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National Park Tier List

There are numerous national park rankings online, some of which are clearly more thought out and researched than others. While it's ultimately not a competition, discussing favorite parks is a fun topic among outdoor enthusiasts. Rather than coming up with my own ranking however (I admittedly have not even visited them all yet), I think of them less as "ABC park is the best park, XYZ is the second best park, etc," but rather in terms of tiers, which I've described below.


In this tier list, I'm also recognizing that national parks' borders are ultimately the result of a lot a political haggling. If there is an amazing hike that it just outside of a national park, it's not any less amazing because it is just outside of a rather arbitrary border. Thus rather than talking about the parks in a way that is limited to their political borders, I've broadened it to discuss the national parks as well as other parks that are in the same vicinity that a trip to that park may include.


I also recognize that as amazing as the national parks are, there are many other amazing natural areas in the country which are national forests, national monuments, and other areas with different political designations. As a bonus, I've included some of these others.

Finally, there are some inherent biases in this list. I am primarily a hiker and a backpacker, with a good deal of off-trail experience, and an occasional kayaker/canoe-er. This ultimately reflects these particular hobbies and skills, and someone who is primarily a rock-climber or horseback rider would probably have thoroughly different opinons.

The tiers are as follows:

Tier 1: These parks have the best of the best scenery, and have enough activities to warrant multiple visits which total over 7 days worth of activities. 

Tier 2A: These parks have truly spectacular scenery, AND have enough activities to warrant multiple visits which total 4-7 days 

Tier 2B: These parks have scenery that is as spectacular as Tier 2A parks, however they only have enough activities to warrant a visit of 1-3 days

Tier 3: These parks have beautiful scenery that aren't quite at the level of Tiers 1 and 2, but are definitely worth a 1-2 day visit if you're in the area

Tier 4: Parks whose scenery isn't especially noteworthy and you're not missing much by not visiting.

Coming soon: more thorough descriptions of my experiences in the parks, including photos, essays, and trip reports.




•Yosemite National Park area

-Also including the Hoover Wilderness

•Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks area

-Also including of the portions of the Inyo National Forest directly east of the aforementioned national parks.

•Death Valley National Park

•Redwood National Park area

-Also including Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State park, Sue-meg State Park, and the Smith River National Recreation Area

•Rocky Mountain National Park area

-Also including the Indian Peaks Wilderness

•Olympic National Park area

-Also including the Olympic National Forest

•Glacier National Park area

-Including Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) 

•Zion National Park area

-Also including the Canaan Mountain Wilderness, and Spring Creek Canyon Wilderness Study Area

•Grand Canyon National Park area

-Also including Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, and the Kaibob National Forest

•Big Bend National Park area

-Also including Big Bend Ranch State Park


•Lost Coast Area

-Including the King Range National Conservation Area, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, and Humboldt Redwoods State Park

•San Juan Mountains

-Including portions of the Uncompaghre National Forest, San Juan National Forest, Gunnison National Forest, and Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area

•Dinosaur National Monument

•Big Sur Area

-Including portions of the Los Padres National Forest, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Julia Preiffer Burns State Park, Andrew Molera State Park, and Garrapata State Park


•Joshua Tree National Park

•Lassen Volcanic National Park area

-Also including Lassen National Forest, and McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

•Mount Rainier National Park

•Carlsbad Caverns/Guadalupe Mountains Area

-Also including portions of the Lincoln National Forest

•Theodore Roosevelt National Park

•Bryce Canyon National Park

•Great Basin National Park

•Saguaro National Park

-Also including portions of the Coronado National Forest

•Arches/Canyonlands National Parks


•Mojave National Preserve area

-Also including Mojave Trails National Monument and Castle Mountains National Monument

•Trinity Alps Wilderness

•Ruby Mountains 

•Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

•San Jacinto Mountains Area

-Including Mt. San. Jacinto State Park, and Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument


•Crater Lake National Park

•Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

-Also including the Curecanti National Recreation Area

•Shenandoah National Park

•White Sands National Park area

-Including the Organ Mountains National Monument


•Chiricahua Mountains

-Also including Chiricahua National Monument and portions of the Coronado National Forest

•Anza-Borrego Desert State Park


•Pinnacles National Park

•Mesa Verde National Park


•Gateway Arch National Park

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