The United States’ national parks boast natural wonders that cannot be found anywhere else on earth. In addition to preserving the incredible biodiversity and geography for generations to come, national parks are the site of many unique outdoor recreation activities and opportunities to connect with nature. Established during the summer of 1916, the National Park Service manages the great swaths of land deemed so precious, they’re protected by Acts of Congress. Today, the National Park System has grown to oversee more than 84 million acres of land across states and territories, and Americans flock to these beloved parks year-round to see fall foliage, snowshoe, and hike the scenic trails. In fact, 312 million people recreationally visited national parks in 2022, an increase of 5% from 2021. 

Grand Canyon,
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Many of the most famous national parks can be found in the western United States. Containing both the highest and lowest elevations in the lower 48 states, the West’s mountains, lakes, caves, forests, waterfalls, deserts, and canyons are awe-inspiring in their beauty and biodiversity. Some of the United States’ most iconic natural landmarks, like the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, draw millions of visitors each year to take in the sights, hike, cycle, see wildlife, and much more.

Yellowstone National Park was technically the first national park to be established in the United States in 1872. With 2.2 million acres expanding across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, the park contains about half the world’s active geysers, including the famous Old Faithful geyser. This park is truly a national treasure, preserving the natural habitat of 300 species of birds, over 15 species of fish, and nearly 70 species of mammals—plus many microscopic organisms that live in the geysers. Contact local guide companies to find experts to safely escort your group on hikes and wildlife viewings through this historic and beautiful landscape. 

Yellowstone National Park,
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North of Yellowstone, Glacier National Park offers views of mighty glaciers and the crystal waters of glacial runoff lakes. Explore this stunning area with the help of Sun Tours or Glacier National Park Lodge’s Red Bus Tours, two tour bus companies that are uniquely equipped to help your group make the most of the trip. Tours include stops at the most scenic spots in the park, knowledgeable guide support, and plenty of group photo opportunities.

California boasts the most national parks of any state, with nine of the country’s 61 national parks. In Yosemite National Park, groups can find three of the 10 highest waterfalls in the world. Groups should visit in the spring to see Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America, as the snowmelt makes the rushing waters even more striking. Groups will also enjoy taking in the natural beauty of Yosemite Valley’s sloping rock formations or a stop in Wawona to see the historic Wawona Hotel and spend some time at the Yosemite History Center, an immersive collection of historic buildings that tells the stories of the people who moved here and shaped the park’s history. Just south of Yosemite is Sequoia National Park, where groups can pay a visit to General Sherman, the world’s largest living tree by volume. The General Sherman Tree measures more than 100 feet around and rises 275 feet high. As groups follow the leisurely trails through the Giant Forest to General Sherman, exhibits explain the natural history of the majestic, giant sequoias. Near Los Angeles, the Mojave and Colorado deserts come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Groups can see the striking geologic formations and the Joshua trees—resilient, twisted, and spiky-looking trees that survive in the desert and provide a home for the park’s birds, mammals, insects, and lizards.

Yosemite National Park,
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Utah’s five national parks are all within easy driving distance of each other for motorcoaches full of travelers who want to experience the state’s rich geographic diversity. Getting around Zion National Park is easy with the Zion Canyon Line, a park shuttle that runs from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to destinations like the Zion Lodge and hiking trailheads. In the nearby town of Springdale, groups can tour the Zion Human History Museum to explore the relationship between the land, water, and people of this area. In Capitol Reef National Park, take the Scenic Drive to see red cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) that extends almost 100 miles. Groups can find the largest concentration of stone arches in the world at Arches National Park and the largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) in Bryce Canyon National Park. Meanwhile, the Green and Colorado rivers trisect Canyonlands National Park, creating four distinct districts. Island in the Sky is the most group-friendly of these, offering paved roads, scenic outlooks over water-carved canyons, and convenient, easy access to the city of Moab. 

Zion National Park,
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Rocky Mountain National Park is an easy addition to a group itinerary in central Colorado. Groups can enjoy the cultural attractions and comfortable amenities in Boulder, Fort Collins, or Denver, then venture out into the rustic mountains. Travelers will see alpine lakes sparkle beneath towering mountains or the changing colors of the aspen trees in the fall. Also in Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park was the first national park to be recognized for “works of man,” to honor the cliff dwellings built by the Pueblo Indians who have called this region home for thousands of years. Groups can explore these impressive structures on ranger-assisted tours, where human history and natural history come to the forefront. 

In Washington, add a day trip through Olympic National Park to your Seattle itinerary. Here, groups can explore the lush rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and take the winding road up to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, where exhibits illustrate the history of the national park. South of Seattle, groups can see Mount Rainier, one of the several active volcanoes in the lower 48. Meanwhile, the Grand Canyon in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park is the second-most-visited national park—only after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Regarded as one of the magnificent Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the canyon is a mile deep, nearly 300 miles long, and nearly 20 miles wide. (Believe it or not, that’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island!)

A trip to a national park is an essential American travel experience, made better by sharing it with a group. A group tour to the West’s national parks can be a transformative experience, one that illustrates the magic and resilience of nature and the importance of preserving these natural wonders for the next generation of travelers.

Main Image: Zion National Park; Credit: Dex Ezekial/Unsplash