Where To Find The Best National Parks On The West Coast

We get it, there are so many different reasons to visit the West Coast, and for many people who aren't already there, a trip out West is something to dream about and aspire to. Sandy coastlines, Hollywood, and charming California beach towns are among the most popular reasons for a trip, but the national parks found in this region are packed with natural wonder, including diverse wildlife and wondrous landscapes.

From desert lands with ominous names and tropical paradises with active volcanoes to historical sites that perfectly mesh nature with human invention, the West Coast is teeming with national parks that promise a daring adventure. You could spend a lifetime exploring all that even one of these parks have to offer, but even spending a small amount of time within the designated areas makes for a memorable trip. Here is where you can find the best national parks in the West, all of which should make stellar additions to your travel bucket list.

Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park

If you've ever visited Alaska, you know that it's like walking into a completely different world. The wildlife and landscapes of the state are on a massive scale and indescribable, really. Of Alaska's eight official national parks, Gates of Arctic is the most difficult to get to, and believe it or not, that's one of the reasons it gets the title of the best national park in Alaska.

In fact, the park is one of the hardest national parks to get to in the entire country, and that's due to the lack of roads or permanent park structures or signage of any kind. You'll find nothing but wilderness if you're fortunate and dedicated enough to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park, which will include a number of lakes and waterways, along with foothills and the Brooks Range mountains. Another special aspect of the park is that it is home to communities of natives that have lived off the land and thrived here for thousands of years. If you come here, be aware that the universal rules of leaving no trace and taking nothing but pictures are even more vital.

Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park

While the most popular attraction and park in Arizona is certainly the Grand Canyon, we're going to risk the backlash of not naming it the state's best national park in favor of shining some light on the Petrified Forest. While it may be a controversial decision, the marvelous wonder of the Petrified Forest National Park is undeniable. Not only is the park one of the largest collections of petrified wood — a type of fossilization — in the world, but the woods' colorful and rainbow hues work to beautiful effect.

In addition to the collection of petrified trees that are each unique as a fingerprint, the park contains a number of plant and animal fossils, as well as petroglyphs from up to 2,000 years ago. You can access these sights by taking advantage of the park's many hiking trails or simply by driving straight through — don't forget to check out the Painted Desert, located in the northernmost part of the park.

California's Death Valley National Park

It feels almost sinful to declare a winner of California's best national park because the Golden State has so many utterly epic parks that are so wildly different from one another. Out of nine spectacular national parks that include the great Redwoods, Yosemite, and Joshua's Tree, California's Death Valley National Park takes the cake for the state's absolute best. While the others are giants in their own way, Death Valley takes nature to a whole other level of extreme.

The lowest point in the United States, Badwater Basin, is located in Death Valley, and the oddly picturesque national park is also frequently the location of the hottest place in the country, making it clear where the name comes from. Even though it is unforgiving, the park is home to some of the most gorgeous, otherworldly views. Whether seeing the park from higher points like Zabriskie Point and Artist's Drive or from the salt flats of Badwater Basin, Death Valley offers intense and memorable sights — just make sure to bring plenty of water and prepare for the elements. It's also a good idea to check the National Park Service page for alerts before you visit during times of extreme heat.

Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park

While a lot of national parks like to focus on the natural world and what Mother Earth has provided for us, Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park is just as much about what humans have left behind and how they have used the Earth's blessings to survive and thrive during their time here. The park is certainly home to gorgeous wildlife and sights but also contains rich Native culture and the ruins of Pueblo cliff dwellings that are hundreds of years old. Hiking trails like Soda Canyon Overlook is a great way to incorporate both into your visit.

The intricately designed cliffside homes are some of the best preserved in North America and are a wonderful insight into how America's first people lived and prospered. Though the Pueblo people are long gone from the region, visiting their ancestral home surrounds you with their presence and influence, making for a spiritual and awakening trip.

Hawaii's Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Hawai'i is known for its natural beauty, so it's only fair that the national parks found there are just as if not more awe-inspiring as the rest of the state. There are two official national parks in Hawai'i, and both happen to contain volcanoes that are very much considered to be active. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, though, is home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world, making it necessary to check on any recent updates to the status of the volcanoes' activity before making the trek.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park spans from sea level to over a thousand feet above sea level, so the coastline is very much a part of the park right along with its two volcanoes. One of the best spots along the rocky coast to check out is the lava formation Hōlei Sea Arch, which can be seen by driving along the Chain of Craters road. As it will eventually be forfeited to the sea below, it is one gorgeous sight that not all who ever venture to the spot will be graced with. Before traveling to the islands of Hawai'i, please educate yourself on the customs and culture there and learn how to be a respectful tourist.

Idaho's Yellowstone National Park

Though Yellowstone National Park is split up between three states with Idaho only containing a small portion of the famous destination, it still proves to be the best the state has to offer in the way of national parks. Yellowstone has carved out a little corner of Idaho's eastern border and for travelers who don't mind hopping state lines into Wyoming, there is over 3,000 square miles of land dedicated to the country's very first national park.

Interestingly enough, the small portion of the park that is located within Idaho is known as the "Zone of Death," where a loophole is speculated to exist that makes federal crimes unenforceable. This is due to no jury being able to be formed here, as no one actually lives here. The lush meadows and waterfalls here may actually be worth overlooking this slightly foreboding trait — just don't bring anyone who may be holding a grudge against you.

Montana's Glacier National Park

If you still needed some damning proof of climate change, you wouldn't have to look further than Montana's Glacier Bay National Park. Although it still has plenty of glaciers to admire, they have shrunk significantly in the last few years and as they continue to melt, the national park is changing ever so slightly at all times. As disheartening as melting glaciers are, the park is still stunningly beautiful.

Adventurers have over 700 miles of trails to potentially explore. While it would be quite the feat to even put a dent in the massive amount of trails available here, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is one path you should take before leaving. The path is a steep one that is not easy to maintain and parts will close with the changing seasons, but not to worry, as it is a path meant to be taken by car. If you are feeling extra confident, you can attempt to trek with a bike.

Nevada's Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park offers a wildly diverse experience, from caves to mountain peaks. Taking a cave tour, hiking one of the many trails, or fishing at one of the lakes are all popular activities here. One of the most desirable and possibly surprising pastimes here, though, is stargazing. The park is a great destination for travelers who love stargazing, and the wide open skies make camping under the stars a spectacular experience. The park even hosts an astronomy festival once a year and has many resources for travelers looking to have a night under the starry sky.

New Mexico's White Sands National Park

It's truly hard to believe that a natural wonder such as New Mexico's White Sands National Park exists in the United States. With sands that somehow appear to belong in both a tropical beach and desert dunes, the park doesn't feel as though it should be real. It is, however, and visitors can enjoy the sands by either sledding down the great dunes or horseback riding through the magical landscape. The dunes can also be traversed on foot, by car, or by bike. Campers may consider staying in the dunes overnight and experiencing the white sands under a sky full of stars.

Oregon's Crater Lake National Park

There are few bodies of water in the United States that come even close to matching that of Oregon's Crater Lake. The lake was formed thousands of years ago when a volcano erupted, leaving a crater in its wake. The crater was then filled naturally by precipitation and now is the deepest lake in the country. Heavenly blue water aside, the real marvel comes from the lake sitting atop a mountain, seeming to defy logic. It is a sight to behold, making one of the most intriguing spots in America and the best national park in Oregon.

Utah's Zion National Park

Utah is home to five national parks, all of which are absolutely stunning. It's difficult to put the title of best on any one park, because each has their own special, gorgeous characteristics. Zion National Park, though, has plenty of hidden gem destinations that range from the canyons of the park to lush oases with waterfalls and flourishing plant life. Emerald Pools Trail will reward hikers with beautiful waterfalls and, as the name suggests, emerald pools great for taking a dip. Angel's Landing, on the other hand, offers a canyon view after a more difficult hike — the journey is worth it, though, as the sight of Zion from this point is utterly breath-taking.

Washington's Olympic National Park

Washington state is home to three national parks, all of which are impressive in their own ways. Mount Rainier, of course, is so influential that it is a focal point on any clear day and is a kind of symbol for its home state. For this list we are focusing on Olympic National Park, though, as it spans almost a million acres of eco-diverse wilderness that basically turns the center of Washington into a space that is mostly wild, which is somewhat of a rarity in today's world. The protection of this wilderness is important not only for the many habitats there, but for the preservation of nature in our world.

Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park

Although Yellowstone National Park takes up significant residence in Wyoming, we've chosen to show some love to Grand Teton National Park here and leave the former iconic park to one of its other hosting states. Grand Teton National Park is full of beauty, and with a stellar view of the Teton Range in view no matter what area you are exploring you are never to forget what epic land you are walking in.

The best thing to do in Grand Teton is be amongst and look at the wildlife, and there is certainly enough of it to fill your entire trip. Those with a love for the outdoors will find Montana's natural beauty mix well with that of Grand Teton National Park.