Leah here! The truth is, the National Park you should start with is the one YOU are most interested in visiting! But I know it can feel overwhelming when there are so many beautiful places to choose from. If you’re not quite ready to take the full plunge into the wilderness with the National Park system, here are three I recommend starting with:
Rocky Mountain National Park
The main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is in Estes Park, Colorado. Estes Park and the surrounding area have loads of options for lodging. From upscale hotels to riverside cabins, there is something for everyone. Downtown has great bars, restaurants, and shopping, and there are lots of activities outside of the park in case you’re not keen on spending multiple days in just the park. It’s just a short drive into the park, and there are easily accessible sights and hikes for everyone.
Right outside of Acadia National Park is Bar Harbor, Maine, a quintessential coastal New England town. Bar Harbor is full of boutique hotels, historic seaside inns, and unbelievably delicious seafood restaurants. Acadia has lighthouses, rocky shorelines, and sandy beaches. Hikes range in difficulty from gentle walks around peaceful ponds to climbing iron rungs hammered into the faces of sheer granite cliffs. There’s great bike riding on the park’s historic carriage road system and lots of options for getting out on the water. If you visit in the fall, you also get the added bonus of New England’s incredible foliage.
Zion National Park
The entrance to Zion is located in Springdale, Utah, a small but charming town surrounded by Zion’s beautiful red rock formations. During April to October, Springdale is part of Zion’s shuttle system, so you don’t even need to worry about driving your own vehicle into the park. Zion isn’t very big, so its amazing natural wonders are packed into a small area, making it feel more accessible and manageable for National Park newbies.
(The pictures are me hiking The Narrows in Zion, a view of the Rockies from Trail Ridge Road, and the Precipice Trail at Acadia National Park)
Ready to start planning your next vacation? Get started here!