How do you choose which National Park to visit?

Grand Canyon NP - choose a National Park

There are now over 400 NPS protected and serviced properties including 59 National Parks in the US.  From east coast to west coast, from Florida to Alaska and everywhere in between there are National Parks that have their own unique personality and attraction.  So given the multitude of iconic and amazing places to visit, what factors do you consider when choosing a National Park?

So many factors play into it including proximity, time, season, etc. that we were curious which factors weigh heaviest when you guys consider which National Parks to visit.  I know for me one of the biggest draws is photographic opportunities, so it has a lot to do with which unique features I can capture and what season will give me the right light and color.  For others, like Tim, it might be the ease of access and available amenities because of his two young boys.  Others have mentioned specifically staying away from crowds, so considerations like off-season travel and available back country would be high priorities.

So when thinking about visiting the National Parks, what do you take into consideration?  What are your priorities when choosing which parks to visit?


Travel is a big deal requiring time, money and planning.  Not everyone has the ability to travel long distances and see remote areas of the country.  For many the priority is to stay close to home.  If that’s the case, which National Park is closest to you?  Do you take advantage of your local National Parks enough?


What if you couldn’t travel?  Just for the sake of conversation, let’s assume you could only choose one National Park to visit….ever.  Only one National Park in the US that you could spend time in, hike in, camp in and call your own.  A park that you would get to know intimately like you know yourself.  If you could only choose to spend time in ONLY one National Park, which would you choose?  Why?


Just some simple food for thought for this week’s Weigh-In Wednesday from Parks Folio.  Don’t forget to share your favorite Park experiences with the rest of us and inspire others to visit some of your favorite places.


  1. As you mentioned, we really do have to consider accessibility. We have two boys, 2 and 5, and we really want them to share the experience. So we look for hikes, picnic areas, and unique storylines that we can introduce to our kids.

    Zion National Park is a favorite as is Joshua Tree. Yosemite was fantastic for the boys and we’ll definitely go back to tackle more of it.

    If I had to choose just one park I think it would be Zion National Park. There are a tone of Parks that I have not yet visited, but Zion calls to me. It’s a 3 hour drive for us and we plan to spend Thanksgiving there again this year. Perhaps that becomes our family tradition!

  2. J. Brandon says:

    Death Valley. I live in the high desert of Northern Nevada; it’s about a five-hour drive down beautiful US 395 in the Eastern Sierra to get to the park. Death Valley offers more big open spaces and solitude than most normal folks can handle. Unlike most national parks, Death Valley also allows–encourages, even–driving unpaved roads to explore its backcountry. In winter, when the temperatures stay below freezing at my house, daytime temperatures in Death Valley will typically be in the comfortable light-jacket range. Significantly, when I head to Death Valley, I drive right past another great national park–Yosemite–without stopping. Yosemite is a beautiful place, but for every time I’ve gone there, I’ve probably made a half-dozen visits to Death Valley.

  3. If I only had one (which I hope is never the case!), I would choose Crater Lake NP. There is the iconic view of the Wizard Island in the middle of the lake, I have heard there are really good hiking trails there and staying at the iconic Crater Lake Lodge. I would love to do Zion, Gates, Yellowstone, Tetons, the list goes on but get me up to Crater Lake!

    • Wilderness Dave says:

      I used to live up there near Crater Lake NP and I never have been. I wish I had some experience with it when I was geographically closer to it. It’s on my short list of places to visit.

      • Yea, I am not sure exactly why I have a love affair with it since I have never seen it in person (although I tried to articulate it above) but something about that place just pulls at me!

  4. My choice would be Yellowstone. There are so many different personalities and the wildlife is tremendous. If I want mountains, plains, or lakes, they are all there. There are even arid, desert-like areas. They also have tremendous seasons. I feel like that I could never get bored in that vastness. That being said, The ones mentioned below are also all great choices.

    • Wilderness Dave says:

      I was thinking about my answer earlier and Yellowstone was sort of the first park that came to mind if I only had to choose one but I couldn’t say why. My only memory of Yellowstone is nearly 30 years old and is pretty vague so I don’t have a solid answer, but Yellowstone was my “off-the-cuff” answer for the if-you-could-only-choose-one question.

      I need to get up there and get some newer impressions of the park.

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