Sequoia National Park, California
If you love trees like I love trees, especially really big trees, then Sequoia is the place for you. I literally teared up the first time we arrived and saw our first sequoia. On our second trip to Sequoia, on our way back from Yosemite, we spotted a baby bear cub rolling in the meadow. Once we realized the mama wasn’t too far away, we hiked off in the other direction.
Great Basin National Park
How often do you get to explore under a National Park? Great Basin makes our top 10 National Parks list for one reason: Lehman Caves. On my road trip across the Loneliest Road in America, I made a brief one hour stop at Great Basin.
A few important things to note about exploring Lehman Caves: you have to reserve a tour in advance (like a few weeks in advance). There is a fee to take the tour. Do not take this tour if you are claustrophobic or have a fear of dark, tight spaces. There are areas where it is softly lit. But there are other areas where you solely rely on the small flashlight that you are responsible for bringing (BYOF-bring your own flashlight). You cannot bring anything with you into the caves-only a flashlight, and your camera or phone, and absolutely nothing else that cannot fit in your hand (no purses, no backpacks). You may want to wear a jacket because it was chilly, even in July.
I thought it was one of the coolest and unique experiences to explore part of the earth worn away by time and moisture. This is definitely a park I want to return to and explore further.
Death Valley National Park,
Death Valley is on my Top 10 National Parks list because of its raw, diverse beauty. In one National Park, you go from towering sand dunes to salt plains below sea level, to Artist Palette Dunes of sand and rock the colors of ice cream. If its adventure you crave, this is the National Park for you.
King’s Canyon National Park,
Kings Canyon is the sister (brother?) park to Sequoia, as they come together and turn from one park to the other. The twisty road from Sequoia turns to a miss of sequoia trees, towering pines, and mountains. I personally felt the energy from Sequoia was comforting while the energy in King’s Canyon was energizing (I would be interested if others had the same experience, please comment below). King’s Canyon echoed of the melting mountain snow crashing down through the valley in a rushing creek. You can visit both parks in one day if you wanted, or make it part of your road trip to Yosemite. To check out more about our trips to Yosemite click here.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Along with Death Valley, Joshua Tree has the most diversity in its landscapes from the National Parks that we have seen. In the spring, hiking to Barker’s Dam is an amazing journey and a fairly easy hike through the rocks and wildflowers. By June, the desert takes over once again and any hiking through the dry desert should be done in the very early or late hours. But that’s a key secret-the sunsets at Joshua Tree are some of the most amazing that I’ve ever seen, with the sky ablaze against the silhouettes of the Joshua Trees. I dedicated a whole blog to our golden hour sunset experience, as well as another on my first road trip to Joshua Tree.
Within a day, you can drive through the park and see fields of Joshua Trees as plentiful as a yard full of dandelions. You can drive through endless piles of boulders as if they were dropped from the sky. Then view the black rolling mountains, and walk (carefully) through the cholla.
Mojave National Preserve
Want More National Parks?
Check out the first five favorite national parks here. We included some additional photos below so you can take in our National Parks Top 10 all at once. Where to next? On our list is Yellowstone, Glacier, Smoky Mountains and Banff. In the meantime, we are just grateful we had a chance to see some of these amazing places.