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12 Gorgeous Photos of America’s National Parks

SmarterTravel

Summer may be winding down, but it’s not too late to plan a trip to visit a national park. The National Park Service in the U.S. protects 61 located throughout the country. To help inspire that future trip, we’ve rounded up 12 gorgeous photos from some of our favorite national parks.

Arches National Park, Utah

First light on turret arch framed by north window
Jacob W. Frank/NPS

There are more than 2,000 stone arches in Arches National Park, guaranteeing there will be at least one free from tourists for your photos. One of the most famous, Delicate Arch, offers a three-mile trail hike and is the perfect spot for watching the sunset.

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Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia vs man. giant sequoias forest and the tourist with backpack looking up
welcomia/Shutterstock

California’s Sequoia National Park is best known for its enormous sequoia trees that can live 3,000 years. The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world by volume and is a must-see on your tour through the forest.

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The grand prismatic spring, located in midway geyser basin
Jim Peaco/NPS

Yellowstone was the first national park, designated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. A visit to Yellowstone should include the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring; it’s the largest hot spring in the U.S. and an unforgettable sight. The bands of color around the hot spring are caused by microbes that thrive in the hot water.

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Zion National Park, Utah

Morning fog on the towers of virgin zion national park
Sierra Coon/NPS

The Towers of the Virgin at sunrise is one of Zion National Park‘s most iconic scenes. For a less-crowded hike, take the moderate three-mile Watchman Trail and catch stunning views of Towers of the Virgin, West Temple, and the Altar of Sacrifice.

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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Thors hammer bryce canyon national park
NPS

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is famous for its hoodoos—tall, thin rock formations shaped by weather and erosion. Tourists flock to Thor’s Hammer, one of the best-known hoodoos for its precarious shape.

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Great Basin National Park, Nevada

summit of wheeler peak, to the sage-covered foothills, great basin national park
NPS

Some of the oldest trees in the world are in Great Basin National Park. Walk among these bristlecone pines, some of which are 4,000 years old (or even older).  Explore the Wheeler Peak grove to see some of these ancient trees.

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Denali National Park, Alaska

A long exposure lets the camera capture movement of ribbons aurora in denali
Kent Miller/NPS

The aurora borealis (Northern Lights) are spectacular in Denali National Park, and best seen from September to April. Several tour companies offer nighttime tours into the wilderness for Northern Lights viewing.

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Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

Sea of clouds with the bright sun on haleakala national park
NPS

Haleakala means “house of the sun.” Local myth tells how Maui the demigod imprisoned the sun at Haleakala to make the day longer. At Haleakala National Park, don’t miss Kalahaku Lookout for Instagram-worthy views of Haleakala’s crater floor.

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Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Rock layers ice cream rocks petrified forest
Andrew V Kearns/NPS

About two hours east of Flagstaff, Petrified Forest National Park is named after its large petrified wood formations. These fossilized logs and stumps have turned to quartz and appear like crystals and brightly colored gems. Not to be missed are the sandstone hoodoos known as Ice Cream Rocks.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Couple hiking a dune ridge great sand dunes national park and preserve
Patrick Myers/NPS

For something different than most national parks, visit the massive sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Some of the dunes sprawl across 30 square miles. Star Dune is the highest sand dune in North America and provides gorgeous views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Olympic National Park, Washington

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, Olympic National Park offers mountains, beaches, glaciers, and even rain forests. Spend a morning walking through the trails in Hoh and Quinault rain forests, and take in the beauty of moss-covered trees and bright green plants.

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah national park, virginia
NPS

Hop in the car and take a scenic drive on Skyline Drive; the only road in Shenandoah National Park is 105 miles long and full of incredible vistas. Along the route, stop at some of the 70 overlooks to take in the spectacular view.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It’s been updated to reflect the most current information.

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