Ten Must-See National Parks In The West

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Despite the weather starting to cool down here in the United States, it’s still a good time of the year to go out and enjoy the outdoors. When we used to live in Seattle, we would try and visit as many state parks and national parks in the west as we could. And even as we’ve been driving across the United States, we’ve made it a point to see as many National Parks as we could during our trip.

Exploring American national parks

There are over 60 national parks in the United States, and over 70% of them are national parks in the west! The National Park Service was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1930’s, and since then, it has seen millions of visitors each year, both from within and outside the United States.

We love visiting national parks because they give us a chance to learn about the natural environment, and see the natural diversity that the United States has to offer. During our USA road trip, we were able to visit over twelve parks, monuments, and historic sites within the National Park Service. The kids learned so much about the different locations that we were visiting.

Arches National Park, one of the western national parks
An arch at Arches National Park (August 2018)

The perks of A National Park Annual Pass

One of our biggest tips for when you’re planning to visit multiple national parks within the span of a year is to go ahead and invest in a National Park Annual Pass. These passes cost about $85 a year, and can be purchased at any national park, or even online.

The cost of a National Park Annual Pass may seem steep, but in our opinion, it’s absolutely worth it. Entrance fees to the national parks vary. Some fees are as little as free or $5. But for popular national parks, like the Grand Canyon, entrance fees can be up to $35! For our family, we completely got our money’s worth after visiting three national parks.

Yellowstone National Park, one of the western national parks
A canyon at Yellowstone National Park (August 2018)

Don’t forget your National Park Passport!

A fun thing that the National Park Service offers is a National Park Passport. These are blue booklets filled with blank pages that you can stamp whenever you visit a national park. We have one for each of our kids, and they (and we!) love stamping their National Park Passport with a dated stamp from that park. It helps us keep track of where we’ve visited.

National Park Passport books can be purchased at any national park store, or online. The standard blue booklets cost $9.95. Kids can get specialty Junior Ranger Edition passport books for $14.95, and there are also special Collector’s Edition passport books for $24.95. There’s also a National Park Passport app that you can download to your phone, if you don’t want to mess with carrying a book around. But of course, part of the fun of the National Park Passport is getting that stamp!

Kids at the visitors center at Yellowstone National Park, one of the western national parks
Checking out the Visitors Center at Yellowstone National Park (August 2018)

Our ten favorite national parks in the west

As we’ve traveled through the United States, we’ve been able to visit a lot of national parks. By far, our favorite parks have been the national parks in the west. In the eastern United States, a lot of the national parks are focused on American history. There is the Liberty Bell, the Freedom Trail, the Gateway Arch, and even the Statue of Liberty, to name a few. But out in the west, it’s all about nature!

We enjoy these western national parks the best because of their natural beauty and diversity. There are mountains, lakes, deserts, forests, and even volcanoes! Below is a list of our favorite national parks in the west. They’re all kid-approved and family friendly. And they’re excellent spots for hiking and camping!

North Cascades National Park, one of the western national parks
Playing on a boardwalk at North Cascades National Park (June 2018)

Mount Rainier National Park

A Washington favorite for national parks in the west is Mount Rainier National Park. This national park, located in west-central Washington state, is actually an active volcano and has the most glaciers out of all the peaks in the contiguous United States. Mount Rainier National Park rises to around 14,000 feet in elevation, and is open to camping, hiking, climbing, and mountaineering.

Entrance into Mount Rainier National Park is $30 per vehicle. There are 2 lodges within the national park, as well as 4 campgrounds. Mount Rainier National Park is open year round, but some parts of the park may be closed in the winter due to snow. Check with the National Parks Service before making a visit during the winter months.

Mount Rainer, one of the popular national parks in the west
Looking out onto Mount Rainier National Park (August 2017)

Olympic National Park

Another popular Washington state national park is Olympic National Park. Located in the north-western tip of Washington state, Olympic National Park is one of the national parks in the west that has it all: oceans, forests, mountains, lakes. The Hoh Rainforest, located in Olympic National Park, is the largest temperate rainforest in the United States!

Olympic National Park is open all year, and has 14 campgrounds where families can camp. However, 12 of these campgrounds are first come, first served, which means you aren’t able to reserve online ahead of time. There are also 4 lodges within the park that you can reserve. Entrance fee into this national park is $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days.

Olympic National Park, one of the western national parks
A tree near Kalaloch at Olympic National Park (August 2017)

North Cascades National Park

The most underrated of the western national parks is North Cascades National Park. We visited there earlier this year, and was just blown away by how beautiful and secluded it was! Set in north-central Washington state, the park has rivers and lakes that are perfect for exploring. North Cascades National Park has a ton of easy hikes for young kids to enjoy as well!

Getting into North Cascades National Park is free. There are 5 car campgrounds, as well as 3 boat-in campgrounds. There are no lodges inside the national park, but there are 2 lodges just outside of North Cascades National Park.

North Cascades National Park, one of the underrated national parks in the west
Diablo Dam at North Cascades National Park (June 2018)

Crater Lake National Park

One of the prettiest parks of the western national parks to visit in the summer is Crater Lake National Park, located in southern Oregon. This giant lake was formed from the eruption of Mt. Mazama about 7,000 years ago. The iconic crystal clear blue waters of Crater Lake, fed by snow melt, make this national park a perfect place to visit. You can even find bits of snow around Crater Lake National Park in the summer!

Crater Lake National Park is open all year, but many parts of the park may be closed due to weather during the winter months. There are 2 lodges that visitors can stay at, as well 2 campgrounds that are reservable online. Park entrance fees are $25 between the months of May to October, and $15 between November to May.

Crater Lake National Park, one of the national parks in the west
The blue waters of Crater Lake (August 2018)

Yellowstone National Park

We did a visit to Yellowstone National Park during our epic national park roadtrip this summer, and we loved it. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing geysers erupting, or looking out into rainbow-colored, prismatic hot springs? While Yellowstone National Park is known for it’s famous geyser, Old Faithful, it’s also known for the abundance of wild animals that you can find at the park, like bison, elk, and bears.

Yellowstone National Park is one of the popular national parks in the west, receiving over 4 million visitors each year. Entrance fee into the park is $35 per vehicle. There are 9 lodges within Yellowstone National Park, and 12 campgrounds, 5 of which take online reservations.

Yellowstone National Park, one of the top visited of the national parks in the west
Walking to a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park (August 2018)

Arches National Park

One of the things I love about the western national parks is its natural beauty. And no park is more beautiful, in my opinion, than Arches National Park. We visited this park during our national park roadtrip as well, and loved hiking through the park and seeing all the stunning arches. Arches National Park is relatively small, only about 120 square miles, but it’s packed with over 2,000 arches.

There are no lodges in Arches National Park, and only 1 campground, which is reservable online. But the nearby city of Moab has plenty of lodging and camping options for families. Entrance fee into Arches National Park is $30. The park is open all year, and is busiest from May to October.

Arches National Park, one of the national parks in the west
An arch at Arches National Park (September 2018)

Mesa Verde National Park

Another one of the national parks in the west that we visited during our national park roadtrip is Mesa Verde National Park. We love the historical element of this national park! Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwestern tip of Colorado, and houses over 5,000 dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people, indigenous tribes that lived in the area from 600 to 1300 CE. Visitors to the Mesa Verde National Park can tour some of these old Ancestral Pueblo dwellings, and learn about their ancient practices and stories.

Entrance into Mesa Verde National Park is $20 between the months of May to October, and $15 the other months of the year. There is 1 lodge at Mesa Verde National Park, which you can reserve online. There is also 1 campground at the national park, and is also reservable online. We loved camping at that campground, as we saw deer every single day we were there!

Mesa Verde National Park, one of the national parks in the west
An Ancestral Pueblo structure at Mesa Verde National Park (August 2018)

Rocky Mountain National Park

Speaking of western national parks in the state of Colorado, another national park we loved visiting during our national park roadtrip this summer was Rocky Mountain National Park. Located in north-central Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to all kinds of animals, including bears, bighorn sheep, and elk. The popular Trail Ridge Road reaches a height of 12,000 feet above sea level! Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of beautiful hikes for little ones, and the views from the top of Trail Ridge Road are amazing!

Rocky Mountain National Park is open all year long, and costs $25 per vehicle for a 1 day pass, or $35 per vehicle for a 7 day pass. There are no lodges within Rocky Mountain National Park, though nearby Estes Park has an abundance of lodging options. There are 5 campgrounds within Rocky Mountain National Park, 3 of which are reservable online.

Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the western national parks
The view from atop Trail Ridge Road (September 2018)

Grand Canyon National Park

We think that many of the national parks in the west are amazing. But none of them are as grand as Grand Canyon National Park! This was the last national park we visited during our national park roadtrip, and it did not disappoint. Grand Canyon National Park is located in the state of Arizona, and stretches over 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 1 mile deep. It’s enormous!

Hiking down to the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park is a multi-day excursion, so it’s not that optimal if you have kids, but you can certainly drive along the rim and enjoy the breathtaking views. Entrance into Grand Canyon National Park is $35. The park is open all year long for the South Rim, and open from May to October for the North Rim. There are 8 lodges located at Grand Canyon National Park, mostly along the South Rim. There are also 2 campgrounds located within Grand Canyon National Park, as well as a trailer village.

Grand Canyon National Park, one of the western national parks
Looking out into the Grand Canyon (October 2018)

Redwood National Park

Probably the most spectacular of the western national parks is Redwood National Park, located in the northern part of the state of California. This national park is home to some of the United States’ oldest trees, the redwoods. These trees can reach heights of hundreds of feet, and many are even wider than cars! We visited this national park last year, and loved hiking through the forest among these gentle giants.

Redwood National Park is open all year long. There is no entrance fee to go into Redwood National Park. There are only two lodges available at Redwood National Park. However, there are 4 developed campgrounds within the park, as well as a large number of lodges and campgrounds outside of the national park.

Redwood National Park, one of the national parks in the west
My daughter at Redwood National Park (August 2017)

A beautiful place to explore nature

We love visiting the national parks in the west. In my opinion, they are the most beautiful and unique parks within the United States. Having our National Park Annual Pass helped us enjoy all these parks at such a minimal cost. It was definitely worth the investment!

If you’re interested in visiting the United States, consider planning a visit to one of these western national parks! From the forests of Olympic National Park or Redwood National Park, to the desert splendors of Arches National Park or Mesa Verde National Park, you will not be disappointed by the magnificent natural beauty that the United States has to offer.

Have you visited any of these national parks in the west? Share your story in the comments!

10 Must See National Parks in the West

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25 Responses

  1. Wow! It’s amazing how many National Parks you were able to visit on your roadtrip. I love that you saw the Grand Canyon last and even after seeing all of those other amazing places, the Grand Canyon didn’t disappoint you. My family and I visited Arches last July and we were blown away! I was amazed at how many different arches there were. A word of advice to those visiting Arches in the summer–go early in the morning! It is SO hot. Thanks for the great article and inspiration for visiting our National Parks.

    1. Great tip about Arches, Amanda. We went in the summer, and did our hiking in the morning, just as you said. The afternoon was spent checking out the visitors center and hanging out in Moab.

  2. What a great post for people wanting to visit national parks in the US! You’ve put up all the information needed to plan a visit right in one place. Great tip on the National Park Annual Pass; would pay for itself if you visit 4 or 5 parks in a year. North Cascades looks absolutely stunning and would definitely be on our list.

  3. Great line up of places to take the kids. We took our kids to a few National Parks when they were younger. Mesa Verde was one of their favorite ones, because they got to climb up the ladders.

  4. Great article. I’ve been bitten by the National Parks bug a few years ago and now I’m obsessed with filing my passport with stamps. 😉 Crater Lake has been on my list for years as well as Arches. I loved your list. 😉
    Headed to North Dakota later this week to add a new one myself.

    1. Nice! How many stamps have you gotten? I wonder if you would have to get a new one if it got filled up. Which park are you headed to?

  5. The west of the US is absolutely magnificent. Growing up in southern California, all of our family vacations while I was a child were road trips to places like Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Joshua tree. I’m certain that these are memories I’ll hold on to forever, as will your little! The national park pass is DEFINITELY worth it!

  6. Whoa! This is such an amazing list! As a kid, I lived visiting National parks and they made for great memories even as I grew up. Stunning pictures! I absolutely love the idea of passport books to get stamps on. And given the entry fee of some of these parks, getting an annual pass sounds so worth it. I would love to get one for myself someday!

    1. Thanks, Arti! We got the passport books for our kids because we thought they might enjoy stamping their books, but in actuality, the parents like to do it just as much as the kids. 🙂

  7. I have done East coast trip and waiting for next West coast trip in the US. You have listed all best ten national park of the west coast. I would love to visit Yellowstone National Park and Crater National Park first.

    1. The East coast is fun to visit too. There are some national parks over there that I haven’t yet had a chance to see, like Acadia and the Great Smoky Mountains.

  8. Ok, maybe it is our conscience, but reading this feels like you are calling two of us out for not visiting all these parks when we lived on the west coast. From your description we have missed some great opportunities and need to get back west and get hiking! Immersing yourself in nature is the best way to connect to our inner nature. We get so detached from wilderness living in the city. Thanks for sharing this list and inspiring us to get wild in the future.

  9. Can’t believe I never knew about the annual pass! I don’t live in the States, but over the last two years, I’ve been venturing to so many national parks there and the pass would’ve saved me quite a bit. I was also just in Oregon a few weeks ago although I didn’t get a chance to hit up Crater Lake. This is getting me excited to get back and explore more though!

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Hi, I'm Astrid

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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