As we look closer to home for adventures to cure our wanderlust, losing ourselves in the beauty and tranquility of nature has topped the travel wishlist this summer. Lucky for us, the U.S. is home to many must-see national parks (419 in our great land to be precise). Of course, we all have Yosemite and Yellowstone on the bucket list, but beyond the big-names, there are low-key hidden gems ripe for exploration. Enjoy our guide to the top U.S. national parks to see now.
Gateway Arch National Park – Missouri
Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis Missouri was designed as a shrine to Thomas Jefferson who pioneered the westward expansion. The lush park and museum by the banks of the Mississippi River, is home to the iconic Gateway Arch, a towering stainless arch that is the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere and accessible to the top by tram. It’s worth the trip to Missouri just to see this glorious monument (and the 360 degree views from the top) and to immerse yourself in the stories of the Native Americans, explorers and pioneers who settled in the west.
Tribe tip: The Gateway Arch is connected to downtown St. Louis so make sure you check out the buzzy city and get your BBQ fix at Sugarfire Smoke House. Or book a riverboat cruise on the mighty Mississippi.
Where to Stay: We love the Sorrel River Ranch and Spa for its panoramic mountain views and extensive list of curated experiences. Is a hot air balloon ride above the park on your bucket list? It should be.
Petrified Forest National Park – Arizona
Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, Petrified Forest National Park in the Navajo and Apache counties of northeastern Arizona, spans over 135,000 acres, ancient forest and badlands. If the name is not enough to entice you, the park was once home to the earliest species of dinosaurs and today you’ll be equally fascinated by the archeological ruins, artifacts, fossils, wildlife, wildflowers and ancient petroglyphs on display.
Tribe Tip: This desert-like national park is best explored on foot and you can organize backcountry hikes into previously unopened areas like Red Basin.
Where to Stay: The Enchanted Resort is located in the heart of Sedona surrounded by red rock formations. The balance between rugged nature, warm Southwesten decor and big views keep us coming back.
Great Basin National Park – Nevada
Adventure-seekers can make their way to Great Basin National Park by way of Nevada State Route 488. Located in White Pine County, Great Basin is known for its groves of ancient bristlecone pines and the Lehman Caves, situated at the base of the park. And stargazers take note: the park also happens to offer the best visibility of the Milky Way in the Continental United States. It’s best to visit in the summer months if you want to roam with the wildlife, the park is filled with yellow-bellied rock marmots who only come out of hibernation when it’s hot.
Tribe Tip: Afternoon thunderstorms are a way of life here so visit in the early morning or late evening to take in the beautiful sunsets and night sky.
Where to Stay: Visiting the Great Basin means stepping away from the luxuries of home and diving into nature. Experience the best of what the park has to offer by staying at one of five developed campgrounds. There is a Courtyard by Marriott in nearby Cedar City if the idea of sleeping under the stars sounds dreadful.
Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve – Alaska
The largest national park in the United States, Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve is ideal for adventure-seekers wanting to hike its mountains (the park has some of the highest peaks in the US and Canada), float its rivers and ski its glaciers. Occupying 13.2 million acres and a UNESCO World Heritage Site this geological and ecological wonder is filled with rivers and streams abundant Alaskan wildlife.
Tribe Tip: Fun fact the park is home to 54 species of mammals and 239 different species of birds.
Where to Stay: Only accessible by small push planes, the Ultima Thule Alaska Lodge invites guests to a stay deep in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness. You certainly won’t be roughing it with luxury lodges and wood fine saunas.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park – Texas
Located east of El Paso, Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the highest point in Texas. Proving protection to the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef, the park features mountains, canyons, deserts and dunes. If you’re up for a climb, you can hike to the tallest peak which sits 8,000 feet above sea level for an instagram worthy snap with the stunning desert views as your backdrop.
Tribe Tip: For those who want to plan an overnight camping trip, there are plenty of camping grounds surrounding the park to set up a tent and become one with nature. The National Park Service has a great camping resource guide for inside the park.
Where to Stay: If camping is not your thing we recommend newly designed, The Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park in El Paso. A boutique hotel with desert views and a rooftop bar only 90 minutes from the national park entrance.
Congaree National Park – South Carolina
The best national parks in the US may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of South Carolina, but a visit to Congaree National Park (one of seven in this southern state) will reshape your perspective. Home to some of the oldest and tallest forests east of the Mississippi, Congaree National Park occupies over 26,000 and is great for hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and camping. Although this park is a popular spot for nature lovers, it’s still under the radar, so you can explore crowd free.
Tribe tip: As a UNESCO biosphere reserve there’s plenty of sites devoted to bird watching.
Where to Stay: Though the Graduate Columbia is about 30 minutes away from the park, it’s well worth the drive to stay in a chic room with southern charm for a low price. Start your morning with the Pointdexter signature breakfast sandwich before heading to the park and return to enjoy cocktails in style.
Capitol Reef National Park – Utah
Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah is best known for its defining geologic feature, The Waterpocket Fold (a monocline warp in the earth’s surface that runs for 100 miles) which makes for a dramatic landscape of massive white domes of Navajo sandstone, rugged cliffs, canyons, natural bridges and arches in the heart of red rock country. Head here for stunning hiking and bike trails, horseback riding or sign up for a ranger tour to learn all about the natural and cultural wonders of Capitol Reef.
Tribe tip: Make sure you hike to Cathedral Valley, at the lower end of the incline to see the free-standing temple-like Entrada sandstone monoliths.
Where to Stay: Book your own casitas at the Cougar Ridge Lodge in Torrey, Utah. Surrounded by beautiful sunset colored rock formations and a ranch, your connection to nature will be unparalleled.
North Cascades National Park – Washington
Also known as the American Alps, North Cascades National Park is a beauty with picturesque glacier-covered peaks and over 120 alpine lakes. The most photogenic is Diablo Lake for its deep turquoise color. Visit mid-day when the sun is high above to witness the water at its most vibrant. Enjoy kayaking and fishing on Ross Lake, explore over 500,000 acres, hike extended valleys and up rugged peaks for breathtaking views.. If you want to stay overnight, wander-lusters can journey to backcountry camping areas, not accessible by car, for an authentic secluded experience.
Tribe Tip: Hike the park between April to October to avoid heavy rain and snowfall. Or try horseback riding in early spring and summer, along Bridge Creek (the trail will be blooming with wildflowers then)
Where to Stay: Go golfing, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, and hiking when you stay at the Sun Mountain Lodge. Mt. Gardner lodging offers breathtaking views of Mt. Gardner itself from your private balcony or patio. The Sun Mountain lodge is known for its warm hospitality where you’re always greeted with a smile.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve – Colorado
As its name suggests this national park on the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley, features the highest mountains (dunes) of sand in North America. For hikers up for a challenge, hike to the top of Star Dune. Uneven footing, blowing sand and high elevation make for a difficult climb but if you reach the summit you’ll be standing on the highest (750ft) sand dune in North America. Reward yourself after with a picnic lunch in the sand, unleash your inner child by sledding down the dunes or go for a scenic horseback ride along the lakes.
Tribe tip: If you’re lucky, you may even spot some fun wildlife, mules, burros, donkeys, alpacas and llamas all live here.
Where to Stay: Satisfy your tastebuds with gourmet meals delivered by the Zapata Ranch or horseback along the sand dunes within the park. Discover the world of a bison and cattle ranch or relax and enjoy your southwestern style room and the beautiful, scenic views. Want a souvenir? Purchase a leather saddlebag, tote, or belt handmade at the ranch to bring home.
Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven small islands that preserve the town of Fort Jefferson on the western side of the Florida Keys. Only accessible by the park’s ferry, private boat, or seaplane, expect to feel like you’re on your own private island complete with vibrant coral reefs, and abundant sea life. Enjoy a day of snorkeling, scuba diving or swimming in the crystal clear waters along the white sandy beaches, alongside the large population of turtles that give the park its name.
Tribe tip: If you’re unable to tear yourself away from endless views of turquoise waters, you can set up camp in the park.
Where to Stay: Stay in one of the oceanfront Sunset Key Cottages located only five minutes away from the ferry terminal. After a long day of exploring the park, return to your cottage, a luxury spa treatment, and then dinner at Latitudes–one of the best restaurants in the Florida Keys.