USA Travel

27 Must See Parks in the Western United States

By
Tim Gillespie
on
March 15, 2021

The western region of the United States features some of the most iconic national and state parks in the country. Dense forests, majestic peaks, colorful canyons, and wild rivers provide the backdrop for just about any outdoor recreation pursuit including hiking, biking, rock climbing, and rafting. These western destinations have been calling adventure seekers for generations and to this day, the natural highlights of this region continue to impress. Next time you are planning a weekend camping and hiking getaway to the western United States, consider one of these parks as your next outdoor adventure destination. 

New to camping? Check out our Camping Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Their First Trip

Best National Parks of the Western United States

Glacier National Park, Montana

Pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes all reside within this 1,500 square mile wilderness area in Montana’s Rocky Mountains bordering Canada. With over 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) of hiking trails, Glacier National Park is a paradise for nature lovers seeking wilderness. Going-to-the-Sun Road twists and turns through the mountains along the Continental Divide making it one of America’s most scenic drivesA hike along the Hidden Lake Overlook trail offers a chance to not only see a pristine lake but also spot bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Choose from one of thirteen designated campgrounds or reserve a room at one of the lodges to make the most of your stay.

Yosemite National Park, California

One of America's finest natural treasures, 95% of Yosemite is designated wilderness. Meaning no cars, no structures, and no electricity, but luckily there are 13 campgrounds scattered throughout the park providing rustic comfort for outdoor enthusiasts. Famed for its giant sequoia trees, dramatic waterfalls, and the granite cliffs of Half Dome, visitors flock to this park from all over the world. Every season has its not-to-be-missed highlights from legendary hikes, valley bike rides, rafting, and snowshoeing through a winter wonderland.

Must see parks of the western united states, Yosemite
The iconic Half Dome at Yosemite National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Spanning over 600,000 acres, this glacial wonderland features stunning scenery, incredible wildlife, and aquatic adventures, plus a rare fjord estuary ecosystem that is found in only five other places on the planet! Kenai Fjords National Park includes three main areas – Exit Glacier, Harding Icefield, and the coast. Activities include kayaking, camping, fishing, bicycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, boat tours, flightseeing, and mountaineering. To see the tidewater glaciers and the park's abundant marine wildlife, take advantage of tour-boat cruises along the coast, dipping into such sizable fjords as Aialik Bay, Northwestern Lagoon, McCarty Fjord, and North Arm, as well as sailing beneath mountains exceeding 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) in height.

Zion National Park, Utah

A spectacular network of colorful canyons, forested mesas, and striking deserts, Zion National Park is often considered a true gem of the National Park system. Hiking trails follow the same paths as the ancient native people while slot canyons form an exquisite labyrinth of wilderness areas to explore. These natural elements of the park make it a must-visit destination for camping and hiking adventures. A hike through The Narrows runs beneath the thousand-foot walls of Navajo sandstone into deep canyons offering incredible views. Spend a night at one of the designated campgrounds to take in a canopy of endless stars when the sun drops below the canyon walls. 

Yellowstone National Park, Montana and Wyoming

Rugged wilderness, majestic peaks, abundant wildlife, and incomparable natural beauty, perhaps no other park is as epic as Yellowstone National Park. Covering over 2 million acres, Yellowstone is home to the world's largest combination of geysers and thermal features, including the iconic Old Faithful. Visitors are likely to see several animals, such as bison, gray wolves, and grizzly bears freely roaming the landscape in their natural habitat. There are more than 900 miles (1,400 kilometers) of hiking trails within the park, from short day hikes along boardwalks to multi-day backpacking trips. Fishing, boating, horseback riding, biking, and a variety of winter sports are all activities that can be enjoyed year-round in America’s first national park.

Interested in joining other like-minded individuals on a camping and hiking trip to one of the United States National Parks, check out our hiking trips at Under30Experiences.

Best State Parks in Alaska

Denali State Park, Alaska

Visitors will find a variety of recreational activities and the tallest mountain in North America in this wilderness wonderland. Denali State Park has superb vantage points for viewing the breathtaking heart of the Alaska Range, which are accented by spectacular valley glaciers and steep ice-carved gorges. Day hikers on Kesugi Ridge or backpackers in the Peters Hills will be granted the best views of the Denali massif. Kayakers can explore the white waters of the Chulitna River or float on the flat waters of Byer’s Lake. Moose, bears, and caribou are among the larger wildlife seen within the park though The tapestry of habitats in the park yields an especially rich bird community with over 130 species. Multiple campgrounds and public-use cabins can be reserved, including the newly developed K’esugi Ken Campground.

Chugach State Park, Alaska

Within the borders of this park lies an abundance of lakes, massive glaciers, ice fields, and miles of shoreline, all within a short drive from Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. The park boasts over 280 miles (450 kilometers) of multi-use trails open for hiking, biking, ATV off-roading, and horseback riding. Eagle River is a popular destination for rafters looking for adventures on Class II and III rapids. Canoe and kayak rental are available at the campground in Eklutna Lake, another popular destination for those looking to explore the park on the water. During the winter months, the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing and downhill skiing is available in the park at the Arctic Valley Ski Area Arctic Valley. Several campgrounds are found within the park offering a variety of facilities and there are public use cabins for rent as well.  

Best State Parks in California

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California

Named after a respected pioneer woman in the Big Sur country, this stunning coastal park is home to one of the most photographed waterfalls in the state, McWay Falls. Monumental 3,000-ft cliff ridges, redwood trees, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean can be accessed by multiple trails that start right off the iconic Highway 1. There are two hike-in only campsites located within the park. Reservations are highly recommended due to the popularity of this park.  

Visit Julia Pfeiffer State Park and other iconic California coastal destinations on an epic road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California

Containing 7% of all the old-growth redwoods remaining in the world, this state park is a bucket list experience you will not want to miss. 20 miles (32 kilometers) of hiking trails lead visitors through primeval redwood forests, riparian woodland, and many flowering plants. The 5.6-mile (9 kilometers) Boy Scout Trail leads into the heart of the park to Fern Falls and the 300-foot tall (91 meters) Boy Scout Tree. Kayakers can float down the Smith River, a National Wild and Scenic River, while fishermen can cast a line looking to snag salmon, trout, or steelhead. The campground has 87 campsites equipped with a table and fire ring with restrooms nearby. if you have an hour or so, drive through some of the park’s largest old-growth redwoods on Howland Hill Road or take a short hike to Stout Grove.

Further Reading:  The Top 14 Best Parks to Visit in California

Best State Parks in Colorado

Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Colorado

Located just 20 miles northwest of Denver, this camping destination provides modern comforts and a big mountain appeal. The 100+ camping sites are equipped with flush toilets, showers, laundry services, picnic tables, and fire rings. The Aspen Meadows Campground is tent-only and is closed for the winter season. Surrounding the campgrounds are 12,000 acres of forest, rocky peaks, and miles of trails for hiking and biking. For those who want a more primitive and somewhat unique camping experience, there are four backcountry shelters and 20 backcountry tent sites.

Mueller State Park, Colorado

Located in a picturesque forest of mixed spruce, fir, pine, and aspen trees with panoramic views of the Continental Divide, these 134 campsites come with a picnic table and fire ring, most with water and electric hookups as well. There is firewood for sale, coin-operated showers, and modern restrooms. Visitors can enjoy year-round recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, fishing, and nature studies. Winter activities include sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Mueller State Park is a popular area to watch wildlife, including elk, black bear, hawks, and mule deer.

Best State Parks in Hawaii

Waimea Canyon State Park, Hawaii

Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimea Canyon is a deep, colorful gorge accented by rainbows and waterfalls and has some of the premier hiking trails in the state. These hikes range from casual strolls across the canyon such as the Cliff Trail that provides magnificent views of the canyon on a 30-minute hike to the Black Pipe Trail which covers over 8 miles (12 kilometers) as it cuts through the koa forest. Scenic drives along the canyon have several pullouts to take in views of the area or you can join an exhilarating downhill cycling tour. There are no designated campgrounds within the park but a few campgrounds are located nearby.

Ahupuaʻa ʻO Kahana State Park, Hawaii

The primary purpose of this park is to nurture and foster native Hawaiian cultural traditions and the cultural landscape of rural windward Oʻahu. Established as a “living park”, there are thirty-one families living in the ahupuaʻa of Kahana. These families assist with interpretive programs that share the Hawaiian values and lifestyle. Several hiking trails are open to the public including Nakoa Trail, named for the koa trees found along this 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) loop trail through a tropical rainforest. There are 10 beach campsites within the park.

Looking for a camping destination in other regions of the United States?

Best State Parks in Idaho

Harriman State Park, Idaho

Known for its beautiful scenery and wildlife, Harriman State Park offers 22 miles (35 kilometers) of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails that slink through meadows, meander along river banks, and through lush evergreen forests. Moose, elk, and Trumpeter Swans, the world’s largest waterfowl species, are a common sight at Harriman. The park is well known among anglers for its epic fly-fishing, which is said to be among the best in the United States. During the winter months, the trails are groomed for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and fat-tire biking. Did we mention that the park lies within a 16,000-acre wildlife refuge in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem?

McCroskey State Park, Idaho

The 5,000 acres of beautiful wilderness land are dedicated to the memory of frontier women and the hardships they endured. Skyline Drive is an 18-mile-long, unimproved road that rises through a dense cedar forest and Ponderosa pines to spectacular vistas of the rolling Palouse prairie. The road provides access to 32 miles (51 kilometers) of multi-purpose trails for hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) riders. The rugged terrain and breathtaking views in Mary McCroskey State Park are best suited for those with a sturdy vehicle and an adventurous spirit. There are 9 developed campsites and primitive tent-only sites within the park. Best of all, there is no fee to enter the park.

Best State Parks in Montana

Lone Pine State Park, Montana

Covering 270 acres of delightful landscapes, flower-filled meadows, and lush forests, Lone Pine State Park is a nature lover’s paradise. Over 7 miles (12 kilometers) of trails leading to stunning vistas of the Flathead Valley are open for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and horseback riding. The visitor’s center provides a tour of the wildlife and forest ecology within the park as well as wrap-around decks to take in the scenic views of the park. Camping is not permitted in the park but there are several campgrounds and accommodations nearby in the town of Kalispell.

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, Montana

Featuring one of the largest known limestone caverns in the Northwest, this state park is just under an hour’s drive from Bozeman. The caves, filled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites, cover a substantial underground area. Joining a ranger-led tour will allow you to discover the most fascinating areas. Above ground are miles of trails for hiking and biking, that lead visitors through dense forests and up to panoramic vistas. Fishing and paddling are among the activities on the pristine streams and rivers found within the park’s 3,000+ acres. A variety of campsites are available and amenities include fire pits, grills, restrooms with showers, and a camp store.  

Best State Parks in Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

These 2,000 acres of land were once home to the Fremont, Anasazi, and Southern Paiutes native tribes. Nowadays visitors come to explore the captivating canyons of the park that feature lots of colorful caves, columns, and cathedral-like spires. The shapes, shades, and scenery of the park make it a photographer's dream destination. Hikers will enjoy the winding paths that lead through Canyon and Cathedral Caves, two distinct sites in the park that are a must-visit. Those seeking an incredible viewpoint of the landscape should hike the 2 mile (3.2 kilometers) Miller Point Trail. The campground has 22 sites each with a picnic table and grill as well as restrooms and water available year-round.

Valley of the Fire State Park, Nevada

Roughly an hour northeast of Las Vegas, Valley of the Fire State Park is renowned for its bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops nestled in gray and tan limestone, petrified trees, and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years.  Fire Wave Trail is a 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometers) hike that leads to one of the most captivating spots of the park, a bowl-shaped depression marked with interchanging streaks of beige and red-orange colored sandstone. There are two campgrounds with a combined total of 72 sites. Campsites are equipped with shaded tables, grills, water, and restrooms. Spending a night is highly recommended due to the incredible display of stars in the evening sky.

Further Reading:  Hiking, Camping, and More Adventure in Las Vegas

Best State Parks in Oregon

Beverly Beach State Park, Oregon

With 128 tent sites, this creekside camp is one of Oregon’s largest. The campsites are scattered in coastal forests within a stone’s throw from the water’s edge where tide pools are teeming with sea life. The park is located between Newport and Depoe Bay, making it an ideal base for whale watching. Amenities include restrooms with flush toilets, showers, and picnic areas. Firewood can be purchased at the Welcome Center and there is also a playground for kids. This campsite is open year-round.

Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

Often considered the “crown jewel” of the Oregon state parks system, this standout scenic treasure offers boundless recreational opportunities. 35 miles (56 kilometers) of backcountry trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding lead visitors to breathtaking waterfalls, densely forested landscapes, and rocky canyons. The Trail of Ten Falls is a 7.2 mile (11.5 kilometers) moderate loop that should be on everyone’s bucket list. This trail includes a visit to South Falls, a 177-foot (53 meters) waterfall, where hikers can walk behind the falls! The main campground has 10 tent sites, RV sites, and a few cabins. Reservations are recommended due to the popularity of this park.    

Best State Parks in Utah

Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah

If you are looking for a photogenic landscape, then this is your park. The color and beauty found here prompted a 1948 National Geographic Society expedition to name the area Kodachrome after the popular color film. Covering 2,240 acres and surrounded by Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, the scenery is dominated by monolithic stone spires, massive sandstone chimneys, and gorgeous rock columns. Camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking are among the main recreational activities with a few designated ATV trails for an off-road adventure. Angel’s Palace trail is a short and easy hike that offers hikers a great view over the Kodachrome Basin. The park’s campground provides modern facilities with 30 tent sites and 14 sites with full hookups for RVs. Oh, and this park is less than an hour from Bryce Canyon National Park!

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

Fascinating rock formations of eroded sandstone have created unique shapes that somewhat resemble goblins, hence the name of this park. Visitors come to experience this surreal desert landscape, and explore the maze-like playground of canyons, with most crowds forming in the spring and fall when temperatures are not too high. Three established trails cut through the Valley of Goblins, however, hikers are free to roam the labyrinth of nooks and gnomes off-trail to discover more slot canyons and hidden rock art. Little Wild Horse Canyon offers a beginner-friendly canyoneering experience and those who are looking for a non-technical mountain biking ride should check out the Wild Horse Mesa Mountain Bike Trail. Several campsites are available within the park for those seeking to spend a night underneath a canopy of a billion stars.     

Before you head out on your next camping adventure, make sure you have the Essential Camping Gear.

Best State Parks in Washington

Lime Kiln Point State Park, Washington

This small day-use park has fantastic opportunities to spot orcas, gray whales, porpoises, humpback, and minke whales between May and September. Set on a rocky bluff at the west end of San Juan Island, Lime Kiln Point is considered one of the best whale-watching spots in the world. Whale watching boats and guided kayaking tours are available for those looking to get up close. Other recreational activities include hiking, diving, and bird watching. Visitors can also tour the lighthouse and explore the 19th-century lime kiln. Camping is prohibited in the park but there are 12 picnic sites scattered along the rocky shoreline and around the lighthouse.

Wallace Falls State Park, Washington

If you are looking for an epic camping and hiking trip to experience the best of the Cascades, then Wallace Falls State Park is your destination. Old-growth coniferous forests, freshwater lakes, and multi-tiered waterfalls dot the landscape as hikers can explore over 12 miles (19 kilometers) of trails. Wallace Falls, the namesake of this park, is a three-tiered 265-foot (80 meters) waterfall with multiple viewpoints. There are an additional 5 miles (8 kilometers) of mountain biking trails. The park has two tent-only campsites and cabins for rent, as well as backcountry camping, which is only allowed with a permit.

Best State Parks in Wyoming

Buffalo Bill State Park, Wyoming

Buffalo Bill State Park features scenery dominated by the grand peaks of Wyoming’s Absaroka Mountains as it hugs a reservoir on the courses of the Shoshone River. Named after the famed Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, this is a great state park to visit to learn about the old west history while getting in some outdoor recreational fun. A few hiking and biking trails lead visitors through the scrublands, however, boating, fly fishing, kayaking, and windsurfing are the main activities. Several campgrounds are open year-round offering a variety of amenities  

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

The healing geothermal waters of Hot Springs State Park are what draws visitors to this natural area. Offering a free public bathing house with 104-degree Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) to soothe pesky aches and pains after hiking any of the 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) of trails. Located within the park is a resident bison herd that can be viewed from safe distances. A suspension footbridge offers a unique vantage point from which to view the Bighorn River and mineral terrace. The park has long been known for its beautiful summer flower gardens. Make a point to bring your camera with you and capture the exciting splash of color all summer long. Camping is not permitted though there are several picnic areas for day use.

Further reading:  The Top Solo Travel Destinations in the United States


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Tim Gillespie
Tim is U30X's Thailand Manager & Community Builder, and has been living, traveling and accumulating experiences in SE Asia since 2009. He loves being in the outdoors, immersing himself in local cultures, and tasting exotic foods.

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