A Guide Through the Can’t Miss National Parks

Glacier National Park

Estelle Mengelberg, Reporter

The average teenager hasn’t experienced the beauty of the United States National Parks. To understand the fabric of the US, people should understand the system and explore its readily available beauty. 

When “National Park” is mentioned, a ruggedly beautiful place probably comes to mind. However, the “parks” are not all that the United States National Park system contains. It is entirely composed of 423 different sites, including, but not limited to, parks, monuments, memorials, water bodies, and historic sites.

I have traveled to many of these destinations, and there are some that stand out. All of the places I have visited are amazing, and I’d recommend visiting all of them, but I’ve narrowed it down to five locations.

Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana is a must-see for national park travelers. It is nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide, filled with lakes, glaciers, valleys, and meadows. Animals, like grizzly bears, black bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats, can be found throughout the park. It also contains about 26 glaciers, though that number has decreased from 80 glaciers in 1850 because of warming patterns caused by climate change. Though unfortunate, the stunning scarring from the melted glaciers remains.

Great Basin National Park might be the top place for avid stargazing fans. It is one of the most isolated places in the United States, with minimal light pollution. It is one of 27 Dark Sky Park locations in the world, which is a place with “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment,” according to the International Dark-Sky Association. Beyond stargazing, the park contains old meteorite scars, marble caves, and an impressive desert landscape.

Located in snowy Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is worthwhile for anyone who loves heights and peaks. The park’s elevation ranges from 7,860 to 14,259 feet, while also boasting the highest altitude for a visitor’s center in the United States, at 11,796 feet. There are also indigenous animals like bighorn sheep, moose, elk, grizzly bears, bobcats, and mountain lions inside the park. Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most crowded parks in the US, but it contains 415 square miles of terrain and 300 miles of trails to escape the crowds.

Archaeology lovers might want to visit Dinosaur National Monument in Jensen, Utah. It’s a unique location where over 1,500 dinosaur fossils are in the exhibit hall in the monument’s visitor center. The monument offers the opportunity to touch certain (sturdy) fossils. There are also excellently-preserved, easily accessible petroglyphs and pictographs throughout the site. The oldest artwork is believed to originate from 12,000 years ago. The monument’s most popular activities include rafting, hiking, and driving to find excavated fossils and petroglyphs.

For a traveler who isn’t interested in natural beauty and is more interested in historical monuments, I’d recommend a trip to Washington DC. The district contains 26 national locations, including five historic sites and 12 memorials. Some of the most famous locations in DC are Ford’s Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; the National Mall, containing over a dozen units in the NPS and hundreds of non-NPS locations; and the president’s home, the White House. Every NPS (National Park System) site in Washington DC is within ten miles, which makes visiting all of them very accessible.

The United States National Park Service contains a plethora of sites to appeal to any traveler. The parks I recommended are just the tip of the iceberg, with many more beautiful places to visit for anybody willing to experience a bit of an adventure.