We’ve listed the best national parks to see 2021 – focusing on low-key national parks, free of crowds, and beckoning to be explored.
Rarely has a new year been so eagerly anticipated as 2021 which means it’s time to start talking about the best national parks to see 2021 edition. This year we’ve got some new and exciting additions to the national park system to consider!
Mind you, this is not a lost of the most visited national parks, or most popular national parks, but a list of the parks we feel are the best to visit in 2021.
How do we come up with such a list you ask? Well we take all kinds of things into account:
- Crowds – Lets face it, in today’s day in age crowding in our national parks is a serious problem and one that can put a serious damper on your experience.
- Recent Events – Wildfires have wreaked havoc throughout the western United States and it’s not quite as fun visiting a park that looks like Georgia after Sherman’s march to the sea.
- New Additions – Parks with new or updated facilities, trails, or recreational opportunities get a boost here, after all, we’re looking forward with this article.
- Recreational Opportunities – The more recreational opportunities the better right? We’re looking for variety, uniqueness, and accessibility.
- Scenery – Obviously we have to include scenery. These are national parks after all.
Why Listen to Us?
You should probably know that we didn’t just make this list up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands. We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers. Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
Things to Know Before You Visit
Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Sunscreen: Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which we never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
Insect Repellent: We carry around an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us, especially in the redwoods, as mosquitoes can be a bit crazy in the parks.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check before taking your pooch on your trip to the park!
Best National Parks
Top Ten Best National Parks
10. Sequoia National Park
A personal favorite of mine, Sequoia National Park is a must on any national park travelers list. To walk amidst a grove of these giant beings is to be transported to another world, or perhaps our world before civilization. These giant relics of the past stand as monuments to the wonders of nature when unabated by the hand of man.
As the famed naturalist John Muir put it, the Sequoia “is Nature’s forest masterpiece, and, so far as I know, the greatest of living things. No description can give any adequate idea of their singular majesty, much less their beauty.” You just have to go and see them for yourself.
Best Time to Visit
We recommend visiting Sequoia National Park in Winter as the striking contrast of the white snow against the dark red-brown bark of the giant sequoias is truly stunning.
- The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world and for that reason alone is a must-see. The tree is 275 feet tall, around 2,200 years old and weighs more than 2.5 million pounds!
- The Congress Trail is our favorite trail in the park filled with stunning groves of ancient Sequoias. For an especially beautiful trip, visit this trail in winter with snowshoes.
- The Big Trees Trail is another favorite trail in the park which loops around a large meadow and gives visitors a grand view of the giant sequoias.
Where to Stay
9. Acadia National Park
The picturesque rocky coasts of Maine are not all this eastern park has to offer. Beautiful hardwood forests and tranquil ponds sculpted by beavers make for unforgettable hiking opportunities. In the fall is when this park truly comes alive when the trees turn magnificent shades of red, yellow, and orange throughout the park. With fantastic scenery, coastal New England charm, and 4-season recreational opportunities, what’s not to like about Acadia?
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Acadia National Park is during Autumn when the foliage goes kaleidoscopic in dazzling arrays.
8. Mount Rainier National Park
This iconic mountain and its surrounding forests, rivers, and lakes, is one of the crown jewels of the national park system. The wildflowers in the spring are some of the best displays of alpine wildflowers found anywhere in the world. The trails and streams in summer are ideal for hiking and exploring. And winter on the mountain provides a stunning backdrop for skiing and snowshoeing. Mount Rainier is unique and magical in all of the right ways and the perfect place to plan your next national park expedition.
7. Lassen Volcanic National Park
We like to think of it like a hybrid between Yosemite and Yellowstone. With the Sierra high country that Yosemite is famous for and the geothermal areas that make Yellowstone famous and none of the crowds this is a must visit national park in 2021. As crowds grow larger in places like Yosemite, Lassen, with it’s alpine lakes, forests, geysers, and mountains becomes even more of a no-brainer.
With plenty of campgrounds, recreational opportunities, and off-the-charts scenic beauty it’s time to add this one to your list.
6. Grand Teton National Park
Skip the crowds and traffic at Yellowstone and head to it’s much more enjoyable southern neighbor. Grand Teton is a national park lovers national park. With iconic mountains, the Snake River, pristine lakes, awe-inspiring wildlife, and plenty of developed roads and facilities Grand Teton really does have it all.
5. Glacier National Park
An oldie, but such a goodie. This stately grandfather of a national park has everything one could possibly want in a national park – without the throngs of visitors typical of parks of its stature. It’s lower visitation, when compared to its famous peers, is likely due to its remote location in northwestern Montana.
But rest assured this park is well worth planning an entire trip around no matter where you’re coming from. If you can avoid peak summer we’d recommend doing so as campgrounds and hotels fill up far in advance. The shoulder seasons are the best time to visit this truly magnificent national park.
4. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes is one of the most spectacular national parks in the system and yet it seems no one has ever heard of it! We think that needs to change in a hurry. With the tallest sand dunes in North America, the magnificent Sangre De Cristo Mountains, forests of evergreen and aspen, rushing creeks, alpine lakes, and so much more to explore, we can’t help but scratch our heads as to why this place doesn’t see more visitors.
3. Capitol Reef National Park
Under the shade of old cottonwood trees and ancient rock formations you’ll find natural wonders and true western adventure in this high desert playground. Utah’s other parks may get all the love (and the visitors), but we think Capitol Reef is just as worthy, if not more so, than it’s more famous state neighbors.
With plenty of developed recreational opportunities, campgrounds, lodging, and dining, Capitol Reef is more than ready to be the destination for your next adventure.
2. White Sands National Park
Location: New Mexico
That’s right, this former New Mexico National Monument is now a full fledged national park and we think it’s a must see. Located in rural southern New Mexico about an hour and a half north of El Paso, this magical white sand desert is ripe for exploration.
Recent discoveries of prehistoric footprints have the scientific community buzzing about the potential for more finds. The park does lack any developed campgrounds, but offers the unique opportunity to backcountry camp amidst the seemingly endless white dunes.
1. Voyageurs National Park
In the far reaches of Northern Minnesota, straddling the Canadian border, you’ll find this watery wonderland almost exclusively accessible by boat. Here, in the pristine waters of vast lakes and the mosaic of islands and boreal forest that comprise the park, you can truly get away from it all and listen to nothing but the sound of your canoe gliding in the tranquil water and the distant calls of loons.
From kaleidoscopic sunrises and sunsets mirrored on the glassy waters of its lakes to some of the most spectacular displays of the northern lights you’ll find anywhere on earth, Voyageurs is quite possibly the best kept secret in the national park system. What are you waiting for?
Map of Best National Parks 2021
2020 has been a year for the books and we’re more than ready to turn the page. Now is a great time to take that pent up demand for travel and exploration and put it into planning your 2021 national park adventure. We’re looking at low-key national parks free of crowds and beckoning to be explored. If you think we missed any send us an email and we may just update our list! In the meantime stay safe, 2021 is right around the corner!
Top 10 Best National Parks to Visit in 2021
- Voyageurs National Park
- White Sands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Acadia National Park
- Sequoia National Park
Leave us a comment below!
What do you think of our list of parks to see this year? Leave us a comment below!
See Our Full National Park Rankings
We actually ranked ALL 63 National Parks from best to worst using the same point system featured in this article here. Curious to see how California’s parks stack up against the rest of the parks nationwide? Click here!
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