The 10 most beautiful national parks in the American West

Parc national des Arches, Utah

To explore the American West, it’s essential to visit the national parks, the 10 most beautiful of which are listed here!

Did you know that Yellowstone National Park is the oldest national park in the world? Its birth in 1872 triggered a wave of national park creations across the country and then around the world. The idea was to avoid the phenomenon that had befallen Niagara Falls, which by the turn of the 1860s had already been ravaged by civilization and commercialism. No other park was to suffer the same fate.

The United States has 59 national parks, and today we’d like to introduce you to 10 of the most beautiful in theAmerican West. And there’s no better way to visit them than on a road trip. Are you with us? We’re off!

Warning: A road trip in the United States requires you to follow a few tips before organizing one and setting off on your adventure. The national parks presented here are not all located in the same state, and if you want to visit several in a single trip, it’s worth considering renting a van or motorhome. The website can help you rent one of these vehicles.

1. Yosemite National Park, California

Parc national de Yosemite, Californie

Photo credit: Flickr – Giuseppe Milo

In the heart of Yosemite Valley, you’ll see more natural wonders in a minute than in any other place in a day. California’s Yosemite National Park is like the jewel in the crown of national parks, offering not only magnificent glaciers, but also a whole panoply of superlatives: one of the highest waterfalls in North America (Yosemite Falls), the highest cliff in the world (El Capitan) and awe-inspiring mountains.

The Tioga Road takes you to the heights of the park, where you’ll hike through the Tuolumne meadows and its fabulous hiking trails. The road to Glacier Point offers perhaps the most spectacular view in the national park, towering 975 metres above Yosemite Valley. Wawona, near the southern entrance, is the ideal place to explore the famous Mariposa Grove, a forest of giant redwoods.

Hiking, rafting, fishing, climbing and camping are all on the agenda.

2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Parc National du Grand Canyon, Arizona

Photo credit: Flickr – Jerry Thompson

Almost everyone has seen photos of Arizona’s famous gorge, measuring on average 1.3 km deep and up to 30 km wide. But nothing prepares you for its immensity, or its intense beauty, when you’re standing at the edge, looking down at the Colorado River below.

Grand Canyon is the second most visited national park in the USA, with some five million people visiting each year, mainly along the South Rim. Avoid them by hiking one of the park’s many trails. The Rim Trail is the easiest, following the canyon for 30 km to Hermits Rest. However, you can start from any vantage point, follow the canyon for as long as you like and return by shuttle bus. The 14.8 km Bright Angel Trail is very challenging (all uphill and little shade) but well worth the detour.

You can also see the Grand Canyon from the North Rim, which receives only 10% of the park’s visitors, as its facilities are only open from mid-May to mid-October due to the altitude (2,438 m) and climate. You can also kayak and admire the canyon from below, or sleep along the shore under the starry sky for an experience you’ll never forget.

3. Arches National Park, Utah

Parc national des Arches, Utah

Photo credit: Flickr – faungg’s photos

You may already be familiar with Utah’s Arches National Park without having been there, because with its 2,000 sandstone arches, this magnificent park has served as the backdrop for countless Hollywood films, including Indiana Jones, Thelma and Louise and several John Wayne movies.

Nowhere else in the world will you find such a wide range of natural arches, patiently sculpted over time by water and wind. The most famous, proudly displayed on Utah license plates, is Delicate Arch (photo), a sublime rock at sunset. But the park’s natural sights don’t stop at its arches. There’s Park Avenue (cliffs resembling the skyscrapers of New York’s famous avenue), Petrified dunes (ancient fossilized petrified dunes), Balanced Rock (a boulder the size of three buses balances on a pedestal) and much more.

4. Zion National Park, Utah

Parc national de Zion, Utah

Photo credit: Flickr – Michael Martin

In a state with a profusion of national parks, Zion National Park is Utah’s first and most popular. Within its boundaries lie dizzyingly high sandstone walls above Zion Canyon, bright red and orange domes, and the Narrows of the Virgin River.

Angels Landing is the park’s best-known peak (1763 m), and the Angels landing trail provides access for breathtaking views. For the less adventurous, there are plenty of other options, such as the short hike on theEmerald Pools trail, and Weeping Rock, with water running off the cliff like tears. Needless to say, with all that rock, Zion is popular for climbing, hiking and canyoning. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into.

5. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Parc national de Yellowstone, Wyoming

Photo credit: Flickr – Clint Losee

A vast volcanic playground in northwest Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park boasts the world’s most astonishing concentration of geothermal phenomena (over 10,000), including mud pools, hot springs, fumaroles and, of course, geysers. Old Faithful is the most famous site, a « cone-shaped » geyser whose frequency of water spouting is unpredictable, occurring every 35 to 120 minutes.

But there’s more. The magnificent V-shaped Yellowstone Grand Canyon, the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone Lake (North America’s highest lake), and vast forests, including one of the world’s largest petrified forests, add to its singular majesty. And then there’s the wildlife. Nicknamed the American Serengeti, Yellowstone boasts the greatest concentration of mammals in the continental USA, with excellent chances of seeing them all: grizzly and black bears, hemion deer, moose, elk, bison… In all, there are 67 species.

6. Death Valley National Park, California

Parc national de la vallée de la Mort, Californie

Photo credit: Flickr – Thomas Hawk

Death Valley is one of the largest parks in the USA, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a vast expanse of desert. Its flora and fauna are particularly rich.

The landscapes are extremely varied: you can admire immense sand dunes, breathtaking viewpoints, or hike through numerous canyons. The only problem is that the infernal summer temperatures prevent you from fully enjoying the park…

7. Redwood National Park, California

Parc national de Redwood, Californie

Photo credit: Flickr – Mark Weston

Around 300,000 visitors come to Redwood National Park every year to experience the grandeur of the giant redwoods that create the Coastal Redwood Forest. These trees can exceed 100 meters in height and live for over 2,000 years, making them the tallest and most impressive in the world. The marine and terrestrial fauna is also remarkable, including the sea lion, bald eagle and endangered California brown pelican.

8. Pinnacles National Park, California

Parc national des Pinnacles, Californie

Photo credit: Flickr – Pierre Pouliquin

Upgraded from national monument to national park in 2013 due to its major condor reintroduction program, Pinnacles National Park is little-known, and that’s one of the best reasons to visit. Its small size (107 km²), home to ancient volcanic relics, means it can be done in a day. With some fifty kilometers of trails for all levels, you’ll have the choice of hiking through fairy-tale forests and verdant valleys, numerous rocky spires and balancing boulders.

Without too many tourists in the park, keep an eye out for condors, those prehistoric birds of prey with wingspans of up to 2.90 metres. Their favorite haunts are the « High Peaks » in the early morning or early evening, or along the ridge just southeast of the campground.

9. Channel Islands National Park, California

Parc national des Channel Islands, Californie

Photo credit: Flickr – Gregory « Slobirdr » Smith

Although the Channel Islands lie just 18 km off California’s southern coast (less than an hour by boat), few people venture onto this string of eight islands (five of which make up the national park). What they miss: a sublime return to the California of yesteryear, where craggy arches, thorny spires and verdant hills overlook the Pacific, without a car or telephone in sight.

What makes the Channel Islands even more special are its flora and fauna: over 150 endemic or unique species have earned it the nickname « North America’s Galapagos ». It’s the only place in the world where you’ll see, for example, the Deer Mouse, the Spotted Skunk and the Channel Islands Fox. Equally incredible is the life in the surrounding waters: over 30 species of marine animals (sea lions, elephant seals, whales…) inhabit the area.

The largest concentration of blue whales in the world gathers here every summer. So you can imagine all the outdoor activities available: kayaking through sea caves, camping on lonely cliffs, hiking to a pinniped colony, diving to explore bottoms populated by giant kelp…

10. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Parc national de Saguaro, Arizona

Photo credit: Flickr – Tim Proffitt-White

Saguaro National Park, 370 km² in size, is renowned for its many cacti, including the Saguaro, from which it takes its name. An undisputed hero of Westerns and Lucky Luke’s mascot, it grows only here, in the Sonoran Desert. The most impressive are over 15 m tall and weigh between 8 and 10 tons.

Visit Saguaro National Park and learn a lot about this cactus. According to the legend of the Papagos Indians, saguaros are to be respected as human beings. The fruits of these cacti were the Indians’ lifeblood in such a hostile climate. The fruits were of such importance to the Papagos that harvesting them marked the beginning of their new year.