We westerners are spoiled when it comes to America's glorious national parks. Forty of the 59 national parks lie in our neck of the woods, including eight of the 10 most visited. Here's our mini insider's guide to get you around six favorite national parks of the West.
Yosemite National Park, California
With nearly 1,200 square miles of majestic Sierra Nevada peaks, high-country meadows, and deep forests, Yosemite was first protected as a state park back in 1864. Its five million annual visitors are concentrated in seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley. What to do in Yosemite?
The valley's vertiginous waterfalls—which typically peak in May or June—and towering rock formations like El Capitan and Half Dome are top sights, along with the valley views from Glacier Point and the giant sequoia trees of the Tuolumne, Merced, and Mariposa groves.
Surging summer crowds disappear once school opens. "Mid-September to mid-October is a terrific time to visit," says Scott Gediman, the park's public affairs officer. "There are fewer people, the weather is warm, days are long, and there's great trail access." In some years, that's also when the wildflowers at Tuolumne Meadows, in the park's high country, are at their showiest. Spring is also a great time to visit.