The United States is often known to the world as a country full of major cities and bustling metropolises. Famous for its place in the world with advanced technology, skyscrapers, booming economies and largely populated mega-cities, America is often seen at the forefront of human innovation and established democracies. What often gets lost in that image is the part that its residents have had no part in constructing... its natural lands.
Mother Nature should take the credit for the country's expansive natural setting which includes some of the world's largest and longest mountain ranges, longest rivers, deepest canyons, tallest waterfalls, and lush wooded forests. Sometimes overlooked, the United States is home to some of the planet's most beautiful natural formations, many of which reside in its 58 national parks.
Covering millions of square miles, America's parks are beautiful and breathtaking in ways that are hard to describe. Seeing them is the only way to do them justice, but the next best thing is photographing their extraordinary quality. Here are beautiful images from 20 of the country's most popular national parks.
20 Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Named after the mountain range that is part of the famous Appalachian Mountain Trail, this national park covers parts of Tennessee and North Carolina. One of the largest naturally wooded areas in the eastern coast of the US, this park is over half a million acres.
Famously known for being the most visited of all of America’s national parks, 11.3 million visitors stop by to enjoy its scenic views of the mountains, rivers and camping grounds.
The sun sets over the Great Smoky Mountain range in this blissfully serene shot.
19 Grand Canyon National Park
Home to one of the most famous natural wonders of the world, this national park features the Grand Canyon, one of the most well-known natural structures ever formed. The Grand Canyon, formed by the Colorado River’s waters, is a sight to behold at nearly 300 miles long, up to 18 miles wide in certain areas and even a depth over one mile in its deepest valleys.
Located in Arizona, the canyon is the star of the show for this park and is almost always the reason for its annual 6.3 million visitors.
In this stunning image, the canyon’s famous red hue ridges can be seen stretching for miles under a perfectly blue sky and setting sun.
18 Rocky Mountain National Park
Named after quite possibly the most well-known mountain range in the United States, Rocky Mountain National Park is situated in Colorado. The mountain range, famous for its snow-covered mountaintops, is home to a number of towering tundra that overlooks the park’s 265,000 acres of wooded forests.
With 4.4 million visitors a year, they come ready to marvel at the various climates the park experiences. This is the 3rd most visited park on our list.
In this photo, the Rocky Mountain’s beautiful white peaks tower over the clouds and autumn colored trees.
17 Yosemite National Park
At nearly 750,000 acres, this California national park is massive in size, but no other area is more known than the section known as Yosemite Valley. Of the 4.3 million annual visitors, most travelers spend their time here, in awe at the infamous rock formations that have become synonymous with the park.
The valley attracts so many people because of its lush greenery on the ground surrounded by the steep, gigantic rock cliffs which can be just as tall as the neighboring mountains.
In this stunning image, Yosemite Valley is punctuated by the sunlight and contrasting shadows against the granitic rock structures.
16 Yellowstone National Park
Famous for being home to half of all of the world’s geysers, Yellowstone National Park has an endless amount of unique geological formations.
Home to Old Faithful, a geyser which erupts over 150 feet into the air every hour to hour and a half as well as a waterfall that is twice as tall as Niagara Falls, this park has more than its fair share of marvels. With over 2.2 million acres of land spanning across three states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), this massive park attracts 4.1 million visitors a year. It is also the first national park in the US, making it the most historic.
In this aerial shot, Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest in the world, lets off steam in a colorful display of beauty.
15 Zion National Park
A park with varying geographical features, situated next to the Mojave Desert in Utah, gives life to a limitless number of unique plant and animal life. The fluctuating temperatures and different land formations allow for so many different forms of life to inhabit the park.
At 147,000 acres, the park spans across mountains, canyons, wooded forests, rivers and even desert. Lots of visitors flock to the park to take in its uniqueness, to the tune of 4.5 million annually.
The park’s distinct look can be seen in this beautiful image of one of its canyons towering rock formations with mountains in the backdrop.
14 Olympic National Park
Located in the northwestern region of the United States in the state of Washington, Olympic National Park is known for its vast green rainforests.
Unlike many other parks on this list, most of the park is covered in beautiful, lush green throughout, without many other ecosystems such as mountain ranges, canyons, or deserts. Although these are present, its rainforest is the standout here, followed by its location situated next to the Pacific Ocean.
Its 3.4 million yearly visitors come to traverse and explore the 900,000 acres of stunning greenery, part of which can be seen in this shot picture from the ground.
13 Grand Teton National Park
At 310,000 acres, situated in the state of Wyoming, this national park is named after Grand Teton, which is the tallest mountain in the range of the same name - the Teton Range.
With 3.3 million visitors per year, it is the eight most visited national park in the country. Most of those visitors come to see the star of the show, Grand Teton, which stands at nearly 14,000 feet.
In this idyllic photo, the behemoth can be seen towering over its neighboring mountains as the beautiful trees and contrasting blue sky showcase the park’s beauty.
12 Acadia National Park
One of the smaller parks on our list at under 50,000 acres, Acadia National Park is located in the northeastern part of the United States.
With most of the country’s national parks situated in the vast open lands of the west, this park is unique in that it is a series of islands off the coast of the state of Maine. Unlike other parks, Acadia’s ecosystem is entirely designated to the islands it is situated on and the Atlantic Ocean surrounding it.
Its yearly 3.5 million visitors come to see its beautiful coastlines and striking oceanic rock formations which can be seen in this photo.
11 Glacier National Park
Located in both the United States and Canada, Glacier National Park sits on the coast of both countries with most of its land falling within the confines of Montana. As its name suggests, this park is cold throughout most of the year with temperatures dropping into frigid territory which are ripe conditions for the many large mammals that inhabit the park.
Grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats and other winter animals call Glacier National Park home. The region is home to parts of the Rocky Mountain range and glacial lakes, as its namesake suggests.
With 3.3 million annual visitors and over 1 million acres, the park is impressive in size, which can be seen in this magnificent shot of a majestic mountain being hit by the sun’s light at the perfect time.
10 Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Situated between the cities of Akron and Cleveland, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is visited by 2.2 million people a year, many of whom are residents of Ohio, the state in which it resides. At almost 33,000 acres, this park’s size is miniature by comparison to the others on the list, but just as beautiful with its many waterfalls, lush green land, wooded trees and plentiful hiking trails.
In this striking photo, Brandywine Falls, one of the more popular spots in the park, can be seen flowing down a rock formation with the surrounding greenery’s beauty on full display.
9 Arches National Park
The second most popular of Utah’s famous “Mighty Five” national parks, only behind Zion (also on this list) is visited by 1.5 million visitors annually.
At 77,000 acres, most of Arches National Park’s lands are rock formations in their distinct red-tinged color. Beyond the rock foundations that make up the geological landscape, the park is famously known for its natural sandstone arches. With more natural arches in the world than any other location, it truly is a sight to behold.
Delicate Arch, the park’s most well-known, can be seen standing majestically at 60 feet tall, overlooking the rest of the park.
8 Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is known for its incredibly distinct and unique look. Covered in thousands of natural spires and hills also known as buttes and pinnacles, the park’s image is one of a kind. Formed by rivers eroding the rock over millions of years, the pinnacles all have perfectly shaped lines crossing through them in striking uniformity, often making them seem unnatural and cartoonish.
The beauty is undeniable as over 1 million visitors come to see them across the 243,000 acres making up the park.
The buttes can be seen in this shot from above, highlighting their rare shape and color.
7 Joshua Tree National Park
At over 790,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park’s size is immense, drawing nearly 3 million annual visitors, most of which come from the surrounding areas in California.
Situated right outside of Los Angeles, the park benefits from the city’s incredible population when it comes to the number of visitors. Named after the Joshua trees that cover the park’s land, its ecosystem is almost entirely composed of desert as it sits in the Mojave.
In this image from below, the trees strikingly distinct appearance can be seen lining the park throughout.
6 Bryce Canyon National Park
Another park from Utah’s “Mighty Five” makes its way onto the list. Although only 36,000 acres, it draws nearly 2.6 million yearly visitors, all of whom come to see the park’s distinct geology.
Although called Bryce Canyon, it isn’t the canyon that it’s become famous for, but rather the thousands of hoodoos that cover the park’s rock formation. The hoodoos, which are tall, thin rock pinnacles, have a unique look that is distinct to Bryce Canyon.
In this image, many of them can be seen protruding from the canyon’s rock foundation in perfect unison.
5 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses the entire 323,000-acre land mass of the island of Hawaii (the Big Island). With over 2 million visitors per year, residents of the island and tourists alike, come to marvel at the two main attractions - Kilauea and Mauna Loa, the volcanoes located in the park.
Considered some of the world’s most active volcanoes, it is not uncommon for them to cause earthquakes and even erupt, causing the land and nearby towns to be greatly impacted.
In this striking and beautiful image of Kilauea, the volcano can be seen erupting with lava intensely flowing from the mountain.
4 Sequoia National Park
Located in southern California at over 400,000 acres, Sequoia National Park is named after its giant sequoia trees. Its ecosystem is essentially limited to the wooded forest, with the entire park covered in greenery, punctuated by its tall timber.
Home to the Giant Forest, a particular section of the national park, with a high density of sequoia trees, it houses five out of the ten largest trees on the planet, including the tallest of them all, the General Sherman tree. Its 1.3 million annual visitors surely come to gawk at the tree which stands at 275 feet tall and a diameter of 25 feet, making it absolutely massive.
In this unbelievable photo, the sheer size can be felt as a woman stands at its base.
3 Mount Rainier National Park
Located in the state of Washington in the northwestern region of the United States, Mount Rainer National Park covers 236,000 acres and draws 1.4 million visitors a year. The park is named after Mount Rainier, a 14,411-foot volcano which stands high above the rest of the lands. Its appearance is striking and is one of the most photographed and painted mountains in the world. The park also features other mountains, waterfalls, wooded forests and rivers while its animal life thrives in its cold temperatures.
In this stunning shot, Mount Rainer towers high and is covered in clouds, which often bring rain and snow on its mountaintop.
2 Great Sand Dunes National Park
Located in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park is probably the most different of all the parks in the United States because of its unique ecosystem, made up almost entirely of sand.
The park, at over 149,000 acres is covered in enormous sand dunes, some of which can reach well over 700 feet tall. With half a million visitors a year, hikers attempt to traverse the tallest sand dunes in a test of will and endurance.
The dune's distinctive swirl shape can be seen in this magnificent image from up close.
1 Shenandoah National Park
One of the few parks located on the eastern coast of the United States, Shenandoah National Park is located in the state of Virginia. Known for its lush wilderness and expansive wooded area, the park covers nearly 200,000 acres. It attracts nearly 1.5 million yearly visitors, many of which come from the surrounding cities, especially Washington, D.C.
In this stunning image from Skyline Drive, a 105 mile stretch of road that runs the length of the park, Shenandoah’s stunning wilderness can be seen from above with remarkable coverage from the clouds.