Author Topic: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst  (Read 5770 times)

steevven1

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Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« on: February 11, 2020, 09:27:30 PM »
Hopefully I don't get excommunicated for some of my choices, but here's our list (with photos!) for fellow Mustachian National Park lovers:
https://www.tripofalifestyle.com/destinations/list-of-national-parks-in-the-us/

If you want me to save you a click...
#1 = Death Valley National Park
#62 (last place) = Hot Springs National Park

Let the debate begin :-p

brooklynmoney

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2020, 09:39:29 PM »
I know itís sort of different than the others but I truly enjoyed Hot Springs National Park. I loved Hot Springs the town as well.

nessness

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2020, 10:09:43 PM »
Awesome that you did this! I went to Death Valley as a teenager and didn't care for it, but your description and photos make me want to go back.

lost_in_the_endless_aisle

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2020, 10:24:37 PM »
I just counted and been to 23 parks (several on multiple occasions in different times of year/conditions) and would rate some much higher or lower depending on season or if you hit them on a weekend versus weekday due to crowds. For example, your experience at Great Basin pretty much cut out everything that makes the park unique (the shield formations in Lehman cave are uncommon in such high concentrations but far from unique). Acadia is very nice in late fall (after the leafers) but before the worst part of winter. Sequoia is better than Yosemite most of the year because of how much less crowded it is (Kings Canyon is less crowded but not as much to see). RMNP is not crowded in April but Trail Ridge is closed--though going there during peak season is not a problem if you plan appropriately (i.e. get moving before sunrise).

simonsez

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2020, 10:35:36 PM »
Very cool, congrats on seeing them all.  I'm you made a ton of great memories!

It really is crazy the variance that all the different parks have to offer and how they can depend on weather, season, crowd, accommodations, and even shutdown status unfortunately.

A few of my fave memories thus far:
-Struggling up the Table Mountain trail on the west side of Grand Teton NP, making it to the top and seeing as if you could could almost reach out eastward and touch the nearby peaks.  Best picnic of my life!
-Renting a house up in the hills on St. John for a week with my wife and best friend and his wife - snorkeling a new beach each day with cold rum drinks at the ready
-feeling like I was in Jurassic Park on a hike via the Kolob Canyon entrance of Zion and with no provocation, my buddy started whistling the apropos John Williams tune
-dining at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the restaurant watching the sun set while being able to look hundreds of feet down into the purples and reds that the encroaching shadows slowly swallowed up
-when I lived in the DC area, I loved going to Shenandoah in the winter when Skyline Drive was closed and being able to park right on US 211 or US 33 and hike in with rarely another soul to be found all day, and then getting apple donuts at the quaint restaurant just off I-66 on the way home

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2020, 11:26:23 PM »
Cool to hear y'alls experiences. The things I'm immediately learning by reading reactions to this article are:

-People have WILDLY different experiences depending on time of year, etc.
-The personal memories you make with the people you care about matter more than the actual contents of the parks.

mies

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2020, 05:17:23 AM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

nereo

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2020, 08:05:59 AM »
ON Yosemite - love it, lived a few hours away, visited dozens of times.  BUT... Iím a bit shocked that Kings Canyon rated so poorly (40th) and Yosemite was in the top grouping.  Weíve always stressed to friends and family to visit Kings Canyon over Yosemite whenever they want to avoid the obscene crowds and get the same California Glacier-carved wilderness.

As for Acadia - the majority of the park is not connected to the mainland by any bridges.  The true splendor of the park is the dozens of large and literally hundreds of small islands you can paddle around and hike on. To truly see Acadia you need a watercraft - preferably a kayak or a small sailboat (though a small powerboat works fine too).  Maineís Island Trail has several uninhabited islands you can camp on for free on a first-come, first-serve basis.  SChoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut (both major portions of the park) are relatively crowd-free and just as breathtaking as the often-visited Mount Desert Island (MDI).  Acadia is one of the only places in the lower-48 where you can be entirely (or almostly entirely) alone on an island for a few days without being super-rich.
Bar Harbor.... yeah, I avoid that like the plague during the summer.  Basically just a stop-off for the massive-number of cruise-ship passengers. 



MasterStache

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2020, 08:16:49 AM »
Just want to say this is badass and I have mad envy right now! I've only been to a couple but plan to visit many more in the next decade or so (as the kids leave and my spouse joins me in early retirement). Visited Mammoth Cave with my son's Boy scout troop several years ago. Really enjoyed it. Actually spent the night near Death Valley over 20 years ago on a military training exercise. It was mesmerizing (until a sand storm decided to roll in). Hiked the Smokies last August. Actually hiked to the top of Mt. Leconte by myself. It was breath taking. Visited the everglades a couple years ago. It was totally awesome. We'll be visiting Zion, Grand Canyon, Arches and a couple other places in April. So looking forward to that. 

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2020, 08:17:25 AM »
ON Yosemite - love it, lived a few hours away, visited dozens of times.  BUT... Iím a bit shocked that Kings Canyon rated so poorly (40th) and Yosemite was in the top grouping.  Weíve always stressed to friends and family to visit Kings Canyon over Yosemite whenever they want to avoid the obscene crowds and get the same California Glacier-carved wilderness.

As for Acadia - the majority of the park is not connected to the mainland by any bridges.  The true splendor of the park is the dozens of large and literally hundreds of small islands you can paddle around and hike on. To truly see Acadia you need a watercraft - preferably a kayak or a small sailboat (though a small powerboat works fine too).  Maineís Island Trail has several uninhabited islands you can camp on for free on a first-come, first-serve basis.  SChoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut (both major portions of the park) are relatively crowd-free and just as breathtaking as the often-visited Mount Desert Island (MDI).  Acadia is one of the only places in the lower-48 where you can be entirely (or almostly entirely) alone on an island for a few days without being super-rich.
Bar Harbor.... yeah, I avoid that like the plague during the summer.  Basically just a stop-off for the massive-number of cruise-ship passengers.

Really excited about that info on Acadia -- now I want to go back!

Regarding Kings Canyon, read our description for that park, and you might understand the discrepancy better: "This park borders Sequoia National Park and contains lots of massive trees, along with a huge canyon that we didnít get to see up-close on our visit because of a major road closure. You should probably ignore our opinion on this one. Just being honest." -- we def need to return eventually.

Caoineag

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2020, 09:03:39 AM »
Crater Lake really only shines when the road is partially closed. Then you get to hike the portion not yet open to cars. You get to see so much more than you would driving. Having the snow banks be twice your height is really neat and being a long hike, you quickly get away from the crowds. The first time we went it was fully open and that was meh. The second time we went we were just trying to avoid a heat wave and we were shocked that we could hike the roads not yet open to traffic. We went back multiple days in a row for the hike. We will try to go again this year as well.

The Kolob Canyon at Zion was a beautiful area nowhere near the main portion of Zion so it's not crowded. We haven't been to the main portion of Zion yet but have gone to Kolob Canyon 3 times.

I would quibble with your rating Capital Reef so low but I like beautiful day hikes so that probably skews my list ranking. Oh and Olympus should be higher due to being the only temperate rainforest in the mainland US but again I love forests and got to go during a sunny fall period so I saw it at it's best.

Carlsbad with it's natural entrance definitely ranks near the top for me too. I love Arches but only go before or after the busy season because I can't handle crowds.

Having grown up in Michigan, all sand dunes based parks are a skip for me. I have seen enough dunes to last a lifetime.

erutio

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2020, 09:39:35 AM »
Wow, awesome.

Posting to follow, so I can go read your blog when I'm not at a work computer.

nereo

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2020, 10:32:36 AM »
Love that youíve put this together, even if I might quibble with some of the rankings ;-)
We are all sure to have our favorites and less-than-favorites.  I think at last count Iíve only hit 27 of the NPs.

dougules

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2020, 11:44:02 AM »
Nice list.  Congrats on visiting them all. 

Naturally a list like this is completely subjective based on your tastes and the specific circumstances of your visit.  My own personal list would put the Smokies over Rocky Mountain NP because it's greener and more biodiverse.  I'd also put the Great Sand Dunes way higher for me personally because I really like playing in the sand.  But it's all just based on what I like, and everybody else's ranking will differ significantly. 

Do you think you will start hitting some state parks or national monuments?  There are some that are on the same level as a national park.   

Brother Esau

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2020, 11:51:29 AM »
Amazing accomplishment. Did you happen to go into Fiery Furnace at Arches? An other worldly experience for me.

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #15 on: February 12, 2020, 12:07:46 PM »
Amazing accomplishment. Did you happen to go into Fiery Furnace at Arches? An other worldly experience for me.

Thanks! We did not do the Fiery Furnace hike :-(

We could easily go back to all of these places and have a completely new experience in each one, I'm sure....tempting....

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #16 on: February 12, 2020, 12:09:38 PM »
Nice list.  Congrats on visiting them all. 

Naturally a list like this is completely subjective based on your tastes and the specific circumstances of your visit.  My own personal list would put the Smokies over Rocky Mountain NP because it's greener and more biodiverse.  I'd also put the Great Sand Dunes way higher for me personally because I really like playing in the sand.  But it's all just based on what I like, and everybody else's ranking will differ significantly. 

Do you think you will start hitting some state parks or national monuments?  There are some that are on the same level as a national park.

Thank you! We've already started hitting some Florida State Parks and other areas since returning. Recently learned that Florida has caves (who could have imagined?), so we visited Florida Caverns State Park. No plans to do another "complete" list, but definitely plenty to explore out there.

NotJen

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2020, 12:58:16 PM »
Thanks for putting together your rankings - I had read some of the individual descriptions already.  Obviously, one disadvantage of visiting all the parks in one year is that you can't get to all of them during the 'best' season (and you can't spend as much time in each one).  The advantage is that they are probably easier to compare when your trips aren't years apart.

My personal rankings (I've been to 24 so far) would be quite different.  But I'm a hiker - so I'm biased towards parks offering great day hikes.  To that end, I think Guadalupe Mountains is completely underrated in most lists like these!  I visited in November, and thought it was fantastic.

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2020, 02:31:18 PM »
Thanks for putting together your rankings - I had read some of the individual descriptions already.  Obviously, one disadvantage of visiting all the parks in one year is that you can't get to all of them during the 'best' season (and you can't spend as much time in each one).  The advantage is that they are probably easier to compare when your trips aren't years apart.

My personal rankings (I've been to 24 so far) would be quite different.  But I'm a hiker - so I'm biased towards parks offering great day hikes.  To that end, I think Guadalupe Mountains is completely underrated in most lists like these!  I visited in November, and thought it was fantastic.

Yeah, the list is actually really weird because the top 95% or so are legitimately "great," and only the last two or three are places I'd say "ehh you can probably skip these ones." We actually liked Guadalupe Mountains, even though it's very far down on the list.

partgypsy

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #19 on: February 12, 2020, 02:31:28 PM »
posting to follow to look this up later

dougules

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #20 on: February 12, 2020, 02:34:34 PM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

dougules

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #21 on: February 12, 2020, 02:36:19 PM »
Nice list.  Congrats on visiting them all. 

Naturally a list like this is completely subjective based on your tastes and the specific circumstances of your visit.  My own personal list would put the Smokies over Rocky Mountain NP because it's greener and more biodiverse.  I'd also put the Great Sand Dunes way higher for me personally because I really like playing in the sand.  But it's all just based on what I like, and everybody else's ranking will differ significantly. 

Do you think you will start hitting some state parks or national monuments?  There are some that are on the same level as a national park.

Thank you! We've already started hitting some Florida State Parks and other areas since returning. Recently learned that Florida has caves (who could have imagined?), so we visited Florida Caverns State Park. No plans to do another "complete" list, but definitely plenty to explore out there.

I went to Florida Caverns once, and I was surprised Florida has caves, too.  With as many cool springs as there are in northern Florida it would have to have caves, though.  On the subject of state parks, have you been to Wakulla Springs?

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #22 on: February 12, 2020, 02:43:00 PM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

Generally I always say that the best way to get away from crowds anywhere is to do anything that requires exercise....It works pretty well. But when we took a 4-5 mile round trip hike to a waterfall in the Smokies, there were dozens of people at the endpoint, including a bunch of screaming kids. Not ideal.

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #23 on: February 12, 2020, 02:43:28 PM »
Nice list.  Congrats on visiting them all. 

Naturally a list like this is completely subjective based on your tastes and the specific circumstances of your visit.  My own personal list would put the Smokies over Rocky Mountain NP because it's greener and more biodiverse.  I'd also put the Great Sand Dunes way higher for me personally because I really like playing in the sand.  But it's all just based on what I like, and everybody else's ranking will differ significantly. 

Do you think you will start hitting some state parks or national monuments?  There are some that are on the same level as a national park.

Thank you! We've already started hitting some Florida State Parks and other areas since returning. Recently learned that Florida has caves (who could have imagined?), so we visited Florida Caverns State Park. No plans to do another "complete" list, but definitely plenty to explore out there.

I went to Florida Caverns once, and I was surprised Florida has caves, too.  With as many cool springs as there are in northern Florida it would have to have caves, though.  On the subject of state parks, have you been to Wakulla Springs?

Nope; never heard it mentioned!

Boofinator

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #24 on: February 12, 2020, 02:54:31 PM »
Nice list.  Congrats on visiting them all. 

Naturally a list like this is completely subjective based on your tastes and the specific circumstances of your visit.  My own personal list would put the Smokies over Rocky Mountain NP because it's greener and more biodiverse.  I'd also put the Great Sand Dunes way higher for me personally because I really like playing in the sand.  But it's all just based on what I like, and everybody else's ranking will differ significantly. 

Do you think you will start hitting some state parks or national monuments?  There are some that are on the same level as a national park.

Thank you! We've already started hitting some Florida State Parks and other areas since returning. Recently learned that Florida has caves (who could have imagined?), so we visited Florida Caverns State Park. No plans to do another "complete" list, but definitely plenty to explore out there.

I went to Florida Caverns once, and I was surprised Florida has caves, too.  With as many cool springs as there are in northern Florida it would have to have caves, though.  On the subject of state parks, have you been to Wakulla Springs?

I've been to Wakulla Springs, which is nice, but my personal favorite is a swim down Ichetucknee Springs (if one avoids the weekend and holiday madness).

simonsez

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #25 on: February 12, 2020, 02:59:31 PM »
Nice list.  Congrats on visiting them all. 

Naturally a list like this is completely subjective based on your tastes and the specific circumstances of your visit.  My own personal list would put the Smokies over Rocky Mountain NP because it's greener and more biodiverse.  I'd also put the Great Sand Dunes way higher for me personally because I really like playing in the sand.  But it's all just based on what I like, and everybody else's ranking will differ significantly. 

Do you think you will start hitting some state parks or national monuments?  There are some that are on the same level as a national park.

Thank you! We've already started hitting some Florida State Parks and other areas since returning. Recently learned that Florida has caves (who could have imagined?), so we visited Florida Caverns State Park. No plans to do another "complete" list, but definitely plenty to explore out there.

I went to Florida Caverns once, and I was surprised Florida has caves, too.  With as many cool springs as there are in northern Florida it would have to have caves, though.  On the subject of state parks, have you been to Wakulla Springs?

Nope; never heard it mentioned!
Just south of Tallahassee, very clear water and you get to see a lot of manatees depending on the time of year.  At the spring itself on good days you can see over a hundred feet down and where the spring disappears into the cave.  Tons of alligators, turtles, herons, ibis, etc.  Good history there as well with the famous "Unconquered" Seminoles living in that area for many years,being a set location for some movies, and the location of many fossils.  If going all the way down to Alligator Point, I recommend stopping in Ochlockonee Bay at Angelo's to get a grouper sandwich.

mies

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #26 on: February 12, 2020, 03:33:47 PM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

The valley in Yosemite was a mess from dawn to dusk when we visited. There were tour buses and cars everywhere. We got up early to avoid traffic as much as possible, so the roads weren't too bad, but they got busy fast. Even some of the places outside the valley like the Merced and Tuolumne Sequoia groves got busy. If we didn't get to those groves as early as we did, we wouldn't have been able to get a parking space. We experienced this late in the season too. This happened in late September of 2017.

We didn't do anything in the back country. I'm sure if you get far enough from the main attractions, you'll get some peace and quiet, but if you want to see the things that make Yosemite famous, you're probably going to be hunting for a place to park. We had a similar experience in Yellowstone. Even though they have cool views, you'll more than likely be fighting crowds.

If you really want to see Yosemite in person, I think it's worth a visit. With the exception of the Mariposa Grove, I'm not really interested in returning.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2020, 03:36:07 PM by mies »

Fireball

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #27 on: February 12, 2020, 04:43:41 PM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

Generally I always say that the best way to get away from crowds anywhere is to do anything that requires exercise....It works pretty well. But when we took a 4-5 mile round trip hike to a waterfall in the Smokies, there were dozens of people at the endpoint, including a bunch of screaming kids. Not ideal.

Remember which waterfall? The key, especially in the Smokies, is to get on a lesser known trail. A 4-5mi round trip waterfall hike would have been Laurel Falls or Abrams Falls most likely? Those are pretty popular trails. There are certainly a few trails to avoid if solitude is the goal.

Brother Esau

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #28 on: February 12, 2020, 04:49:23 PM »
Amazing accomplishment. Did you happen to go into Fiery Furnace at Arches? An other worldly experience for me.

Thanks! We did not do the Fiery Furnace hike :-(

We could easily go back to all of these places and have a completely new experience in each one, I'm sure....tempting....

I highly recommend the Furnace!

zinnie

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #29 on: February 12, 2020, 05:06:27 PM »
Amazing, thanks for sharing! This is legitimately my dream. I took a year off work and did a big circle out West--Yosemite, Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Teton, etc. I went alone and it was literally my favorite thing I've ever done in my entire life. I would without a doubt put Yosemite at #1. Every part of it is just so astonishing that you can't stop gasping and/or getting teary up at the beauty. The valley is crowded but once you get on the trails you end up alone pretty quickly. And outside of Yosemite Valley it's pretty barren--I did the Smith Peak trail and made it up and back without seeing anyone except a park ranger and a cute lil' black bear.

zinnie

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #30 on: February 12, 2020, 05:16:50 PM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

Generally I always say that the best way to get away from crowds anywhere is to do anything that requires exercise....It works pretty well. But when we took a 4-5 mile round trip hike to a waterfall in the Smokies, there were dozens of people at the endpoint, including a bunch of screaming kids. Not ideal.

Yeah, this.

Also this made me giggle as this happened to me in Yosemite. I was hiking for hours, exhausted, and I thought I must have made it to the highest peak in the middle of the wilderness, and when I finally reach the end: parking lot at the top and tons of people. Cheaters!!!

I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

The valley in Yosemite was a mess from dawn to dusk when we visited. There were tour buses and cars everywhere. We got up early to avoid traffic as much as possible, so the roads weren't too bad, but they got busy fast. Even some of the places outside the valley like the Merced and Tuolumne Sequoia groves got busy. If we didn't get to those groves as early as we did, we wouldn't have been able to get a parking space. We experienced this late in the season too. This happened in late September of 2017.

We didn't do anything in the back country. I'm sure if you get far enough from the main attractions, you'll get some peace and quiet, but if you want to see the things that make Yosemite famous, you're probably going to be hunting for a place to park. We had a similar experience in Yellowstone. Even though they have cool views, you'll more than likely be fighting crowds.

If you really want to see Yosemite in person, I think it's worth a visit. With the exception of the Mariposa Grove, I'm not really interested in returning.

A lot of parks are crowded with cars, not people. So I'd recommend not bringing your car in when you can avoid it. Yosemite has an amazing free tram that you can grab from multiple places outside the park. I've never driven as a way to get around there except for the Hetch Hetchy Valley part. I mean, you're there to see the nature, right? Same story with Zion, although they've improved in recent years by making it harder to drive in. (Yellowstone needs to get their act together, though!) And off-season helps, too!
« Last Edit: February 12, 2020, 05:23:03 PM by zinnie »

wbranch

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #31 on: February 12, 2020, 07:02:13 PM »
In 2017 we hit up multiple national parks on long trip in the early summer and were able to avoid big crowds for at least parts of the day by doing some more remote/difficult hikes and leaving very early. This was at RMNP, Canyonlands, Zion, Yosemite, Sequoia and a couple others. At RMNP just after memorial day we did one hike to some lakes and did not see anyone for 4+ miles. Only a small amount of snow near the end of the trail.


National parks are not where you want to go if you want wild/remote places. There are 10s of millions of acres of national forests, designated wilderness areas, roadless areas, etc that have rivers, creeks, lakes, mountain peaks, waterfalls, etc. Fairly common for us to go on hikes and not see another person. Just have to avoid the spots that get instafamous, like parts of the Cascades that are getting trashed. BLM land can have some cool spots as well. They are not as "stunning" as some of the national parks, but not being over-developed makes it much better for me.

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #32 on: February 12, 2020, 07:18:38 PM »

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

I agree - a lot depends on *how* you do the national parks.  When I was in Alaska, I rented a car, solo traveled, and did a ton of hiking - and mostly kept away from the big tour groups.  This does require a greater tolerance for travel on foot and driving yourself around, but (for me) it was a fantastic experience!  I've also heard great things about Glacier from friends/coworkers - according to them it's not nearly as crowded as some of the other more popular/accessible parks.

Side note: The cable route up Half-Dome in Yosemite is an experience unto itself.  The views at the top are absolutely amazing, but getting up top on the cables requires braving the traffic jam from hell, except instead of sitting in traffic you're hanging on a cable waiting for the person in front of you to catch their breath.

Peachtea

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #33 on: February 12, 2020, 08:33:38 PM »
You skipped the National Lakeshores (and Seashores) like the Apostale Islands and Pictured Rocks. Theyíre national parks too, just named different.

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #34 on: February 13, 2020, 12:06:46 AM »
You skipped the National Lakeshores (and Seashores) like the Apostale Islands and Pictured Rocks. Theyíre national parks too, just named different.

Those are National Park Service Units, which there are 419 of, including the National Parks.

There are just 62 National Parks, all of which are on our list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_parks_of_the_United_States

BussoV6

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #35 on: February 13, 2020, 12:50:58 AM »
As mentioned by other posters, many of the popular parks are almost deserted a couple of miles off the roads.

I've spent many days at even some of the "less exciting" parks such as Saguaro. Just sitting still with a camerahas allowed the sighting of dozens of small birds and insects that would be so easy to miss.

Thanks for the link Steevven. It looks like I'll spend a happy couple of hours reading that later!

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #36 on: February 13, 2020, 04:55:22 AM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

Generally I always say that the best way to get away from crowds anywhere is to do anything that requires exercise....It works pretty well. But when we took a 4-5 mile round trip hike to a waterfall in the Smokies, there were dozens of people at the endpoint, including a bunch of screaming kids. Not ideal.

Remember which waterfall? The key, especially in the Smokies, is to get on a lesser known trail. A 4-5mi round trip waterfall hike would have been Laurel Falls or Abrams Falls most likely? Those are pretty popular trails. There are certainly a few trails to avoid if solitude is the goal.

I would guess Groto or Rainbow Falls. We did a little bit longer hike to Rainbow Falls but it was unbelievably crowded. The hike itself was fun as we passed by some bears. Best hike I did in the Smokies was Alum Cave all the way up to LeConte. I started early in the morning so hardly anyone was on the trail. I made it to inspiration point as the sun was coming up over the mountains. It was breathtaking. I intend on hiking LeConte again at some point.

NotJen

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #37 on: February 13, 2020, 08:46:25 AM »
I would guess Groto or Rainbow Falls. We did a little bit longer hike to Rainbow Falls but it was unbelievably crowded. The hike itself was fun as we passed by some bears. Best hike I did in the Smokies was Alum Cave all the way up to LeConte. I started early in the morning so hardly anyone was on the trail. I made it to inspiration point as the sun was coming up over the mountains. It was breathtaking. I intend on hiking LeConte again at some point.

Interesting.  The day I did Rainbow Falls there werenít many (any?) people on the trail at all.  That was a pretty good trip - no one at Ramsey Cascades, no one at Charlieís Bunion/the Jumpoff.  There was a crowd at the Grotto since we didnít go first thing in the morning - took us 2 loops to get parking, but better than being shut out.

On a different trip I did Alum Cave (people on the trail but not too bad until the cave), Andrews Bald (hardly anyone), and Laurel Falls (some people but not slammed in the afternoon).  I wanted to go to Mt. LeConte, but another time.  Iíve tried the lottery for an overnight but havenít been successful yet.

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #38 on: February 13, 2020, 09:12:41 AM »
If you have a 4th grader in the family, you can get free entrance to national parks.  My middle kid will be in 4th grade next year, so I hope to hit a few more.

A while back, I went to Mammoth Cave with a group of friends, and did one of the cave tours.  When you are in the middle of the cave, they turn off all the lights so you can see how pitch black it is.  Well apparently there was a glitch, because they couldn't get the lights back on.  We were probably a 1/4 mile from the exit or so, and you could not see anything.  Thankfully this was after the advent of cell phones, though not yet to the point where everyone has one.  There were a few people in the group that had them, so they were able to make enough light we were all able to get out.  It was kinda fun.

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #39 on: February 13, 2020, 10:00:42 AM »
If you have a 4th grader in the family, you can get free entrance to national parks.  My middle kid will be in 4th grade next year, so I hope to hit a few more.

Even if you don't have a 4th grader, the annual pass is only $80 to all of the parks (including all of the NPS units), and it covers two adults. It's a great value, but maybe I'm a bit biased...We REALLY got our money's worth out of ours, haha.

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #40 on: February 13, 2020, 10:33:12 AM »
I would guess Groto or Rainbow Falls. We did a little bit longer hike to Rainbow Falls but it was unbelievably crowded. The hike itself was fun as we passed by some bears. Best hike I did in the Smokies was Alum Cave all the way up to LeConte. I started early in the morning so hardly anyone was on the trail. I made it to inspiration point as the sun was coming up over the mountains. It was breathtaking. I intend on hiking LeConte again at some point.

Interesting.  The day I did Rainbow Falls there werenít many (any?) people on the trail at all.  That was a pretty good trip - no one at Ramsey Cascades, no one at Charlieís Bunion/the Jumpoff.  There was a crowd at the Grotto since we didnít go first thing in the morning - took us 2 loops to get parking, but better than being shut out.

On a different trip I did Alum Cave (people on the trail but not too bad until the cave), Andrews Bald (hardly anyone), and Laurel Falls (some people but not slammed in the afternoon).  I wanted to go to Mt. LeConte, but another time.  Iíve tried the lottery for an overnight but havenít been successful yet.

I really like Mt. Leconte.  One cool thing is taking a rock up to throw on the cairn at the summit to build the mountain higher. 

I hiked the Boulevard Trail that connects it with the AT, and I don't believe we saw anybody else on that section.  It was a sunny day on July 4 weekend, too, so if it was going to be crowded any time it would have been then. 

itchyfeet

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #41 on: February 13, 2020, 11:12:36 AM »
Yep, this is something I could really commit time and effort to achieving. So many incredible places.

We have flown over from Australia to visit a handful of the parks towards the top of the list. Couldnít name my favourite as we had ďnever to be forgottenĒ experiences in many.

I was a bit surprised to see Denali so far down the list, but the competition is certainly tough.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2020, 01:54:06 AM by itchyfeet »

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #42 on: February 13, 2020, 11:12:50 AM »
Cades Cove in the Smokey Mtns can be a traffic mess but if you go early (like dawn) on one of the days when the road stays closed until mid-morning - it is a magical bicycle ride around the loop.

Many years ago (1980s) I camped there with a buddy and we rode the loop several times over several days. Early, late, etc.

A bicycle is quiet so a person can potentially sneak up on all sorts of interesting wildlife. I do this all the time on my bike rides in the rural areas near where we live.

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #43 on: February 13, 2020, 11:24:39 AM »
If you have a 4th grader in the family, you can get free entrance to national parks.  My middle kid will be in 4th grade next year, so I hope to hit a few more.

Even if you don't have a 4th grader, the annual pass is only $80 to all of the parks (including all of the NPS units), and it covers two adults. It's a great value, but maybe I'm a bit biased...We REALLY got our money's worth out of ours, haha.
Here's a link if anyone is interested. They also have a free "Access Pass" for people with perm. disabilities (I have that one),  free Military Pass for active duty and retirees,  Seniors Pass for 62 +, free Volunteer Pass, and some other discounts for other things. Well worth the price if you plan to go to.several parks.
https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm
« Last Edit: February 13, 2020, 11:27:57 AM by spartana »

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #44 on: February 13, 2020, 01:38:08 PM »
I can see reasons why Bryce Canyon (Utah) is in the bottom half of your list, but I'd definitely go back because it's one of the few places where I feel like I'm on a different planet.  The geographical features are so different from anything else I've ever seen. Maybe that's why I remember it so well. Death Valley didn't make as much of an impression on me, but it is remarkable, thanks for a great list.

steevven1

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #45 on: February 13, 2020, 11:31:29 PM »
I think Yosemite is overrated. Itís too crowded. I would bump that down several notches.

I think Sequoia and Kingís Canyon is better if you want to see the Sierra Nevadas.  Sequoia can get crowded too depending on when you visit, but Iíve had better experiences there. I love those trees. Pictures donít do them justice.

I will go back to Yosemite to visit the Mariposa grove. It was still closed because of the boardwalk construction they were doing when I visited back in 2017.

Are the "crowded" national parks really that crowded once you get away from the roads?  The Smokies are far and away the most visited national park in the US, but if you get just a few miles down one of the lesser known trails you barely see anybody else.  Even the national park section of the Appalachian trail doesn't seem particularly crowded.  Is that not the case in the other famous parks?  I haven't really had the chance to get off the beaten path in any of the famous national parks out west.

Generally I always say that the best way to get away from crowds anywhere is to do anything that requires exercise....It works pretty well. But when we took a 4-5 mile round trip hike to a waterfall in the Smokies, there were dozens of people at the endpoint, including a bunch of screaming kids. Not ideal.

Remember which waterfall? The key, especially in the Smokies, is to get on a lesser known trail. A 4-5mi round trip waterfall hike would have been Laurel Falls or Abrams Falls most likely? Those are pretty popular trails. There are certainly a few trails to avoid if solitude is the goal.

I'm pretty sure it was Laurel Falls. Sorry I forgot to answer that earlier.

mies

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #46 on: February 14, 2020, 04:55:26 AM »
I can see reasons why Bryce Canyon (Utah) is in the bottom half of your list, but I'd definitely go back because it's one of the few places where I feel like I'm on a different planet.  The geographical features are so different from anything else I've ever seen. Maybe that's why I remember it so well. Death Valley didn't make as much of an impression on me, but it is remarkable, thanks for a great list.

Petrified forest is another place with an other worldly vibe. There are striped buttes and petrified logs eroding out of the ground all over the place. Itís not the type of park where you could spend a week exploring, but I think itís definitely worth a stop if you are passing through that part of Arizona.

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #47 on: February 14, 2020, 06:23:39 AM »
I can see reasons why Bryce Canyon (Utah) is in the bottom half of your list, but I'd definitely go back because it's one of the few places where I feel like I'm on a different planet.  The geographical features are so different from anything else I've ever seen. Maybe that's why I remember it so well. Death Valley didn't make as much of an impression on me, but it is remarkable, thanks for a great list.

FWIW, the only other NP I got this feeling at was in Haleakala on the Hawaiíian island of Maui. The entire park is a caldera, and in the tropics, and most of it is at over 10,000 feet in an extreme desert.  THe landscape looks like the photos NASA sends back from Mars.

In college I did a backpacking excursion there and for 7 days we didnít see another person.  As part of the trip we even split off from one another for 48 hours - truly the only two-day experience Iíve had where I had zero contact with anyone else, or with technology.

MasterStache

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #48 on: February 14, 2020, 09:41:49 AM »
I would guess Groto or Rainbow Falls. We did a little bit longer hike to Rainbow Falls but it was unbelievably crowded. The hike itself was fun as we passed by some bears. Best hike I did in the Smokies was Alum Cave all the way up to LeConte. I started early in the morning so hardly anyone was on the trail. I made it to inspiration point as the sun was coming up over the mountains. It was breathtaking. I intend on hiking LeConte again at some point.

Interesting.  The day I did Rainbow Falls there werenít many (any?) people on the trail at all.  That was a pretty good trip - no one at Ramsey Cascades, no one at Charlieís Bunion/the Jumpoff.  There was a crowd at the Grotto since we didnít go first thing in the morning - took us 2 loops to get parking, but better than being shut out.

On a different trip I did Alum Cave (people on the trail but not too bad until the cave), Andrews Bald (hardly anyone), and Laurel Falls (some people but not slammed in the afternoon).  I wanted to go to Mt. LeConte, but another time.  Iíve tried the lottery for an overnight but havenít been successful yet.

I really like Mt. Leconte.  One cool thing is taking a rock up to throw on the cairn at the summit to build the mountain higher. 

I hiked the Boulevard Trail that connects it with the AT, and I don't believe we saw anybody else on that section.  It was a sunny day on July 4 weekend, too, so if it was going to be crowded any time it would have been then.

dougules

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Re: Visited Every US National Park; Ranked Them Best To Worst
« Reply #49 on: February 14, 2020, 09:54:58 AM »
I wonder if it will ever be 51 feet tall to beat Clingmans Dome.