Is This the Best National Park in the U.S.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Landscape, Hoodoos, Sunrise

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

There’s a certain “love the one you’re with” aspect to judging things. Whether books, or movies, or music, or – in this case – national parks, we often give preference to our most recent experience. Still bathed in the glow of something amazing it is difficult to rank older experiences objectively. Was that incredible place we just left really that much better than the incredible place we visited earlier in the year? We can’t sample them back to back in a blind taste test. Which is probably why our annual “Best Of” travel articles are always so hard to put together. It’s also why this particular post is expressed in the form of a question.

We can’t say for certain that Bryce is the best of the 62 national parks that we’ve now visited. There are so many wonderful places. Some we love for the singular experience we had while there, like having our campground overrun by a herd of bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The best places, though, are the ones that completely take us by surprise. The Grand Canyon, as incredible as it is, is somehow made smaller because of its familiarity. It’s exactly what you expect, only more so.

The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, Yellowstone in Wyoming and most recently Bryce in Utah all caught us totally unaware. More than that, each place created some dissonance between what we were seeing and what we thought we should see. The Sand Dunes didn’t seem like something we’d find in the U.S. Yellowstone didn’t feel like something that should even be on this planet. And walking among the towering hoodoos of Bryce made us feel like we weren’t in a national park at all, but touring the ruins of a three thousand year old city in a place like Turkey or Egypt.

Part of the illusion comes from the amazing way nature has of constructing things that look as if they were built by craftsmen, like these grottos.

Bryce Canyon National Park Grottos

Elsewhere the color and quality of the dusty trails and rock walls give the impression that they were built out of the same materials ancient civilizations used to raise their cities.

Bryce Canyon National Park Navajo Trail

Shannon hunkers down in what could be a Babylonian alleyway.

Watching the sun rise over these formations felt like witnessing the dawn of a completely different era. That’s something that is pretty hard to top.

Bryce Canyon National Park at Sunrise

And yet we haven’t been everywhere so tell us what we’ve missed. Share with us your favorite U.S. park and what it is that sets it apart?

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24 Comments on “Is This the Best National Park in the U.S.”

  1. nutsfortreasure December 7, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Yes this place is AMAZING

    Like

  2. customtripplanning December 7, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    My impression of Bryce Canyon, based on photos taken by family or friends, was basically “no big deal”. But I took my kids because we were in the area and doing the grand sweep of parks and they dragged me down down down into the canyon, promising to help drag me back up later. Hiking into the canyon is the ONLY way to appreciate it and I recommend it to all as long as they can walk, albeit slowly. What a feeling to be among the pillars. Wow.

    Like

  3. travelingmarla December 7, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    Bryce is our favorite national park.

    Like

  4. NewLifeOnTheRoad (@NewLifeOnRoad) December 7, 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Gosh that looks incredible! Love the idea of walking among a national park, where it takes your breath away – stunning colour and designs.

    Like

  5. marylouharris December 7, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    This is lovely. While out West, I suggest Badlands National Park. The colors are incredible. I visited when I was in southwestern South Dakota for the Leading Ladies Marathon. Another suggestion, although not a national park is to take a stop by Spearfish Canyon, a long, narrow canyon which is most of the 26-mile route for the marathon.

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  6. Animalcouriers December 7, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Almost looks like a city of cathedrals.

    Like

  7. Jessica Vealitzek December 7, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    I felt the same about the Grand Canyon–it was somehow expected. Yellowstone, for all I’d heard and seen about it, surpassed expectations. And one of the reasons I love Arches Nat’l Park is that it, like you say, took me completely by surprise.

    Like

  8. louisva December 7, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    These photos are awe inspiring. Majestic might be a better explanation. As you said, it looks almost as if it were built!!!!!

    Like

  9. zelmare December 7, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    LOVE the photographs. That first one is truly spectacular.

    Like

  10. Sojourning Abroad - Justin December 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Looks amazing! I love the Utah parks. I have always loved the Grand Canyon, but I think it becomes much better if you get a chance to raft down the river… great experience and makes you nostalgic every time you see the canyon afterwards!

    Like

  11. writecrites December 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    Now that you mention it, Bryce does look like it could sub for other places. The one that comes to mind for me is the fairy-chimney region of Cappadocia, Turkey. Amazing Bryce-like formations that people actually hollowed out and lived in. Bryce is in the top few, no doubt about it, but I would also like to throw in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. Pretty awesome with lava rivers flowing into the sea. However, timing is everything, when it comes to lava flows, and I haven’t been able to make it over to the Big Island to see the spectacle—yet.

    Like

  12. Gunta December 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Bryce was OK… but definitely not the top of my favorite parks. I’d have a hard time choosing a number one given Zion, Arches, Glacier and Redwoods just for starters.

    Like

  13. Rachael December 8, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    Bryce is gorgeous. We explored it in snow,which added even another layer of beauty because of the contrast between the white and ochre. It’s small, though. For extended interest, I might have to go with Arches, or Yosemite (out of season). And Volcanoes is hard to beat for excitement!

    Like

  14. Arizona girl December 8, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    I am in love with Bryce NP. There’s something magical about its colors, its shapes, its perspectives, it.

    Like

  15. spc30802 December 8, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Great question. For quiet I love Isle Royale. For beauty Glacier and Teton. For immense awe, Denali.
    After your post, I’ll have to add Bryce to my bucket list.

    Like

  16. Les Petits Pas de Juls December 8, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Bryce is definitely my favorite so far… but haven’t seen many others outside of Yellowstone, Zion, Arches, Monument Valley and Glacier Nat. Parks. Thanks for sharing, it makes me want to go to all the places soooooon!

    Like

  17. Fast Pam December 14, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I love all of the Utah Parks…we recently went to Yosemite – only to be enjoyed while backpacking in my opinion. And I loved Glacier National Park…great hikes and always a thrill of potentially running into a Grizzly. Great images!!

    Like

    • Brian December 16, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

      Thus far, we’ve struck out on Grizzly sightings – excepting a glimpse of a great shadowy figure lurking deep in the forest.

      Like

  18. transplantedtatar March 17, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    I couldn’t choose “the best” park in Utah, let alone in the entire United States. But Bryce and Zion do come close to the top.

    Like

    • Brian March 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

      So many good ones and so many unique ones it really is hard to choose one as “best.”

      Like

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