• Bradee Smith

5 National Parks You NEED to Visit

National Parks and I...we have a real connection. Since my first park experience driving through Zion National Park in 2018 I have been HOOKED FO LIFEEEE. Visiting the parks is seriously an inspiring and humbling experience in my book. You can get lost for a few days in such beautifully preserved, jaw-dropping scenery that feeds the soul like nothing else. While I am a firm believer that each park is valuable and unique, there are five so far that stand out to me the very most. So if you're new to the National Park world but are looking to plan some trips this year, I'd recommend prioritizing these FIVE parks!


You can check park reservation systems/guidelines due to COVID-19 and book campsites for the parks HERE!



  1. Yosemite National Park

The G.O.A.T. in my opinion. It's actually impossible to find the words to describe what it feels like to stand in Yosemite Valley and be surrounded by some of the most grandiose rock faces.


General notes about the park:


-Fill up on gas before entering the park. You'll be driving a lot.

-There is no shuttle to get down INTO the valley. Once you're in the valley, there is a shuttle system that may be used. But if you plan to enter the valley in peak months or on weekends, go early in order to get a parking spot.

-I recommend watching sunset at Glacier Point

-There is little to no cell service anywhere in the park

-Be on the lookout for wildlife! If you're camping you will need bear spray and you'll need to store all food in a bear canister.

-I'd recommend going for about 4-5 days to get to see the main highlights.


When to Visit: Summer if you want to camp, and fall if you're okay paying for lodging. Be sure to book campsites well in advance within the park.


Top Campgrounds:

North Pines Campground

Upper Pines Campground

Curry Village (tents/cabins provided)

Wawona Campground

Tuolumne Meadows Campground


Top Hikes:

Vernal Falls (moderate)

Half Dome (hard and requires permits)

Upper Yosemite Falls (hard)

Valley Floor Loop (easy but LONG)

Lower Yosemite Falls (easy)

Glacier Point Trail (easy)

Yosemite Creek Trail (moderate but LONG)

Sentinel Dome + Taft Point Trail (moderate)



2. Grand Teton National Park


There is something so stunning about the jagged peaks of the Tetons. This park is a hikers paradise!


General Notes about the park:


-Plan to drive everywhere within the park

-Be on the lookout for wildlife! If you're camping you will need bear spray and you'll need to store all food in a bear canister.

-Plan a time to kayak or go boating on Lake Jackson!

-Head to the nearby town of Jackson for a day if you have the chance!

-Snag some photos at Schwabacher's Landing, Mormon Row, and Oxbow Bend.

-I'd recommend going for about 4-5 days to get to see the main highlights, and longer if you plan to do some backpacking


When to visit: If you're a big hiker, summer is your time to shine here. If you're bigger into winter sports, check out the park in the winter months and enjoy some skiing at Jackson Hole!


Top Campgrounds:

Jenny Lake Campground

Colter Bay Campground

Signal Mountain Campground

Lizard Creek Campground

Curtis Canyon Campground


Top Hikes:

Jenny Lake Trail (moderate)

String Lake Trail (easy)

Lake Solitude (hard)

Leigh Lake Trail (easy)

Moose Ponds Trail (easy)

Paintbrush Canyon (backpacking trail- hard)

Phelps Lake Trail (moderate)

Schwabacher's Landing Trail (easy)

Cascade Canyon Trail (moderate)

Taggart Lake Loop (easy)



3. Zion National Park


This park will always hold a very special place in my heart since it was really the first National Park I made the trip to. Pro tip- loop it in with visiting another fave of mine just 1.5 hours away, Bryce Canyon National Park!


General notes about the park:

-This park pretty much requires the usage of their shuttle system (only closed in the month of December) since trailhead parking lots get so congested.

-I'd recommend going for about 3-4 days to get to see the main highlights.

-Check out the nearby town of Springdale for great food and tons of lodging options.


When to visit: Spring or fall due to extremely high temperatures in the heart of summer.


Top Campgrounds:

Watchman Campground

South Campground

Lava Point Campground


Top Hikes:

Angels Landing Trail (hard)

Zion Narrows (moderate-depends on how far you go)

Emerald Pools Trail (moderate)

The Watchman Trail (easy)

Zion Canyon Overlook Trail ( easy)

Observation Point (moderate)

West Rim to Lava Point (hard)

The Subway Trail (hard)



4. Mount Rainier National Park

One of the most majestic places on earth. I can't wait to spend more time in this park! I guarantee you will be in awe!


General notes about the park:

-There are five park entrances and no shuttle system so plan to drive!

-If you plan to just go for the day because time is limited, it's only a 2 hour drive from Seattle.

-I'd recommend going for at least 3 days; longer if you plan to do some more intense hiking.


When to visit:

In general, I'd say summer-fall months. If you are a well-equipped mountaineer, winter months would be doable as well.


Top Campgrounds:

Cougar Rock

Ohanapecosh

White River

Mowich Lake

Little Owl Cabins (for a more luxurious stay just outside of the park


Top Hikes:

Skyline Trail (moderate)

Camp Muir Route via Skyline Trail (hard)

Panorama Point (moderate)

Nisquilly Vista Trail (easy)

Skyline, Glacier Vista, Upper Skyline and Golden Gate Loop (moderate)

Narada Falls Trail (moderate)

Pinnacle Peak Saddle Trail (moderate)

Glacier Vista Loop (easy)

Golden Gate Trail (moderate)

Mount Rainier Summit (extremely hard)



5. Crater Lake National Park

This is such a unique park surrounded by some of the best outdoor havens in the country! If you can't tell, I have a bit of an obsessed with Oregon.


General notes about the park:

-There are no boats or flotation devices allowed in the lake, but you can swim at designated areas. Just be ready for some freezing cold water!

-I recommend enjoying sunrise over the lake one morning- just be sure to bundle up!

-There is no shuttle service so plan to drive.

-I recommend going for no more than 2 days since it's a smaller park. Loop it into a trip to Oregon or the Pacific Northwest to maximize your trip! It's only a 2 hour drive from Bend, Oregon.


When to visit:

Summer-fall due to road closures in snowy months


Top Campgrounds: (there are only two within the park)

Mazama Campground

Lost Creek Campground


Top Hikes:

Garfield Peak Trail (moderate)

The Watchman Peak Trail (moderate)

Discovery Point Trail (easy)

Sun Notch Trail (easy)

Dutton Creek Trail (moderate)

Mazama Village to Rim Village (moderate)