomenal wildflowers bursting with color in the late summer. There are great hikes here too! You likely won’t be able to make it to sunrise in the winter though.
Ohanapecosh is located in the south-east of the park and contains old growth forests. It is absolutely incredible. Be sure and visit the Grove of the Patriarchs while here.
Finally, the north-west portion of the park is called Carbon River. Here there is no vehicle access, but you can bike or hike any time.
Hiking or scenic driving are the best things to do in the park, and I would recommend going late summer to make the most out of your visit!
Grand Teton National Park
Contributed by Lotte from Gezond Weekmenu
One of the most beautiful parks in the USA is Grand Teton National Park. Of course, the magnificent Teton Range, with Grand Teton peak standing tall at 13770ft, is the star of this Park. However, Grand Teton NP also offers gorgeous lakes, an abundance of wildlife, and numerous things to do.
While most people only spend a day in Grand Teton NP when they are on their way to or from Yellowstone National Park (north of Grand Teton), it’s much better to plan for at least three days to explore this wonderful National Park properly.
For those who love hiking, there are countless hikes to choose from. There are short but sweet trails such as the Taggart Lake Trail or challenging multiday hikes like the one to Hurricane Pass. Prepare well when setting out on a hike as the weather can change very quickly.
Because there are many lakes atGrand Teton, boating is another excellent pastime. Arrange a permit before visiting (via Recreation.gov) and make sure to carefully read the regulations when it comes to bringing your own boat.
For people visiting with an RV or with a tent, there are several good campsites within Grand Teton Park. Note that since the start of 2021 a reservation must be made for all campgrounds, this can be done online via Recreation.gov (up to six months in advance).
Non-campers have several options to choose from: either base yourself in Jackson Hole (a village on the south of the National Park) or opt to stay at the fancy Jackson Lake Lodge which offers magnificent views of the Teton Mountains.
Pacific Rim National Park
Contributed by Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads
The Pacific Rim National Park located on the southwest coast of British Columbia in Canada consists of three regions; Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail.
This beautiful national park is home to a large variety of fauna and flora, both marine and terrestrial animals. Long Beach is a 16km (10-mile) strip of undeveloped coastline and the only part of the Pacific Rim National park that can be reached by road.
The small, but popular surf town Tofino is located close to the beach. This coast is one of the top surf spots in Canada, lessons, and gear are available in Tofino. The long sandy beach is popular for walking and playing on the beach and enjoying the sea. Long Beach Lodge Resort is a great place to stay in Tofino, located on Cox Bay Beach, only 3.9 mi/6.3 km from Pacific Rim National Park.
The West Coast Trail is a challenging 75km hiking trail going along the coast between the towns of Port Renfrew and Bamfield. This amazing trail is a strenuous one-week backpacking trail, carrying all your gear and supplies. The trail goes through beautiful rainforests and hikers often walk on the beach. Whales, orcas, bears, otters, and many other animals are often encountered on this beautiful hiking trail.
The Broken Group Islands is an archipelago of small rocky islands at the center of the Barkley Sound in the Pacific Rim National Park and can only be reached by boat. Visiting this part of the park is most often done by going to Ucluelet Inlet, a fishing harbour, with plenty of wildlife. Around here you can see whales, bears, seals, sea lions, sea otters, and numerous other seabird and mammal species. Guided kayaking trips are a very popular way of exploring the Broken Group Islands.
The Pacific Rim National Park can be visited all year, but summer, from July to September, is the driest season and most popular time for adventure sports like hiking, surfing and kayaking.
Olympic National Park
Contributed by Lori from Fitz 5 On The Go
Olympic National Park takes up close to a million acres of Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This area is the very northwest corner of the US and is just a ferry ride from Canada. The park has many variations in landscape and wildlife including glacier mountains, temperate rain forests, and coastal areas.
Things to do in the park include driving through the various different ecosystems, hiking, camping, and beach strolling. Wildlife is varied as well, it’s not uncommon to see whales while driving along the coast. Accommodations include numerous camping sites (both beach and forest), lodges and even a hot spring resort (Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort). There are also several charming coastal towns just outside the park area that make a great base for exploration.
Summer, spring and fall are good times to visit since there is more rain in the winter. Usually, the park does not get as busy as some other national parks but it can be harder to make reservations in the summer. Therefore, visiting in spring and fall may be a more serene experience.
Olympic National Park is a wonderful addition to a Pacific Northwest road trip! Spending three days at the park would be a fabulous experience but there is plenty to do for a longer trip. Adding this National Park to a visit to Seattle, the Oregon Coast, San Juan Islands or British Columbia Canada would make it a very memorable trip.
There are several very popular hikes in the park. Hurricane Ridge is a very photogenic area with a nice visitor center and several trails. The area has some of the most beautiful mountain views in the country. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort has forest campsites and a hot spring.
Moreover, numerous trails in the park lead visitors through ancient forests. These hikes can be a very peaceful experience. Some trails even lead to beautiful waterfalls like the Sol Duc Falls. Crescent Lake is a glacier lake and a popular place to explore as well. Many of the beaches also have distinct characteristics and personalities.
In sum, Olympic National Park is a wonderful place to get out into nature!
Grand Canyon National Park
Contributed by Kenny from Knycx Journeying
Stretching 446 kilometers long with a depth of 1.8 kilometers, the Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular and well-known attractions in the world. The entire region has a wide range of natural sights and iconic locations for travelers, including the Grand Canyon West, Horseshoe Bend, Cantaloupe Canyon, Monument Valley and so many more. However, to truly get close and experience what the canyon has to offer, visit the Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon is known for its enormous scale, intricate layers of rocks, colorful landscapes, and Colorado River that flows subtly at the bottom with azure water. The National Park is even larger than the Rhode Island state and it has well-developed tourist facilities, making it a breeze for any type of visitor.
For a dramatic sighting, hop on a helicopter for a scenic flight ride in December. The rugged mountains look even more dramatic with a layer of ice added on top of the cliff. The enormous rocks may distort your sense of distance from your flight. A rock that looks small from above may actually have a height of three football fields combined!
For an active excursion, take a hike on the South Kaibab Trail or Bright Angel Trail. Both trails lead to the bottom of the Canyon and it takes about 4 to 5 hours to walk from top to bottom.
For more, check out the brilliant views of the canyon from the viewpoints, camp out in one of the many lodges in the park, or observe the diverse flora and fauna – the National Park has a lot to cover and it is a place that travelers must visit at least once in their lifetime.
Joshua Tree National Park
Contributed by Matt from West Coast Wayfarers
Joshua Tree National Park, which is located in southern California just east of Palm Springs where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, is like entering another world. The Joshua Trees that the park is named for line the roads and look like something straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. It’s one of the most unique National Parks on the west coast between the odd Joshua Trees, huge boulders, and various cacti you’ll find scattered throughout the park.
There are three things that you shouldn’t miss on your Joshua Tree itinerary, particularly if it’s your first time in the park. First is the Hidden Valley, which is a short stroll through the desert that serves as a nice introduction to the spectacular landscapes here. You’ll find Joshua Trees of all shapes and sizes and towering rock formations that give you a taste of what’s to come.
Second is the Cholla Cactus Garden, which is an incredible sunrise spot, which is full of cholla cacti – watch out for their “spines,” which will jump on to you if you get too close. Last is Keys View, which is a perfect place to catch the sun setting over the desert to the west.
The best place to stay to visit the park, if you’re not camping inside the park’s boundaries, is the area along the Northern edge – either in Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms. There are a variety of hotels, vacation rentals, and glamping options in the area, and you’ll be just outside the northern entrances to the park. If you stay in Palm Springs, keep in mind that it will take an hour just to get to the park entrance, more to get to some of the main sights in the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Contributed by Jenessa Van Woerkom from Destination Daydreamer
Bryce Canyon National Park, located in Southern Utah, is a beautiful park home to the world’s largest collection of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock).
Bryce Canyon is a park that can be visited year-round, however, arguably one of the most unique and most beautiful times to visit is in the winter right after snowfall. The contrast of the white snow atop the red and orange hoodoos is a beautiful sight you will never forget.
Multiple scenic viewpoints overlook different gorgeous valleys of Bryce’s red rock hoodoos. One of the best viewpoints is called Sunset Point which offers perfect views of Bryce Canyon’s tallest hoodoo, Thor’s Hammer, plus it is also the trailhead for the Navajo Loop Trail which is a great trail to get up close and personal with the hoodoos. From Sunset Point you can also walk along the paved Rim Trail which is a stroller/wheelchair-friendly trail (even in severe weather)! Other popular viewpoints are Inspiration Point and Paria Viewpoint.
One of the best perks of a winter visit to Bryce Canyon is participating in their amazing and free ranger-guided snowshoeing tour. Snowshoe with a small group through areas of the park usually inaccessible during winter and learn about the history and geology of the area from your knowledgeable ranger guide.
Located only a few minutes from the park’s entrance are multiple hotels. Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel offers great prices, clean rooms, and an amazing warm breakfast buffet. Or if you are visiting from Spring-Fall you can camp at one of Bryce Canyon’s two campgrounds.
Banff National Park
Contributed by Ben Lloyd from Ticket 4 Two Please
Deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies lies the spectacular Banff National Park. Over 3 million visitors a year make the journey to the park to catch a glimpse of the world-renowned landscape.
In 1883, workers for the Canadian Pacific Railway stumbled upon the natural, thermal, mineral springs, just outside of Banff. The Cave and Basin Historic Site (as it is now known), caused such conflict that it forced the Canadian government to declare Banff, and the entire surrounding area, as the country’s first official National Park.
Nearly 140 years later, the Rocky Mountain peaks, turquoise glacial lakes and remarkable Canadian wildlife continue to attract visitors from all across the globe.
In the winter, the park is occupied by adrenaline-seekers, searching for fresh powder at one of the many world-famous ski resorts that call Banff National Park home. In the summer however, people are drawn to the astounding natural beauty that the park has been blessed with.
One of the most revered areas in Banff National Park is the astonishingly beautiful Lake Louise. Named after Queen Victoria’s 4th daughter, Lake Louise is a breathtaking combination of pristine, glacial water and imposing, snow-peaked mountains.
Canoeing on Lake Louise is a once-in-a-lifetime activity that cannot be missed. Paddling across the water on one of the iconic red canoes is sure to be the highlight of any visit to Banff National Park.
While the town of Banff itself may be the flagship destination, Lake Louise is certainly where you will find the most extraordinary beauty.
Death Valley National Park
Contributed by Daria Bachmann from The Discovery Nut
Located in the heart of California’s Mojave Desert, Death Valley National Park is one of the most enigmatic national parks in the United States.
Home to the highest temperatures in North America and stunning landscapes that will make you think you landed on another planet, Death Valley is a true gem that takes time and effort to explore.
If you want to spend time outside and explore the incredible scenery, visit this national park from late fall through early spring when temperatures are mild enough (high 50s through low 70s).
It’s the best time for hiking and adventuring in Death Valley, as you don’t have to worry about the dangerous triple-digit temperatures that settle here throughout summer.
Some of the most scenic spots in Death Valley are Artist’s Drive, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Dante’s View, Ubehebe Crater, Devil’s Race Track and Zabriskie Point. Death Valley is also home to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America located at the southern end of the park.
I recommend spending no less than 2 days in Death Valley due to its big size. This will allow you to see all of the park’s highlights and enjoy the clear dark skies at night. You can camp at several campgrounds in the park or stay at one of the hotels such as Death Valley Inn, Ranch at Death Valley, or Oasis at Death Valley.
Pinnacle National Park
One of the most underrated but still spectacular National parks to visiting in California is Pinnacles National park, located in Central California. Not one of the mainstream of places to visit, Pinnacles was created by a shift in the California plate and by many earthquakes that formed the spectacular hills, rock outcrops, and surreal landscapes of this amazing natural park.
There are two main entrances to the park that actually do not connect from the east side and the west side of the park. If you are coming from the Bay Area and San Francisco, then the east side is the primary entrance. What you’ll find here is mostly accessed through gorgeous hikes around the park with stunning vistas, fun caves to explore, and high peaks with views of the entire park and region.
Visit the main visitors center first to get a map and look at places of interest or other points to visit along the way to explore this wonderful park, amazing trails, unusual formations, and rock outcrops. The best time to visit the park is in spring when the wild flower season blankets the entire park with gorgeous wildflowers in bloom which is quite a sight to see. Place Pinnacles on your must-do list of national parks in California and you’ll be happy to explore the entire park area!
So, did you make up your mind about the west coast National Park you want to visit?
At least I hope that you got some inspiration out of this list for your future trips and some useful tips to visit these western National Parks!
Let me know which National Park you think is the best to visit on the west coast in the comments!