Ah, the American West Coast, a region with endless sunshine and a vast array of landscapes. From Oregon’s lush forests to the rugged South Lake Tahoe, and Washington’s rainy cascades. It’s safe to say you have a plethora of national parks in the west coast to choose from, and they are stunning!
These western parks will take your breath away and allow you to experience the laid-back, “zen” lifestyle of the Western Coast.
Read on if you’ve been looking for the perfect national park on the west coast to visit.
More than listing the 10 best national parks in the west coast, we share tips on what to do in each of them, tours and experiences, and where to stay near the park. You’ll find at the end of this guide info about national park fees, how to plan your visit and stay safe in nature.
Your complete guide to the top national parks on the west coast starts now!
Best West Coast National Parks
Let’s dive into the list of the top West Coast national parks.
Each park is followed by information on its location, the incredible miles of trails you can hike, the unique things to do and see there, tours, places to stay, and even some extra tips about other parks in the same state or area worth visiting.
Top tip:Many of these parks make up for a perfect weekend trip – if you need more inspiration, check out these 15 incredible weekend getaways in Northern California.
You might also want to check out the beaches on the west coast. I suggest you add the iconic Pismo Beach and the famous Malibu Beach to your travel itinerary.
1. Yellowstone National Park
Location: Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming
The world’s first national park is Yellowstone and it’s a popular destination for those who want to escape and embrace nature. Yellowstone’s stunning scenery is unmatched: gushing geysers, alpine rivers, rugged canyons, and lush forests. For those who love outdoor adventures, it’s a dream come true.
The highlight of Yellowstone Park is its furry (or feathery) inhabitants. You’d want to bring your camera along to spot some wildlife.
The park is also a great place to visit if you live or visit Idaho Falls, as it’s circa 2 hours drive from the city.
Things to do in Yellowstone National Park:
- See the Norris Geyser Basin: this is the oldest geyser of Yellowstone and a site with many surprises. Here you’ll find hundreds of geothermal features and the largest geyser in the world; the Steamboat Geyser.
- Visit the Mammoth Hot Springs: step into an unknown world created by steaming hot waters flowing over travertine terraces. The mammoth hot springs are fantastic to look at.
- Marvel at the Midway Geyser Basin: as its name suggests, it sits between the Lower and Upper basins and is the smallest geyser. However, this is the most photographed geothermal feature of the park due to its surreal, vivid coloring.
Here are some recommended tours in Yellowstone National Park:
Where to stay in Yellowstone National Park:
The Bentwood Inn offers a cabin in the woods feel, perfect for a getaway in the wilderness.
2. Grand Teton National Park
Location: Northwestern Wyoming
Grand Teton is only a 10-minute drive from Yellowstone, making it ideal for your next stop. This Western national park is dominated by the majestic Teton Range (one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the US), which makes for breathtaking scenery.
Hidden amongst the mountain peaks are mesmerizing glacial lakes, winding rivers, a vast wilderness, and a flurry of wildlife.
You have all the reason to bring your camera along, as this is where nature bears it all. And with all the scenic hikes and hidden gems to uncover, it’s no wonder people enjoy touring the Grand Teton.
Things to do in the Grand Teton National Park:
- Discover Hidden Falls: undoubtedly a hidden gem, this impressive 100-foot waterfall will refresh exhausted hikers.
- Visit Leigh Lake: you can visit any pristine lake at Grand Teton, and while Leigh Lake may not be as famous – it takes the cake in terms of looks. This stunning crystal clear lake offers up a beach to unwind.
- Climb Signal Mountain: drive up Signal Mountain for the most enduring panoramic views over the Teton Range, Jackson Lake, and the park.
Where to stay in Grand Teton National Park:
Fireside Resort is a cozy stay that is a convenient 5-minute drive to Teton Village.
3. Yosemite National Park
Nothing should stop you from visiting this incredible park if you’re in the California area.
Rock climbers can marvel at the world-renowned rock climbing routes famous for their unique formations. But there’s something for everyone here – from impressive waterfalls like de Bridalveil Fall to extensive hiking trails, river rafting, and countless winter activities.
Yosemite National Park is the perfect destination for hiking. The Upper Yosemite Falls trail is one of the best hiking trails in Northern California, so don’t miss it.
Things to do in Yosemite National Park:
- Hike to the Giant Sequoias: the park’s millennia-old sequoia trees will awe you. There’s no better way to feel close to nature than seeing these ancient giants.
- See the park from Glacier Point: this viewpoint is as good as it gets. Take in Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Nevada Fall, Clouds Rest, and more from this point.
- Take pictures at Half Dome: test your photography skills by capturing this marvelous granite structure famous for its distinct shape.
Here are some recommended tours in Yosemite National Park:
Where to stay in Yosemite National Park:
Find rest at this comfy Mammoth Creek Inn in the Inyo National Park near Yosemite.
4. Grand Canyon National Park
You don’t have to love geology to admire the beautiful Grand Canyon. Peer onto the layered red rocks from multiple viewpoints, including Mather Point and Yavapai Observation Station.
The Grand Canyon is home to stunning trails and viewpoints signified by the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises. It’s a place for walks, picnics, and thrilling adventures.
Things to do in Grand Canyon National Park:
- Fly across the Grand Canyon: soar like an eagle and get the most fantastic views of this gorgeous gorge via a fun air tour (check it out here!).
- Day trip from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon: trek the South Rim for a full day from Las Vegas. This exciting tour allows you to see breathtaking panoramic views of the canyon. We recommend the South Rim because it’s open all year round, as the North Rim closes during winter.
- Hike the Canyon Rim Trail: if you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, this trail is the perfect introduction. The path is well-defined and flat yet takes you to excellent viewpoints such as Trailview Overlook and Hovi Point.
- Walk across the Skywalk Express: thrillseekers flock to this famous 70-foot-high glass bridge. Yes, it’s scary, but at least you’ll have breathtaking views of the canyon.
Here are some recommended tours in the Grand Canyon National Park:
Where to stay in the Grand Canyon National Park:
Stay at the SpringHill Suites, a modern hotel with everything you need to enjoy your trip.
Suppose you want to focus on visiting the national parks in Arizona estate. In that case, you can add to your list the Petrified Forest National Park, Saguaro National Park, and Zion National Park, famous for Zion Canyon’s steep red cliffs.
On the northwestern border with Nevada, there is the Lake Mead National Recreation Area which is America’s first and largest national recreation area. It’s stunning and worth adding to your list of places to visit on the west coast.
5. Mount Rainier National Park
Location: Washington State
Mount Rainier National Park is home to one of the 169 active volcanoes in the US. Mount Rainier towers 14,410 feet over the Cascade Range, it’s impressive. You’re faced with a rugged mountainous landscape that features beautiful glaciers and lush greenery adorned with wildflowers.
Top Tip:The Skyline Trail to Panorama Point is breathtaking and simply a must!
Things to do at Mount Rainier National Park:
- Explore paradise: find your piece of paradise at the southern slopes of Mount Rainier. You’ll find many hiking trails leading to viewpoints, lakes, and waterfalls here.
- Refresh at Narada Falls: this enchanting waterfall can be found in Paradise Valley, one of the many natural wonders you will find in this US national park.
- Drive along Chinook Pass: this is one of the most scenic drives laden with unmissable views of Mount Rainier.
Where to stay in Mount Rainier National Park:
Find yourself snug surrounded by woods and wildlife at Mountain Meadows Inn.
Washington state is home to other incredible national parks in the west coast, such as the Olympic National Park which we are gonna mention in the guide, and the North Cascades National Park, famous for its mountains, glaciers and Diablo Lake.
The state is also home to the first American historical reserve, the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve created in 1978.
6. Rocky Mountain National Park
The Rocky Mountains are known for their towering landscapes, heart-warming scenery, and high peaks. Award yourself with mesmerizing views, lakes, and tranquil waterfalls. Most people enjoy a scenic drive through the park lined with aspen trees and rivers.
Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park:
- Drive along Trail Ridge Road: take this beautiful drive for the stunning scenery and viewpoints (the Forest Canyon Overlook has the best views). Having your camera with you is highly recommended, as you might spot some wildlife along the way.
- Hike to Bear Lake: go on an easy walk from a trailhead of the same name. This is a fantastic spot to unwind and take in incredible views.
- Camp at Moraine Park: this area is mesmerizing, and you’ll find camping grounds here for a peaceful night under the stars.
Here are some recommended tours in Rocky Mountain National Park:
Where to stay in Rocky Mountain National Park:
Blue Door Inn offers a quiet retreat surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado has other incredible parks that are worth adding to your list of national parks in the Western United States. If you have more time check out these three:
– Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – you must see this steep-walled gorge formed by the Gunnison River. The views of the Black Canyon are impressive, and as it’s not one of the most popular parks, it’s the perfect one to add to your west coast road trip.
– Mesa Verde National Park – located in southwest Colorado, it’s an important national park in western US because it has well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. It is the sacred ancestral home of 26 tribes. The park has important archaeological sites and if you are into Native American culture, you must visit the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, the Sun Point Overlook with panoramic canyon views, and the Petroglyph Point Trail and its several rock carvings.
– Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve – located in southern Colorado, this national park is home to North America’s tallest sand dunes. You probably heard of Star Sune at 755 feet tall and its spectacular views. During late spring and summer, you can experience Medano Creek and the beach at the bottom of the dunes.
7. Olympic National Park
Location: Port Angeles, Washington
Olympic National Park has a little bit of everything, which is why you should go. Did you know this park is home to one of the largest temperate rainforests in the US? But you’ll also see pristine alpine lakes, a vast wilderness coast, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and plenty of wildlife.
Olympic National Park sets the perfect tone for an enchanting forest escape.
Things to do at Olympic National Park:
- Stargaze at Olympic National Park: one of the most exciting things you could do here is to gaze at the star-filled night sky on a summer’s evening.
- Experience Olympic National Park in winter: bring your snowshoes, snowboard, or skis for exciting winter activities. While also enjoying the gorgeous snow-blanketed scenery.
- Enjoy the wilderness coast: the rugged shoreline of this park teems with aquatic life and opportunities to have fun, like boating and fishing.
Where to stay in Olympic National Park:
Stay at the pet-friendly Super 8 by Wyndham Port Angeles for fantastic views and service.
8. Sequoia National Park
Perched in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains is a park home to huge sequoia trees. These majestic trees are a must-see and make for stunning photography. But that’s not all, you’ll also find underground Crystal Caves brimming with streams and rock formations.
The park is a great place for a day trip, especially if you are visiting Fresno or any other city in central California. If you have time, you can go from Sequoia National Park to Kings Canyon National Park.
Things to do at Sequoia National Park:
- See the giant sequoia trees: you cannot visit this park without seeing its behemoth trees close-up (they’re not hard to miss).
- Take a selfie with the General Sherman Tree: towering at 275 feet tall is the world’s largest tree! It’s one of the biggest reasons (literally) why you should visit this national park.
- Climb Moro Rock: for your fill of the most stunning views of the Great Western Divide and the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can climb up Moro Rock.
Here are some recommended tours in the Sequoia National Park:
Where to stay near Sequoia National Park:
The Coral Creek Lodge is a great option for seclusion and simplicity in this west coast national park.
Talking about the giant trees, one of the most important national parks in northwest California is the Redwood National Park. In the park lives the tallest tree in the world, the Hyperion (Sequoia sempervirens) is 380 feet tall.
Also in California, another incredible park is the Joshua Tree National Park. It’s one of the best-known national parks in the southwest and it’s part of the Mojave Desert ecosystem.
You can also add to your list of parks in California the impressive Death Valley National Park. It sits between California and Nevada and it’s a land of extremes.
It is the driest spot in North America, with colored canyons and the famous Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in the US. Also visit Devils Hole, and Zabriskie Point (famous for its sunrise and sunset vistas and for the movie that carries its name).
For a less famous and less crowded option, there is the Pinnacles National Park, only two hours drive from San Francisco.
Changing the scenery completely, California also has the Channel Islands National Park. The islands are located nearest to Los Angeles, with visitor centers in Ventura and Santa Barbara.
9. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a wilderness region in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. This park offers an escape to those who wish to get in touch with nature. It proudly displays thick ancient forests, valleys, glacier-carved peaks, and pristine turquoise lakes.
Enjoy Glacier National Park through its many hiking trails, cycling, and even camping. You’ll also stumble upon many wildlife, including grizzly bears and mountain goats.
Things to do in the Glacier National Park:
- River rafting and tubing: you can enjoy an exciting scenic raft trip that takes you on a three-hour adventure down Middle Fork and Flathead River.
- Explore the hiking trails: you can venture into miles of hiking trails in the park. One of the best hikes is the Highline Trail which offers splendid views of rugged mountains and turquoise rivers.
- Visit the picturesque western areas: make your way to this side of the park for the best photography and ultimate scenery.
Where to stay in Glacier National Park:
The Country inn & Suites by Radisson is modern and packed with facilities that’ll guarantee a good stay.
10. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is a sight to behold and a top choice for many outdoor adventurers. The park boasts the largest collection of crimson-colored hoodoos, making for fantastic scenery. But there is more to see and discover, so gather your hiking boots and take on this rocky terrain.
Things to do in Bryce Canyon National Park:
- Explore Bryce Canyon: join an exciting guided mini-bus tour that takes you all around Bryce Canyon to discover the must-see sites.
- Hike to Sunset Point: catch ethereal views of the brightly lit hoodoos as the sun sets at this lookout point.
- Make the Navajo/Queens Garden Loop: this 2,9-mile hiking trail takes you across rugged terrain and allows you to take in surreal rock formations such as the intriguing Queen Victoria formation.
Here are some recommended tours in Bryce Canyon National Park:
Where to stay in Bryce Canyon National Park:
Find the cabin feels at this cozy Best Western Ruby’s Inn.
Still in Utah, there are other national parks worth visiting. Here are a few to add to your travel list:
– Arches National Park – the park is in Utah bordering the Colorado River. It’s famous for its geological features in more than 2,000 arches made of natural sandstone. Don’t forget to see the Devil’s Garden and the Balanced Rock from up close.
– Canyonlands National Park – it’s famous for the desert landscape created by the Colorado River. Check out the Island in the Sky, the rock pinnacles called the Needles, the canyons, the Native American paintings in the Horseshoe Canyon, and the incredible water flow through the Cataract Canyon.
– Zion National Park – go for its red and steep cliffs and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive that connects with forest-marked trails by the Virgin River.
– Capitol Reef National Park – another desert park known for its geological and interesting formations. Among the must-see places are Waterpocket Fold, Chimney Rock Pillar, Hickman Bridge Arch, Capitol Reef and Cathedral Valley.
– Dark Canyon Wilderness – the name comes from its high steep walls that block the light in the morning and late afternoon. Beyond the natural beauty, rock formations and trails, you may find pieces of art or structures from the Ancestral Puebloan culture. In terms of wildlife, mule deer, elk, black bear, and bighorn sheep are found there.
– Great Basin National Park – this park is located in Eastern Nevada, in the Great Basin Desert near the Utah border. When there, find your way to the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive that takes you to the Wheeler Peak and the Lehman Caves. And we can’t forget to mention the Ancient Bristlecone Pines, a forest of the oldest trees in the world.
Not a national park, but the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also worth checking out.
Map of West Coast National Parks
Now that you know the top 10 National Parks on the west coast, and why you should visit them at least once in a lifetime, let’s put them on a map. That way you can visualize them better and plan your trip according to your point of departure and list of interests.
Here is a map of western national parks we’ve talked about:
Top Tip:This West Coast National Parks map is only a picture, you can get the interactive map on Google Maps here.
National Parks Entrance Fees
By now you are probably thinking about the costs to visit these western national parks, so I have good news.
Most of the national parks are free to enter. About only 100 of 400+ parks charge visitors.
The prices can vary from $5 to $35, and the awesome news is that even the ones that charge an entrance fee can be visited for free on 5 specific dates. Here is a list of the national parks’ free entrance days.
If visiting the America National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands is on your travel bucket list for this year, then you should consider getting the National Park Pass.
The pass gives access to all parks and 2,000 recreation sites in the country. You pay for the yearly pass and have free entrance for your vehicle, the driver, and the passengers. This works only for personal vehicles and up to 4 adults. Children under 15 years old don’t pay park entrance fees.
It is a money-saving option for those who plan to visit more than two paid parks a year. You can check the price and how the National Park Pass works here.
For those who can spend a bit more, joining a private or group tour is a great way to explore the parks, understand their history and differences, and have unique moments.
For the best tours, we suggest you type the name of the park we want to visit on the GetYourGuide website and choose the experience you like the most.
Other beautiful National Parks in the West Coast
We didn’t mention any park in Oregon state, but it doesn’t mean that there is none there. In fact, Oregon has the incredible Crater Lake National Park (with the deepest lake in the US), the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, the Fort Vancouver National Historic site, the Oregon National Historic Trail, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and many other natural sites to visit.
And we also have Alaska and its unique parks with snowy peaks and incredible wildlife. In Alaska, you can visit Denali National Park (where the tallest mountain in the US is), Glacier Bay National Park, Lake Clark National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and many others.
Here is a guide to 7 days in Alaska Kenai Peninsula, passing by some of the parks we mentioned.
The truth is, if we listed all the beautiful parks in the American West Coast (including New Mexico, Hawaii, and Guam), we would probably write a book. It was tough to list just 10 (and some extra ones), but we did our best to select the most interesting or beautiful for you to visit.
What to consider when visiting a National Park in the United States
Our last piece of advice is to always follow the rules of each park or recreational area. Visiting the National Park Service website to see which routes are open for vehicles and which trails are open for hikers is a must.
Check the weather forecast and warnings before going to the park, and plan your visit according. And, if possible, check if there is mobile coverage there.
Verify the park offers facilities or a visitor center, and prepare yourself for meals, camping, or spending hours in nature.
Here is a basic list of things you should take to the parks:
(click on the product names to see our recommendations on Amazon)
– Hat and sunglasses
– Clothes for hiking or other outdoor activities
– Meals or snacks
– Go Pro Camera or a 360º Camera (for those amazing shots)
Always take into consideration the length of the trip to the park, and the time you want to spend there (if it’s safe for sunrise or sunset).
If you want to do any sports activity, certify that the place is safe for it and that you have the right equipment, or opt for a tour or guided activity as we mentioned before.
Talking about safety, if you are a traveler visiting the United States, you must have travel insurance.
Don’t forget your Travel Insurance! You don’t want anything to ruin your trip, right? So don’t take the risk! Reliable travel insurance can help you in case of travel issues, from accidents to health problems, travel delays, and lost luggage.
There are many insurances in the market, our picks are HeyMondo and SafetyWing. We used both and always had a good experience. Click on the insurance names to get a quote.
And the most important thing:
DON’T LEAVE ANYTHING BEHIND AND RESPECT NATURE.
Carry all your trash back to the car, don’t touch historical artifacts or paintings, don’t touch animals, don’t collect plants, and do your best to protect nature.
Wrapping up: Best National Parks, West Coast
There you have it! Some of the best national parks in the west coast of US that you can enjoy. They are all unique and present some of the best opportunities to bond with nature. After all, that’s what parks are for.
Which national park are you visiting first?
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