Top 5 U.S. National Parks (Plus 3 On My Bucket List)

Over the years, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to visit 11 of the 63 National Parks that can be found throughout the U.S. While all were unique and interesting in their own way, there were definitely some I loved more than others. This is my ranking of the Top 5 U.S. National Parks that I’ve visited so far. As a bonus, I’m also sharing the top 3 National Parks on my travel bucket list that I haven’t yet been to!

Top 5 U.S. National Parks

5. Badlands

Fun fact: I actually used to live in South Dakota as a kid! I have a lot of family there and still love going back to visit because I think South Dakota is a super underrated state. Similarly, I don’t see too many people talking about Badlands National Park, even though it’s one of my favorites. The landscape is super unique and looks like something you might find on another planet. Plus, the park is full of wildlife ranging from bison and bighorn sheep to prairie dogs.

4. Yellowstone

I would actually love to return to Yellowstone National Park and explore some more because my husband and I only got to spend one day in the park when we visited. Still, Yellowstone is such a classic that I highly recommend everyone take a visit. There’s a huge variety of wildlife and landscapes, and it’s unreal to see the massive hot springs and geysers in person. There’s a reason Yellowstone is one of the most popular National Parks!

3. Olympic

Olympic National Park is one of those places you have to see for yourself to believe. I mean, where else in the U.S. can you spend a day exploring rocky beaches, snow-capped mountains, glacial rivers, and thick rainforests? Olympic National Park is full of biodiversity that makes every visit unique from the last.

2. Grand Teton

In my humble opinion, Grand Teton National Park is probably one of the prettiest areas in the entire country. The mountains look absolutely unreal in person, and the whole park feels wild and rugged. Grand Teton is another park I’d love to return to and spend more time exploring because there’s so much to see and do!

1. Mount Rainier

Of all the National Parks I’ve gotten to visit so far, Mount Rainier National Park is undoubtedly my favorite. Seeing Mount Rainier up close and personal is an amazing experience, and you truly can’t fathom its grandeur until you’re seeing it with your own eyes. Plus, Mount Rainier National Park is where I saw my first wild bear! The whole park feels so magical and is absolutely stunning year-round.

Top 3 U.S. National Parks Bucket List

3. Glacier

Glacier National Park in Montana is one National Park I’ve been wanting to visit for years. The mountains look insanely dramatic and I’ve heard the park is absolutely full of wildlife. Plus, I’d love to pay a visit to RightOnTrek’s EDGE Backpacking Gear Rental Facility that just opened this year. I love that RightOnTrek works to make the outdoors accessible for as many people as possible. And, they make delicious backpacking meals!

2. Yosemite

As someone who loves both hiking and rock-climbing, Yosemite National Park sounds like an absolute dream. I’ve seen so many documentaries about Yosemite and I would love to pay the park a visit in the next couple years. I’ve actually never been to California, so I hope to make a trip out of it and explore a few different areas throughout the state!

1. Gates of the Arctic

Image courtesy of Travel Alaska

Alaska seems to be one of the last truly wild places left in the U.S., and I would absolutely love to spend some time exploring Gates of the Arctic National Park. The wilderness of Alaska looks intimidating but also incredibly beautiful, and I definitely plan on taking a trip to the state – hopefully, sooner rather than later!

What’s your favorite U.S. National Park, and which one would you like to visit next? Let me know in the comments!

Skyline Trail – Mt. Rainier National Park

With summer quickly approaching, I want to highlight one of my favoite hikes in Mount Rainier National Park: Skyline Tail. Skyline Trail, also know as Skyline Loop Trail, is a 5.5-mile-long loop in the Paradise area of the park. Skyline Trail is a challenging hike, but along the way you’ll experience some of the best features that Mount Rainier National Park has to offer, from glaciers to alpine meadows and waterfalls. If you only have time for one hike in Mount Rainier National Park, and you’re up for the challenge, I highly recommend the Skyline Trail.

The Skyline Trail begins at the Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise. If you choose to hike the loop clockwise, as most do, you’ll immediately begin gaining elevation as you make your way to Panorama Point. Panorama Point is an amazing viewpoint, and some even choose to turn back here after stopping to rest and enjoy the views. It was actually along this section of the trail that we encountered a bear, which was my first ever run-in with a wild bear!

If you choose to continue your hike past Panorama Point, you’ll head east on the Skyline Trail. You’ll soon come across the junction with Golden Gate Trail, which can be used to shorten the hike. To complete the full loop, continue heading east and you’ll eventually reach the Stevens-Van Trump Memorial. You’ll begin to descend into Paradise Valley, with a brief uphill portion taking you Myrtle Falls, before finally arriving back at the Jackson Visitor Center.

All in all, Skyline Trail is an amazing hike that highlights some of the most beautiful natural features of Mount Rainier National Park. I highly recommend adding this hike to your summer bucketlist, and I would do it again in a heartbeat! Let me know in the comments what your favorite hike is in Mount Rainier National Park.

Best Day Trips from Seattle

I recently shared an article detailing my favorite day trips from Atlanta (read it here), and was feeling inspired to do a Seattle version! Washington is one of my favorite states to explore and there are so many awesome day trips from Seattle, so let’s jump right in with some of my top recommendations.

Bainbridge Island – 35 minutes via ferry

Bainbridge Island is a beautiful area just a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle. I only spent part of a day on the island, but I absolutely fell in love with how quaint it is, and I can’t wait for my next visit. Whether you’re a fan of the outdoors, an arts lover, or a shopaholic, Bainbridge has something that everyone will love. For some of my favorite stops on the island, read my guide to Bainbridge Island right here.

North Bend + Snoqualmie – 40 minutes

The towns of North Bend and Snoqualmie are only about 30-40 minutes from Seattle, and they’re some of my favorite areas to spend a day exploring. Make sure to bring an appetite and grab a bite at Twede’s Cafe in North Bend, a well-known diner that was featured in the show Twin Peaks. Catch a movie at the North Bend Theatre, or take a hike up to the summit of Mount Si for views of the whole Snoqualmie Valley. Just down the road is the town of Snoqualmie (make sure to watch for elk on the drive over!), an area rich in history and natural beauty. Downtown Snoqualmie is home to lots of shops and restaurants, and Snoqualmie Falls is a must-visit spot for jaw-dropping views of a massive waterfall. I also have a full guide to North Bend and Snoqualmie, which you can read here!

Leavenworth – 2.5 hours

Leavenworth is a stunning Bavarian village tucked among the Cascade Mountains. During the summer, Leavenworth is the perfect place for hiking, rock-climbing, or tubing down the Wenatchee River. Over the winter, Leavenworth transforms into a winter wonderland, with massive displays of Christmas lights. With plenty of shopping and a good variety of restaurants, Leavenworth is a day trip that everyone in the family is sure to love.

Mount Rainier National Park – 2 hours

Of course, a visit to Washington truly wouldn’t be complete without spending some time in Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is a stunning sight, and seeing it up close and personal is seriously awe-inspiring. Mount Rainier National Park is a massive park with tons of hiking areas for any level of difficulty/length you’re looking for. Naches Peak Loop Trail is a short hike offers some serious bang for your buck with stunning views of Mount Rainier almost the entire way. Skyline Trail, meanwhile, will make you feel like you’ve stepped into another world, offering views of alpine meadows, waterfalls, and glaciers.

Olympic Peninsula + Olympic National Park – 2 to 3.5 hours (depending on where you go)

The Olympic Peninsula is a beautiful area of Washington, featuring glaciers, rainforests, and rocky beaches. There’s so much to see and do in the area that a day really doesn’t do it justice, but a day trip is still 100% doable! For a shorter trip, I recommend visiting the Port Angeles area. Port Angeles is a cute little town right on the water with lots of shopping, restaurants, and some museums about the area’s history. You can also drive over to Hurricane Ridge for hiking, or just to take in some stunning views of the area. If you’d like to explore the Olympic Peninsula further, I highly recommend visiting the Hoh Rain Forest – you’ll feel as though you stepped into Jurassic Park with all the massive, mossy trees! A bit past Hoh Rain Forest is the town of Forks and Rialto Beach, classic PNW areas you may recognize from the Twilight series. I have a whole guide to the Olympic Peninsula here where I give you even more ideas on must-visit spots!

Have you visited any of these spots yourself? What’s your favorite day trip from Seattle? Let me know down below in the comments!

My Favorite Hiking Areas in Washington

If you get the opportunity to visit the beautiful state of Washington, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the hikes and amazing areas to explore. I’ve spent a good amount of time visiting and even living there and I have still only seen a tiny fraction of everything it has to offer! Today I’ll share with you some of the hiking areas in Washington that I’ve come to love so you can have some guidance for your next trip to Evergreen State!

Mount Rainier National Park

Make sure to check out the photo diary from my last visit!

This one may seem like an obvious choice, but Mount Rainier National Park is such a well-known national park for a reason. It is one of the most beautiful national parks I’ve visited and has some amazingly unique landscapes that are hard to find elsewhere in the United States. Mount Rainier itself is an incredible sight that I never get tired of seeing, and the park has tons of hikes ranging in difficulty. Not only are the views in the park amazing pretty much anywhere you go, but you’re sure to see some wildlife as well. Last time we visited we saw elk and a bear! Mount Rainier National Park is well worth the visit and a national park I think everyone should visit in their lifetime.

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is a massive area that includes the western region of the Cascade Mountain Range. A large portion of the national forest is located just about an hour east of Seattle, and that specific area is one of my favorites. This National Forest offers almost countless hikes ranging from fairly easy to very challenging. Some of my favorites include Heybrook Lookout, a short but steep hike to a fire tower, and Barclay Lake (check out my photo diary from that hike here)! Whether you’re in the mood for a casual hike to a stunning lake or a viewpoint of the mountains, or you’re ready for a challenging summit or scramble, the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has it all!

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and has some of the most diverse landscapes in the entire state. The park is home to forests, alpine areas, a rainforest, and beaches, so it truly offers anything you could be looking for. The rainforest is an amazing place to stroll through massive trees covered in thick moss while the beaches are rocky and dramatic. As a bonus, for any Twilight fans out there, the town of Forks is located just 30-40 minutes outside of the park and is an awesome little spot to check out as well. Hikers, photographers, and fishermen alike will love this area and everything it has to offer.