Beautiful Landscape of Grand Canyon from Desert View Point with the Colorado River. Photo Credit: Getty Images
The best two-day itineraries for 5 US national parks
The United States have some of the most beautiful National Parks which are operated by the National Park Service in the US. The large number of protected areas in the US which have been classified as National Parks are known all over the world for their unique geological features, breath-taking beauty, striking and diversified ecosystems as well the large number of recreational opportunities that they offer. These National Parks have a rich and diverse range of flora and fauna, and several trekking trails making them a paradise for adventure lovers. They make for a wonderful destination to spend time with your families and friends or reconnect with them over a fulfilling vacation. Most importantly, visiting National Parks are a great way to reconnect with Nature and take back beautiful memories and experiences.
Here are some of the National Parks in the US you must consider visiting during your next vacation!
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon National Park, a natural wonder that cradles two billion years of geological history, with 40 layers of rock shaped into buttes, spires and cliffs, is located in the northwestern part of Arizona. The Grand Canyon will leave you awestruck with the sight of massive expanse of gorges, ridges and rock formations. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and attracts around 6.2 million visitors annually. Filled with magnificently colourful walls, this canyon used to be inhabited by the native Americans around 12,000 years ago. The US poet Harriet Monroe called it ‘the abode of gods’.
How to reach: To reach Grand Canyon, you can either book a flight to Las Vegas or Phoenix. The closest airport is located in Flagstaff which is located an hour away from the South Rim. Thereafter, public transports and rented cars are the best ways to reach the Grand Canyon.
Things to do:
- You can take a tour of the Desert View Road, the Grand Canyon Village and the Hermit Road which are all located in the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The Hermit Road is around 7 miles long which begins at the Grand Canyon Village and ends at Hermit’s Rest. Attractions on this side of the Grand Canyon include Grand Canyon Village, the South Kaibab Trail, Bright Angel Trail, Mather Point, the Yavapai Geology Museum and more. The Grand Canyon Village is also a place where you can lodge if you are not into camping.
- The North Rim in Grand Canyon is filled with a large number of trails for visitors to explore. The Bright Angel Point in the North Rim is one of the most popular spot from where you can enjoy a view of the Roaring Springs. You can also take a tour of the highest point on the North Rim, the Point Imperial.
- One must definitely indulge in stargazing while visiting the Grand Canyon. The star parties held in the month of June, can be a treat for astronomy lovers as you can indulge in free telescopic views of the night sky as well as photo workshops.
- Half-day and all-day smooth water trips from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry may be arranged by any lodge within the park.
- With its layered crimson rocks and winding Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is a sight to behold – especially from the air. To enjoy a unique perspective of the canyon and surrounding landmarks like the Hoover Dam, consider booking a helicopter tour. Many tours that depart from Las Vegas offer round-trip hotel transportation, making for a fun and convenient outing away from the Strip.
- While Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend are technically not located within Grand Canyon National Park, they are both within driving distance of the park, making for an excellent daytrip. Travelers can tour both breathtaking attractions on the same day.
Places to eat:
- El Tovar Lodge Dining Room – Dine in sophistication like Teddy Roosevelt did in 1906 at the El Tovar Dining Room at Grand Canyon National Park with huge windows framing views of the Rim Trail. Breakfast options include El Tovar’s pancake trio (buttermilk, blue cornmeal and buckwheat pancakes with pine-nut butter and prickly-pear syrup), and blackened trout with eggs. Dinner reservations are accepted up to 90 days in advance if you are staying at El Tovar, or 30 days in advance online for general park visitors. Their wine list features 100 varieties of wine produced from prominent domestic wineries. Pair it with steak for lunch.
- Phantom Ranch – Located in the Grand Canyon National Park, the Phantom Ranch is a place you can visit to eat while on your Rim adventure. It’s one of the best places to stop by for food mid hike.
Yellowstone National Park
The Yellowstone National Park in America is located in the western part of the United States. It was the first national park which came into being in the US and also one of the first ones in the world. This national park is famous for many of its geothermal features as well as the abundance of wildlife that it holds. It comprises of a number of spectacular rivers, lakes, canyons and mountain ranges. This region was inhabited by Native Americans who used to live in Yellowstone for around 11,000 years and began to be explored in the late 1860s. A large number of archaeological sites in the national park have been examined by researchers as well as protected for their historical and architectural significance.
How to reach: The closest airport to the Yellowstone National Park is the West Yellowstone airport located in Montana.
Things to do:
- The Old Faithful Geyser is one of the remarkable geothermal features of the Yellowstone National Park. The geyser got its name during the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in the year 1870. It is marvelous to watch the geyser live in action as it erupts at almost regular intervals and several times during the day.
- The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the major landmarks of the Yellowstone National Park. It is the largest hot spring in the US and the third largest in the world, and is bigger than a football field at 370 feet in diameter. The Grand Prismatic Spring has beautiful layers of colors with bright bands of orange, yellow, and green ringing the deep blue waters which results from the different types of heat-loving bacteria living around the spring.
- This national park has over 1700 species of flora and a large variety of fauna which makes it a perfect destination for Nature lovers. Some of the commonly found animals in Yellowstone include the coyote, elk, moose, cougars, Rocky Mountain wolf, grizzly bears and so on.
- You can take a walking tour of the Upper Geyser Basin where you will find a large number of geysers. This place has the largest concentration of geysers on Earth accounting for 25% of the world’s geysers, the Old Faithful Geyser being one of them.
- Lamar valley in Yellowstone is often referred to as America’s Serengeti, with Grizzly, Black Bears, Pronghorn, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Osprey, and Bald Eagles being some of the wildlife calling this part of the world home. This place is also filled with beautiful landscapes which makes it a place worth visiting.
Places to eat:
- The Old Faithful Inn Dining Room – The Old Faithful Inn Dining Room in Yellowstone National Park is one of the most famous restaurants to dine in. This place has a wonderful ambience with lip-smacking American food.
- Old Faithful Basin Store – If you want to grab some breakfast in Yellowstone National Park, the Old Faithful Basin Store is the place you must definitely visit.
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel – With the most glamourous and elegant dining room, the Lake Hotel is known for its stunning views and fine food. Breakfast and lunch are first come, first served, but reserve in advance for dinner, when you can go for fresh fish or bison but also lobster florentine or Montana wagyu beef, depending on the mood.
- Drinks – At pretty much any of the general stores, you’ll find local beers with quirky names you probably haven’t seen before: Otter Water, Moose Drool, Bitch Creek, Highlander Bison Tale Pale Ale, Old Faithful Ale, Twisted Tea (huckleberry flavor), Teton Amber, and Family Vacation.
Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Teton National Park is an American national park located in north western Wyoming. The national park gets its name from the tallest mountain of the Teton range, the Grand Teton. This national park was established in the year 1929 and attracts around 3.3 million visitors annually due to its magnificent snow-capped peaks, its slow flowing rivers and lakes. The Grand Teton is as old as 11,000 years and is a home of a beautiful ecosystem. The national park also has several opportunities of outdoor activities for its visitors.
How to reach: The Grand Teton National Park is located around 56 miles away from the southern entrance of Yellowstone and hence can be easily covered by a scenic drive through the road. The nearest airport is the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) which is located within the Grand Teton National Park.
Things to do:
- The Grand Teton National Park has opportunities for hiking, mountaineering, fishing, and various other activities. This is also a wonderful site for cross country skiing as well as snowshoeing. This place is also known for trout fishing and is one of the best places to catch the River Snake fine-spotted cutthroat trout.
- Some of the species of flora and fauna found in the Grand Teton National Park dates back to the prehistoric times. The national park has around 1,000 species of vascular plants, and a variety of grass, moss, lichen and wild flowers. This place is also the home of the red squirrel, grizzly bears, Clark’s nutcracker, beavers, otters, elks, antelopes and bisons.
- You can take a drive to the Signal Mountain where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire Park, the Teton range, as well as the Jackson lake.
- For the most spectacular view of the Jenny lake one must definitely stop by the Jenny Lake overlook. You can drive along the Eastern edge of the Jenny lake to enjoy this phenomenal view. The Jenny Lake is also a wonderful spot for kayaking and canoeing.
- You can also hike to the Taggart Lake which is also one of the easiest and shortest hiking trails in Grand Teton National Park. Here, you can also witness phenomenal views of the Teton mountain range.
Places to Eat:
- Leek’s Marina & Pizzeria – When you are on your way to the Grand Teton National Park, you can visit the Leek’s Marina & Pizzeria for some delicious garlic bread and pizzas and draft beer. This place also offers a breath-taking view of the Grand Tetons! This casual but cozy eatery also serves soup, salad and sandwiches, and has a basic kids’ menu.
- The Mural Room – The Mural Room in Jackson is one of the best places to visit when you are visiting the Grand Teton National Park. It is a beautiful restaurant in Jackson Lake Lodge with a mesmerizing view of the Jackson Lake and the Tetons! Gourmet selections include game dishes and juicy vegetable Wellington. Breakfasts are very good; dinner reservations are recommended.
Zion National Park
Zion national park, a wonderland of sandstone slot canyons, lush hanging gardens, and cascading waterfalls, is located near the town of Springdale in southwestern Utah. This National Park is known for its four different types of life zones – desert, riparian, woodland and coniferous forest. The diversity in its life zones allows the growth of a variety of plant and animal species. The walls of the canyon have a beautiful reddish and tan-like colour. This park is known for its unique geography.
How to reach: The closest airport to Zion National Park is the Mccarran International Airport which is located in Las Vegas. This airport is located around 170 miles away from the National Park. The second closest airport is the Salt Lake City International Airport located around 311 miles away from the park.
Things to do:
- A trip to the Kolob Canyons between March and October can make for a great and memorable experience. It is located at Exit 40 on Interstate 15, 40 miles north of Zion Canyon and 17 miles south of Cedar City. A scenic drive along the Kolob Canyons Road allows visitors to view the crimson canyons and gain access to various trails and scenic viewpoints. Here in the northwest corner of the park, you can marvel at narrow parallel box canyons cut into the western edge of the Colorado Plateau, forming majestic peaks and 2,000 foot cliff walls.
- The most dramatic section of Zion National Park is Zion Canyon. With towering cliff walls on both sides, you can drive through or take a tour on a shuttle bus along the Zion Canyon where you can come across a magnificent view of the Angels Landing which is a wonderful rock formation and the Narrows which is the narrowest section of the Zion canyon. You can also hike to the Angels Landing and the Narrows.
- There are also a large number of hiking trails in Zion which varies in its difficulty levels. Some of the hiking trails include the Canyon Overlook which offers a view of the Lower Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon, and the Middle Emerald Pools.
- The Weeping Rock is another site where you can witness a hanging water-dripping stone. On closer inspection, you would be awarded with the phenomenal view of the hanging garden which clings to the walls of the rock.
- Zion National Park is also famous for the large number of bird species which include bald eagles, Mexican spotted owls, Peregrine falcons, California condors and animals such as coyotes, elks, porcupines, and mule deer.
Places to Eat:
- Oscar’s Café – Oscar’s Cafe located in Springdale near Zion national park is well-known for its delectable food and ambience. They serve amazing burgers, pork ribs, carrot cakes and shrimp tacos.
- Cafe Soleil – Cafe Soleil near Zion National Park serves delicious vegetarian friendly American food. They have delicious wraps and breakfast sandwiches worth trying!
- Bit & Spur Restaurant & Saloon – A warm atmosphere that’s perfect for Southwestern American food. This place is also known for Southern Utah’s largest fare of micro-brews and fresh fruit margaritas.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The Bryce Canyon National Park was established in the year 1928 and attracts around 2.7 million visitors annually. Bryce Canyon showcases the stunning geology of southern Utah, a red-rock wonderland created by wind, water, and snow. These geological structures are called hoodoos which are formed by stream erosion of sedimentary rocks and frost weathering. These hoodoos are scattered throughout the area making it a fascinating place to explore. One can call it Nature’s amphitheater as the canyon is adorned with red, white and orange pillars!
How to reach: The Mccarran International Airport, and the Salt Lake City International Airport are some of the closest international airports to the Bryce Canyon National Park.
Things to do:
- People visit the Bryce Canyon for its wonderful range of opportunities that it provides such as rock climbing, hiking, and winter cross-country skiing. It’s a naturally formed amphitheater that owes its rugged landscape to the years of water, ice, and gravity curving its terrain.
- If sweeping views of the hoodoos is all you want from a Bryce Canyon adventure, hit the Rim Trail. The path winds its way along the top of the amphitheater, with great views everywhere you look. The path stretches 5.5 miles one-way and passes by favorite spots like Inspiration, Sunrise and Sunset points as well as Fairyland and Bryce points. Sunset Point is home to some of Bryce Canyon’s most famous hoodoos, including the Silent City, a maze of hoodoos and fins concentrated in a tight formation, and Thor’s Hammer, located just below the overlook on the northern edge.
- The Bryce Canyon has a large variety of alpine meadows and coniferous forest which are home to a large number of flora and fauna. Some of the unique species of animals found in this national park include pronghorn, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, and the Utah prairie dog.
- While visiting the Bryce Canyon National Park, one must definitely try the free Bryce Canyon shuttle in Bryce Canyon City. The shuttle takes you through a tour of the Visitor Centre and several other locations around the National Park.
- Bryce Canyon National Park’s clear air, high elevation and lack of light pollution make it a prime stargazing spot. In fact, the park is an official International Dark Sky Park.
Places to Eat:
- The Stone Hearth Grille – The Stone Hearth Grille near Bryce Canyon National Park serves excellent gourmet food and is a place worth vising!
- The Lodge at Bryce Canyon National Park– This place serves local cuisine and extremely delicious homemade pies which are to die for! They also serve delectable steaks and trout.
- Yonder Escalante – Yonder Escalante is the embodiment of the best of The American Experience in a place that is as familiar as it is unique. Located near Bryce Canyon National Park and within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, on the grounds of an old Drive-In movie theater, Yonder borders some of America’s most beautiful places and provides its guests the opportunity to experience the American West in a way that will never be forgotten. The indoor-outdoor clubhouse is a great place to read a book, meet with friends or enjoy breakfast while gazing at the extraordinary landscape beyond. Equipped with indoor fire pits, a vintage record player, board games and a library, the clubhouse is the hub of the property and available for all to enjoy.
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A New Yorker at heart, an unapologetic anglophile, national parks explorer and former head of National Geographic publishing in India, Ritika is the Global Editor for Travel and Food Network and leads all journalism across platforms, including news, digital, videos, and social media. She writes features focused on narrative storytelling, industry trends, destinations, culinary travel, and how-to advice and is an advocate for sustainable travel. You can follow her on Instagram @newyorkeratheart