The Best National Parks in All 50 States
These must-see National Parks—one for each state, plus the District of Columbia—showcase our country's natural beauty and rich history.
Around 300 million people visit National Park Service locations annually, mostly the "biggies" like the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemite. But among the more than 400 sites are many lesser-known gems that also showcase our country's incredible scenery and remarkable past. In honor of the NPS's 100th birthday, here are must-see National Parks in every state (plus the District of Columbia).
NHP = National Historical Park • NHS = National Historic Site • NL = National Lakeshore • NM = National Monument • NP = National Park
Alabama Follow the path of the civil rights movement by driving the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail; stop at the interpretive centers midway and by the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Alaska Trek into Klondike Gold Rush NHP (in and around Skagway, a cruise port) for fascinating tales of this rugged territory's fortune hunters.
Arizona Two and a half hours south of the Grand Canyon is Montezuma Castle NM, one of the continent's best-preserved cliff dwellings.
Arkansas Stroll along Bathhouse Row, then have a soak at the hundred-plus-year-old Buckstaff Baths in Hot Springs NP.
California Lassen Volcanic NP's eruptive past reveals itself with boiling pools and mud pots; there are also seasonal stargazing programs.
Colorado Hike through ancestral Puebloan villages built between 1200 and 1300 A.D. at Hovenweep NM in the Four Corners region.
Connecticut Be creatively inspired by Weir Farms NHS in Wilton, the only NP honoring American Impressionism. (It still hosts artists-in-residence.)
Delaware The first state to ratify the Constitution celebrates early America—from its founding to the Industrial Revolution—at the aptly named First State NHP.
Florida Dry Tortugas NP, accessible by ferry from Key West, shelters coral reefs and the massive but unfinished Fort Jefferson, where a Lincoln assassination co-conspirator was once imprisoned.
Georgia In downtown Atlanta, the Martin Luther King, Jr. NHS welcomes visitors into MLK's childhood home (15 people per tour). Self-guided options include Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the D.R.E.A.M. Gallery and "I Have a Dream" World Peace Rose Garden.
Hawaii Don't miss sunrise or sunset (just as stunning but less crowded) at Haleakalā NP's summit on Maui.
Idaho NASA astronauts studied Craters of the Moon NM & Preserve's volcanic landscape in preparation for their lunar missions.
Illinois Check out the Chicago-area company town George Pullman constructed for his railcar workers at the new Pullman NM.
Indiana Learn about Honest Abe's formative years at Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Then travel back to the frontier at the Lincoln Living History Farm.
Iowa Native Americans built the 200-plus animal-shaped hillocks overlooking the Upper Mississippi River at Effigy Mounds NM.
Kansas Go on a hike to experience the once-flourishing grasslands of the Plains—where the bison roam free—at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
Kentucky Tour a cave and listen to stories of the early pioneers who headed over the Appalachians at Cumberland Gap NHP.
Louisiana Swing by New Orleans Jazz NHP for a musical history lesson, performance or map of noteworthy jazz sites.
Maine The Appalachian National Scenic Trail's northern terminus is also this state's highest point, Mount Katahdin.
Maryland Assist in raising or lowering the 15-stars-and-stripes flag at Baltimore's Fort McHenry NM and Historic Shrine, birthplace of our national anthem.
Massachusetts Old North Church, the Paul Revere House and Bunker Hill—follow in the footsteps of American revolutionaries at Boston NHP.
Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes NL overlooks northern Lake Michigan, a pristine spot for paddling, bird-watching and completing the Dune Climb.
Minnesota Set in the North Woods bordering Canada, Voyageurs NP winds along the waterways and land routes plied by Native Americans and traders.
Mississippi Monuments, trenches, cannons and an ironclad gunboat—the USS Cairo—are some of Vicksburg National Military Park's Civil War artifacts.
Montana Midway between Glacier and Yellowstone NPs, Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS is a working cattle ranch offering house tours, wagon rides and cowboy talks.
Nebraska Homestead NM of America commemorates the pioneers who helped settle the West under the Homestead Act.
Nevada Great Basin NP offers astronomy programs plus full-moon hikes under some of the darkest night skies around.
New Hampshire Visit the house, workshop and gardens of the illustrious American sculptor at Saint-Gaudens NHS.
New Jersey Enjoy a lightbulb moment at Thomas Edison NHP while exploring the prolific inventor's home, laboratory complex and recording studio.
New Mexico Native Americans and early Spanish settlers carved designs and symbols into volcanic rocks at Petroglyph NM, near Albuquerque.
New York Imagine life as an immigrant at Manhattan's Lower East Side Tenement Museum NHS.
North Carolina Share the excitement of the first successful flight and view replica aircraft at Wright Brothers National Memorial.
North Dakota Spot bison, elk and more at Theodore Roosevelt NP the land that inspired this fearless leader's conservation policies.
Ohio Why should presidents get all the glory? First Ladies NHS in Canton depicts the accomplishments of the White House's unelected commanders in chief.
Oklahoma Depression-era structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the turreted Lincoln Bridge, swimming holes and mineral springs are some of the attractions at Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Oregon Colorful hills, fauna and flora relics, and fantastic geologic features abound at John Day Fossil Beds NM.
Pennsylvania Honor the Civil War battlefield where many gave what Lincoln called their "last full measure of devotion" at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Rhode Island Newport's beautiful Touro Synagogue NHS, dating back to the Colonial era, embodies our country's religious freedom.
South Carolina The first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumter NM in Charleston Harbor.
South Dakota Revisit the Cold War at Minuteman Missile NHS, then head to nearby Badlands NP.
Tennessee The Atomic Age is the focus of the recently established Manhattan Project NHP in Oak Ridge.
Texas Once covered by tropical waters, Guadalupe Mountains NP has thousands of fossils plus rugged mountains and canyons and amazing wildlife.
Utah Dinosaur NM straddles two states, but the wall of bones—around 1,500—at the Quarry Exhibit Hall is in Utah.
Vermont Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP's gardens and mansion offer tours spring through fall. The grounds are open year-round, with trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Virginia Wolf Trap NP for the Performing Arts boasts more than 100 different shows May through September; off-season there are backstage tours and two nature trails.
West Virginia Brave the rugged whitewater of New River Gorge National River, and revel in the scenic canyons and awe-inspiring bridge.
Wisconsin Cruise to Lake Superior's Apostle Islands NL for lighthouse tours, beachcombing and campfire programs.
Wyoming The sagebrush desert of Fossil Butte NM is home to astonishingly well preserved (and renowned) animals and plants.
PLUS Washington, DC The National Mall and Memorial Parks—Ford's Theatre, the MLK Jr. Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Washington Monument are a few of its iconic treasures—majestically commemorates our nation's storied history.
Where to stay? Accommodations in the larger parks range from campsites (some with RV hookups) to rustic cabins to handsome lodges. At each park's website, click on "Plan Your Visit." Best advice? Book early.
Quick Getaway: Experience all the majestic beauty and breathtaking thrills of America's national parks with National Parks Adventure, a giant-screen documentary narrated by Robert Redford. For more information and theaters, go to nationalparksadventure.com.
Read All About It: 59 Illustrated National Parks by Joel Anderson and Nathan Anderson • Guide to National Parks of the United States, eighth edition, by National Geographic (there's also a version by National Geographic Kids) • Life Lessons from the National Parks by Penny Musco • See America by Creative Action Network
A Present to You! In honor of the centennial, admission to NPS sites are free on these days in 2016: