If you’ve ever been to a National Park before, it often feels like you jumped into the pages of a fantasy novel. Take this experience to another level by traveling solo and exploring each trail at your own pace, and read our list of the top fifteen national parks to visit solo.
Though this might not seem like the best choice due to the park’s large grizzly bear population, Glacier National Park is the perfect place to explore in several different ways that are friendly to solo travelers.
You can travel on the hiking trails by yourself, or join one of the ranger-led hikes into the mountains along with several other travelers. Or, take a trip on the Going-to-the-Sun road which takes you meandering through the valleys and mountains of the park over fifty-two miles. There is white-water rafting options as well, which are located on the southern border of the park.
- State: Montana
- Popular Trails: Grinnell Glacier (10.6 miles round trip); Granite Park Chalet via the Highline Trail (11.2 miles round trip); Hidden Lake Overlook (2.8 miles round trip)
#2 Gateway Arch
Not seen as a typical National Park, the Gateway Arch instead presents a bustling city life around its base. It was named the 61st national park in 2017 by Congress, and draws in over a million visitors every year, including numerous solo travelers.
You can of course stay on the earth and stroll around the giant structure, or you can take a tram up six hundred and thirty feet to the top of the arch, and gaze out of the small windows at the rest of the city. This is a perfect park for just a day trip, or even head over to the arch in the morning and explore the rest of St. Louis in the afternoon.
- State: Missouri
- Popular Trails: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (1.8 mile loop)
#3 Petrified Forest
Home to large groupings of petrified wood, the Petrified Forest National Park is exactly what you think it would be, amidst the beautiful backdrop of red and purple mountains. The best part about this location for solo travelers is that several jaw-dropping sights can be accessed easily off of the twenty-eight mile road that snakes through the park. Most places are less than two miles off the trail, making it a perfect spot to see a lot of natural features in a short amount of time.
Some notable sights include 200 million-year-old petrified logs, the Agate house occupied around 700 years ago, the Painted Desert with large outcroppings of mountains, or the Blue Mesa with a blue, gray, and white palette that makes you believe you’re in foreign world.
- State: Arizona
- Popular Trails: Blue Mesa Trail (1 mile round trip); Agate House Trail (2 miles); Blue Mesa Trail (1 mile)
Also Read: Meandering In: Lake Tahoe, California
#4 Island Royale
Labeled as one of the least visited national parks in the United States, Island Royale is remote due to its location near the Canadian border and only accessible by a ferry across Lake Superior. Coincidentally, it also has one of the longest average stays for visitors to the park at over two days because of its hard-to-reach beauty.
If you are a self-sufficient traveler this national park will be perfect for you due to several hiking trails, kayak rentals, and camping spots. Luckily there are no bears on the island, only some moose and wolves, but they usually do not confront visitors.
- State: Michigan
- Popular Trails: Stoll Trail to Scoville Point (4.7 miles round trip); Hike to Suzy’s Cave (3.8 miles); Hike to Grace Creek Overlook (3.6 miles round trip)
A national park that boasts amazing views as well as abundant wildlife is the Badlands, and makes for some pretty adventurous solo hiking. The main animals you should be expecting to see are bison, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep.
Along with the wildlife, the rolling hills of rock attract several visitors due to their unique image. The park mostly consists of grassy prairies, so make sure you bring suitable sun gear as there is no hiding in the shade on any of the trails, and there may be a lot of wind.
- State: South Dakota
- Popular Trails: Castle Trail to Medicine Root Loop (7.9 mile loop); Notch Trail (1.5 mile round trip); Door Trail (.75 miles round trip)
#6 Hot Springs
Most parks usually include a long ride into the park and the subsequent trailheads, but Hot Springs national park is different because it is right next to the city of Hot Springs. This means you can explore the park during the day and still be able to drive back to the hotel afterwards, making it perfect for solo hikers.
Named a national park in 1921, these hot springs have been federally protected for nearly 200 years. Along with a couple of hiking trails around the peak of the mountain, you can take a dip in one of two operational bathhouses with the pools near one hundred degrees.
- State: Arkansas
- Popular Trails: Hot Springs Mountain Trail (3.3 mile loop); Sunset Trail (10 miles one way); Whittington Trail (2.4 miles round trip)
#7 Great Smoky Mountains
Winning the title of the most-visited national park in the United States is the Great Smoky Mountains, pulling in more than fourteen million visitors every year. Though there are not really any points of interest to drive to, there are plenty of excellent hiking trails and campgrounds that will make your trip memorable.
Some of the trails are longer and more advanced than others, but you can always decide to turn back whenever you want. There is also Clingman’s Dome, which is the highest point in the park, and has a viewing tower built on the top where you can get a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. This is a definite must, but you should try to go early to beat the crowds.
- State: Tennessee/North Carolina
- Popular Trails: Chimney Tops Trail (3.6 miles round trip); Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (6.5 miles one way); Andrews Bald (1.8 miles one way)
#8 Carlsbad Caverns
Known for its main cave, Carlsbad Caverns is a destination perfect for earth science lovers and solo travelers alike. Group cave tours are offered, including the King’s Palace Tour where you can go 830 feet below the surface and discover stalagmites and stalactites formed over thousands of years.
A small downside to this national park is since the main attraction is the cave, there are not many other hiking trails to explore. But there are some hikes you can go on, or wait until dusk at the Bat Flight Amphitheatre for a ranger-led show.
- State: New Mexico
- Popular Trails: Juniper Ridge Trail (5.5 miles round trip); Old Guano Trail (3.7 miles one way); Lower Rattlesnake Canyon (3 miles one way)
Due to forty percent of this national park being water, Voyageurs is a great place to travel alone, because the best way to see everything is with a group ferry tour. You can choose a tour as short as two and a half hours, or up to five and a half hours long with notable stops such as the Kettle Falls Hotel or Little American Island.
Bald eagles are also very prominent in the park, so you’re sure to see at least one flying around. The visitor center presents another layer to this park, and why these northern waterways were so crucial to early French settlers and Native American traders in the 1700s when trade was a matter of life or death.
- State: Minnesota
- Popular Trails: Blind Ash Bay Trail (3 miles round trip); Oberholtzer Trail (1.6 miles round trip); Echo Bay Trail (2.5 mile loop)
Read More: Meandering In: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Head on over to Utah’s first national park and take in the massive cliffs of sandstone in varying shades of cream, pink, and red. This park draws in millions of visitors every year, so there should always be at least one other hiker on the trail at the same time as you. This is especially helpful if this is your first time solo hiking, as you can make possible friends on the trail.
Since so many people come to Zion, you will want to make sure to get there early. Parking spots and hiking trails often fill up, and can create long wait times. To remedy this, you can use the shuttle system to take you around the park, so that a place to park is nothing you have to worry about.
- State: Utah
- Popular Trails: Angels Landing via West Rim Trail (5.4 miles round trip); The Narrows via Riverside Walk (up to 9.4 miles round trip); Watchman Trail (3.3 miles round trip)
Ranked as one of the best places to visit in the world, Yosemite often stuns its visitors with massive cliff faces, ancient sequoias, and numerous waterfalls plunging down into the valleys. If you haven’t been to this national park before, it should be added to your bucket list.
Similar to Zion, you want to make sure to get there early and beat the crowds. But, it is nice for solo hikers, as there is usually someone else on the trail with you, and more often than not they are quite friendly. The main thing you’ll want to see though is Half Dome, especially when the sun is first rising in the park.
- State: California
- Popular Trails: Mirror Lake Loop (5 mile loop); Yosemite Falls Trail (7.2 miles round trip); Sentinel Dome and Taft Point (2.2 miles round trip)
One of the top-ten most visited national parks in the United States is Acadia, also known as the Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast. With a rich cultural heritage and several different habitats to explore over the rocky headlands, you will never run out of enjoyment at Acadia.
Lots of other hikers will be on the trails with you, or you can always join a ranger-led expedition into the wilderness and learn some history about the park. If you decide to go to Acadia, make sure it’s during the warmer months as the winters tend to hit hard and can be quite dangerous.
- State: Maine
- Popular Trails: Gorham Mountain Loop (3.5 mile loop); Ocean Path Trail (4.4 miles round trip); Jesup Path and Hemlock Path Loop (1.5 miles round trip)
Check Out: Top 15 Solo Female Vacations in the U.S.
#13 North Cascades
If bustling parks full of visitors is not exactly what you had in mind, travel to the North Cascades national park. Being one of the least visited national parks in the United States, this is a perfect place to go and immerse yourself in nature with little to no interruptions.
Only three hours from Seattle, come explore a different world full of jagged peaks crowned by over 300 glaciers, or head down into the valleys and listen for cascading water all around you. Whatever you decide to explore, there should be few other hikers on the trails.
- State: Washington
- Popular Trails: Thunder Creek Trail (4 miles round trip); Diablo Lake Trail (7.6 miles round trip); Thornton Lake Trail (10.4 miles round trip)
#14 Big Bend
Another national park that isn’t as well-traveled as Smoky Mountains or Yosemite is Big Bend. Located in the southern part of the United States, enjoy the Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountains during your trip. Big Bend is actually the only park to have an entire mountain range in its borders, which is the Chisos.
The combination of high altitude peaks and sandy deserts makes Big Bend a perfect place to explore nature while getting away from the world. Just be aware that the temperatures get quite sweltering in the summer, so hiking any trails should be reserved for the early morning hours when it is cooler outside.
- State: Texas
- Popular Trails: Chimneys Trail (4.8 miles round trip); Lost Mine Trail (4.8 miles round trip); Boquillas Canyon Trail (1.4 miles round trip)
#15 Crater Lake
Last but certainly not least on this list is Crater Lake national park. Formed 7,700 years ago when a volcano erupted and triggered the collapse of a tall peak, this lake is filled with rainwater and snow runoff making the waters exceptionally clear. It is the deepest lake in the United States, and draws in photographers and artists alike to capture its pristine waters and the mountains surrounding it.
Solo travelers will enjoy this beautiful landscape, and the opportunity to either hike the trails or drive around The Rim Drive to take in the Cascade Mountain Range and the lake itself. Always be on the lookout for wildlife, but there should be enough foot traffic for a new or experienced solo hiker to feel at ease.
- State: Oregon
- Popular Trails: Plaikni Falls (2 miles round trip); Discovery Point (2.2 miles round trip); Mount Scott (4.4 miles round trip)
Also Read: Exploring Women Travel Groups: Pros and Cons
National Parks are a way to get out of the stress and craziness of your everyday life, and just take a moment to appreciate the world we live in. All of these parks hold spectacular sights, and if you have the chance solo or with a group, take a trip to just one of these parks and let nature change your worldview.