Reader Participation Survey: Help Us Name the Top 100 National Park Locations to See Before You Die

Earlier this week we touched on the national parks mentioned in the book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Somehow, Mammoth Cave National Park didn't make the cut, and if you've been there, you know it should have. Help us compile a list of the top 100 national park locations to see before you die. We'll start the list.

* Mammoth Cave National Park. The longest cave in the world -- and still with no end in sight! -- this underground labyrinth presents geologic wonders sculpted down through the millenia by trickling waters.

* Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park. This geyser has been amazing viewers for hundreds of years.

* Half Dome, Yosemite National Park. Just making the trek to the top of this granite dome is something you'll never forget. Gazing down into the Yosemite Valley is another marvel.

* Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Why the architects of the cliff dwellings that drape Mesa Verde fled the region continues to be a mystery. Today the dwellings are a showcase of the tenacity and ingenuity of a long ago society.

* Logan Pass, Glacier National Park. While the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a main attraction for those visiting Glacier, stopping atop Logan Pass to snap photos of the ever-present mountain goats and to look at the whittling long-ago glaciers did to the surrounding mountains is an image that stays with you long after your vacation ends.

* The Racetrack, Death Valley National Park. True, it takes some determination to reach the Race Track, but when you pass Tea Kettle Junction and finally reach the playa with its rocks that mysteriously snake across the landscape, you're left with a mystery that you'll talk about for years.

* Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park. An idyllic setting on an island that is idyllic on its own, the pond and its pond house, where you can snack on over-sized popovers smothered with strawberry jam, or stick around for a lobster dinner, is one of the iconic settings in the National Park System.


Canyonlands National Park is my all time favorite. We did a multi-day canoe trip down the Green River and it still ranks number one on my list of vacations. The scenery is stunning.

While I agree that Death Valley should be on the list, if you have a high clearance vehicle and can make it to the Racetrack, you can get to plenty of other gorgeous places that are off the beaten path. Last March, we drove up Trail Canyon Road off West Side Road and camped above the valley across from Artist's Point. It was stunning.

Can you put a finer point on that Canyonlands recommendation, Island Paddler? All parks are places, of course, but many nature-based national parks are very big, with hundreds of meritorious sites. So..... what place/site in Canyonlands are you recommending for the "must see" list?

I'd add spring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the list. Sunrise from Clingman's Dome can be incredible on the right morning. The wildflowers are incredible on the roadsides and trails.

If you hike up to Half Dome, go up via the mist trail. Even if Half Dome is out of your reach go to the top of Nevada Falls and take the John Muir trail back down. Bring rain gear. If the sun is shining you will see a rainbow at Vernal Falls.
If you go to Yellowstone you must see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. All the view points are worth going to, but Artist Point is the must see.
Hike up Old Rag in the Shenandoah NP. You must do the trail that starts outside the park. I've never had more fun on a hike.

Hall of Mosses, Olympic National Park. The iconic temperate rainforest scenery.

Mist Trail at Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park. 360 degree rainbows, stunning waterfall, staircase through the mist...

Empire Bluff, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. 400 feet directly above Lake Michigan with dunes stretching to the north and the Manitou Islands on the horizon. Best sunsets in the Midwest.

To Bob,

The river was the highlight. We didn't drive around the park, but rather paddled down the Green River. Just the two of us in a canoe we rented from Texas Riverways in Moab. They drove us to the put in. We met up with their jet boat just past the confluence with the Colorado for a jet boat trip back up the Colorado.

I can't think of any particular section of the river that was more stunning than the rest. I just liked all those red rocks and peacefulness. While there were other canoers on the river, we camped each night by ourselves on some sandy beach.

It was an easy trip. No rapids, but all that lovely scenery. I'd do it again in a heartbeat if we didn't have plenty of other places to see before we get too decrepit to do these types of trips.

Sorry I can't be more specific, but it really was the river.

I would agree the Mist Trail at Yosemite is great. For dramatic views and landscape, Burroughs Mountain Trail at Mount Rainier is spectacular. For family fun and adventure, the mule ride into the Grand Canyon is as good as it gets.

Joshua Tree National Park! Such an ALIVE desert! The rock formations seem otherworldly. The beautiful displays of flowers in springtime are wonderful. Bird watching, and plenty of lizards to boot! Plus the historical aspects - mining and ranching still has some artifacts intact. There are subtle clues at to the native population, for those who know how to read them. Quiet hiking, rock climbing.... And gigantic back country areas where you will not see another human - or their litter - for the entire time out! Joshua Tree really is a wonderful place!

Devil Canyon Overlook in Bighorn Canyon NRA. A thousand vertical feet of geologic history right beneath you.
Easily accessible and simply stunning!

The Grand Tetons are a wonderous sight. The wildlife is amazing. I felt so peaceful there. This is one place you need to see before you die.

I second the Grand Canyon mule ride and Old Rag in Shenandoah, which is great during foliage season. For Glacier, I loved Iceberg Lake - no glaciers there, but the cliffs are stunning. Kayaking in and out of the seacaves dotting Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands is also fantastic, with lots of seals, dolphins, and other sealife to keep you company!

We're at 18 folks, quite a ways to go. How 'bout:

* Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

* The amphitheaters are Bryce Canyon National Park

* Zion Canyon in Zion National Park

* The battlefields at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

* Bear Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park

* Moro Rock at Sequoia National Park

* The fossil-studded cliff face at Dinosaur National Monument.

That brings us to 25!

A fall hike and then a boat ride in Pictured Rocks. Absolutely beautfiul.

Sleeping Bear Dunes in the fall!

Also, watching the sunrise in Acadia National Park and then taking a bike ride on the carriage trails.

*Painted Canyon Overlook, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, North Dakota
*Blackrock Summit, Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia
*East Rim Overlook, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Oneida, Tennessee
*Twin Arches, Big South Fork NRRA

I forgot Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! Hiking across Kiluaea Iki and then checking out Pele's home in Halemaʻumaʻu crater is a must.

If we can do National Monuments then going up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty is just awesome.

The carriage roads at Acadia NP
The fruitlands and petroglyphs at Capital Reef NP
The monoliths at Zion NP
The zoodoos at Bryce
Arches NP
The NORTH rim of the Grand Canyon
Natural Bridges NM
I agree with Moro Rock at Sequoia NP, Yosemite Valley overlook, Death Valley zastness, and Glacier NP's Road to the Sun, Rocky Mtn High, Mesa Verde's mysteries, Montezuma's Castle, Painted Desert and Canyon De Chelly!!!!
The solemn area of Gettysburg NP
AND the Chincoteague ponies at Assateague.
Can not leave out all of Washington DC
Can I add the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway
The memorial site of Oklahoma City - its simplicity!!
The seldom visited Great Basin NP and caves
I'm sure I am leaving out others that I've visited - will add as I reminisce!

BUT NUMBER ONE FOR ME - YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - the first and still the most wondrous of all that I've visited - over and over and over again.

Grove of the Patriarchs at Rainier.

Having a buffalo herd suddenly shift to surround you at Yellowstone.

The solemn experience of the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The Hoh Rain Forest.

Climbing Star Dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park
Hiking along the Chilkoot Trail or strolling through the Historic District at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Whale watching in San Juan Island National Historical Park
Sea kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park
The Elk rut in Rocky Mountain National Park
Wolf watching in Yellowstone National Park

I will also second:
The Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic NP
Hiking up the volcano in Hawai'i Volcanoes NP
and the Battlefield at Gettysburg NMP

A Spring float on the Buffalo National River to include camping on a gravel bar and watching the moonrise over the bluffs.

Places of Religion to Visit before You Die

Some would argue, and I would tend to agree, that all national parks are places of religion. But many sites in the national park system have specifically religious histories, and a number of these continue to serve explicitly religious purposes. Some of my favorites include:

The churches at all four of the primary locations in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, San Antonio, Texas. Each of these Spanish colonial mission churches is unique with its own qualities: the largest and most popular is Mission San José; Mission Concepción has remarkable colonial-era ceiling paintings in one of the buildings; my favorite is Mission Espada, the smallest and most remote of the four sites.

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark [**] in northern Wyoming. This ceremonial site is of unknown origin, and the specific ritual uses of its builders remain a mystery, but it is still an actively used sacred site for contemporary Native American communities.

[** Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark is not part of the National Park System. It is a U.S. Forest Service holding. Ed.]

The Ebenezer Baptist Church at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. This is the historic home church of the civil rights leader, now preserved as a museum space; the Ebenezer congregation has a new church directly across the street. King’s tomb is next to the historic church.

The Chapel at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Built to serve troops stationed at Fort Yellowstone, the chapel was consecrated in 1913 and was the last building that the army built there. It has remained in more or less continuous use since then, currently utilized for weddings and regular Sunday morning services during the summer season.

The picturesque and widely photographed Chapel of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal place of worship in Grand Teton National Park.

The view of Wizard Island at Crater Lake.
Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch and the Windows Section at Arches National Park.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The Mud Pots at Yellowstone National Park.
Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde.
Mt. Rushmore.
The colors of the Badlands.
Painted Desert at the Petrified Forest.
So many to choose from...

For the SERIOUS hiker... hike to the bottom of the Black Canyon of Gunnison and back. you will never forget that hike.

Nor would you forget the hike from the South or North Rims of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado and back up!

What about Big Bend Nat'l Park in Tx? I've been there 3x and always find something new to enchant: javolinas, dagger yucca and the secret hot springs just to name a very few.

A few of the most memorable spots I've been lucky enough to see that haven't yet been mentioned (in no particular order):

The view from Harper's Corner in Dinosaur National Monument
Walking up to the rim of Cedar Breaks National Monument on a winter's day
The top of the big dune in the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Exploring the lava tubes at Lava Beds National Monument
The Korean and Vietnam War Memorials
The Chateau at Oregon Caves
Visiting the bristlecones in the Great Basin National Park

And of course many of those already mentioned.

Snowshoeing in Sequoia National Park after a big snowstorm! Nothing so beautfiul as the giant sequoias, blue sky and 3 feet of snow.

Dante's View in Death Valley National Park.
Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point (I think it's a better view than half dome).

If, as planned, we get the San Gabriel National Recreation Area, I have quite a few must-see spots to name there!

The sea caves at the Apostle Islands.

In no particular order:
- Navajo Trail in Bryce Canyon. Any reasonably fit person can do it (including my then two year olds) and the views are incredible
-Going to the Sun Road in Glacier. I know its been mentioned but it truly is one of the greatest drives on the planet.
- Glacier Point in Yosemite. Wow- what a view!
- Walk amongst the Redwoods at Redwood NP.
- Sunrise at Haleakala NP
- Inspiration Point at Grand Teton will always hold a special place in my heart
- Hayden Valley at sunrise or sunset in Yellowstone to view the American Serengeti
- Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic NP
- Pay your respects at the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor
- View SF and the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands, specifically the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

I wholeheartedly agree with all the posts here that places like Mammoth Cave,Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc. are spectacular and certainly not to be missed. I regularly travel through the Smokies and I would be remiss in not adding them to the list. But I'm afraid that we are sometimes too much in love with the monumental and the grandeur while we miss the small and beautiful that is also a part of our National Park System. We recently took a boat ride from Everglade City and what a treat. Out of season, there were just seven of us on the boat. The peace and tranquility of the trip made us realize that our National Park System isn't always about that spectacular mountain view; sometimes it's about preserving a place of silence and wonder.

Sequoia National Park: The backcountry, Mount Whitney, but most of all, the park's namesake: the ancient, awe-inspiring GIANT SEQUOIA GROVES. Envision Yosemite without the crowds.

Hiking to the top of the unnamed peak above Fletcher Lake in Yosemite with views of Mount Lyell, the Lyell Glacier, and Irland and Evelyn Lakes; spending a night during full moon in the summit crater of Wizard Island at Crater Lake National Park (probably not allowed, or only allowed under special permitted conditions); hiking to the Canyon Overlook in Zion National Park by full moon to observe sunrise and first light on the Temples and Towers of the Virgin; spending a night under the stars at Alaska Basin along the Teton Crest Trail in the Grand Tetons National Park; hiking the Navajo Loop and Queen's Garden Trails of Bryce Canyon, in the dead of winter when the trails are covered in deep snow; watching a storm break over the Grand Canyon from Toroweap (as a double rainbow appears over the Colorado River); star gazing on a moonless night at the caldera rim at Crater Lake National Park; star gazing at Panorama Point in Arches National Park; hiking to Cascade Pass in the North Cascades National Park; wishing I was at lower elevation while ascending above Disappointment Cleaver on the upper slopes of Mt. Rainer; watching sunrise from Cadillac Mountain and using a mountain bike to negotiate the carriage trails in Acadia National Park.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

yellowstone,grandtetons,the bristelcones pines,up from big pine,they have a giant sequio there at big pine,both places make your spirits soar...and the drive up bear tooth highway from montana to wy.,breath taking road.

There are so many wonderful reasons to visit our National Parks and most people think of the beauty they witness. As a Country overall it is very important to me that we never forget our history and where we came from and the many different battles we had to fight to get to where we are today. Here are my suggestions: Harpers Ferry -- Would the Civil War have started without John Brown's Raid? ,
Antietam -- so we never forget the atrocities of a war between states , and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, our Country's first scenic trail from Maine to Georgisa .

Cheryl Keyrouze

I agree with Yellowstone, Yosemite and Death Valley. I would also add Badlands NP, Bryce Canyon NP, and Sequoia NP from my experience so far but after more trips I may want to add more :-)

I would add Big BNP and Hawaii Vilcanos NP for sure.

How about spending the day body surfing at Cape Cod National Seashore and then having a rum punch at the Beachcomber while the sun sets!!!

Many wonderful sites have been listed already. I would add Diablo Lake in North Cascades, NP and if we can include monuments, I would add Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument.

Ptarmigan Tunnel
Dawson Pass / Pitamakan Pass

Island Paddler, I can certainly see why you're hard pressed to "pick a spot." What a wonderful trip that must have been.

The nightskies program in the Badlands made me proud to be a citizen of this great land--kudos to the ranger staff and park volunteers who make it happen

My Top Ten List:

1. Acadia
2. Zion
3. Joshua Tree
4. Glacier
5. Redwoods
6. Yosemite
7. Yellowstone
8. Grand Canyon
9. Canyon de Chelly NM

I cannot believe that no one has mentioned Denali yet! It's just amazing and you need to go there! (Although there is something to be said about keeping it a secret!)

Also Kenai Fjords in Seward AK - my dad and I use our hike to the Harding Ice Field to compare to other hikes!

Mt. Rainier National Park! The wildflower meadows at Paradise and Tipsoo Lake...the majesty, the colors, simply stunning!

Backpacking without trails, amidst wild grizzly bears, moose, caribou, et al at Denali National Park
Hiking in the Hoh rainforest at Olympic
Camping at White River and visiting the alpine meadows above there at Mt. Rainier

I suppose size is an issue. Talking about an entire area of hundreds of square miles doesn't seem specific enough.

Canyonlands has a few notable sites including Mesa Arch. Of course Yosemite has sites like Half Dome and El Capitan. I also have incredible memories of walking through the Redwood Mountain Grove (the largest giant sequoia grove in the world) at Kings Canyon NP. If you check out the photo on my profile page, I took that photos of a mama bear with her cubs (on a downed sequoia) there.

Seriously though, the one singular location stands out for me, and that would be Delicate Arch at Arches NP. I remember how it felt coming off that ledge into the little hole and there it was in all its glory. It seemed so improbable.

The trail to Merced lake High Sierra camp in Yosemite via Sunrise High Sierra camp. This is some of the most breathtaking scenery I've seen yet. Unfortunately I was too tired to take out my camera! Another favorite of mine is Charlie's Bunion in [Great Smoky Mountains National Park].

Alright, one more; Franconia Ridge in The White Mountain National Forest in NH. I know it's not a National Park, but it's gotta count!

Only 100 locations? Here are – figuratively speaking – just a few.

I second the previously mentioned suggestions: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (in addition to Old Faithful), Yellowstone NP; and, the Grand Canyon mule ride. I would suggest taking the overnight mule ride, if possible, because you go to the bottom of the canyon and spend the night at Phantom Ranch.

Grand Teton NP is beautiful in its entirety. I would especially suggest the Cascade Canyon Trail to Lake Solitude and the South Fork of Cascade Canyon to Hurricane Pass.

Grand Canyon: I would like to add viewing it from the North Rim. The North Rim is a beautifully wooded area and is not as crowded at the South Rim. Also, the mature Ponderosa Pine have aromas like either vanilla or butterscotch -- depending on the tree -- when smelled up close.

Big Bend NP: If you like to camp, I would suggest the Chisos Basis. When my wife and I went there in 1986, we had both beautiful sunrises and beautiful sunsets. There was a good amount of bird life there.

Haleakala NP: The 11-mile hike across the crater -- if you’re steady on your feet and in good shape. You feel as if you’re walking through another planet. Also, I would strongly suggest using a pair of hiking sticks. For a very good reason, one of the trails is called the Sliding Sands Trail.

Great additions to the list. 1000 places should be easy. I'll add a couple from the wilderness state of Alaska.

The Noatak River in Gates of the Arctic National Park. Especially in June when you can paddle for weeks and never even see an airplane flying overhead.
The Savanoski River in Katmai National Park. Bears (of course), moose, wolves and eagles frequent the area. It takes some time and effort to get into this remote portion of the park, but it is an experience well worth it.
Great Kobuk Sand Dunes in Kobuk Valley National Park. If you stare at your boots covered in drifting red sand you could believe you are in the Sahara. But when you look up and see cranes dancing on the dunes, moose lingering in the clear sand bottomed lakes or wolves heading towards their den you know it can only be Arctic Alaska.

Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with its chapels, school, houses and of course, the elk.

Danny Bernstein