If you visited every national park in America and stopped at every scenic overlook, every half-circle marked on the map next to the road to indicate a viewpoint, and every place with a handrail to keep you from falling off the edge while you looked at the scenery and contemplated your place in the universe, well, you’d be pretty busy for the next couple decades. How about we narrow it down for you, just a little? Here are the 10 best viewpoints in U.S. national parks, a more manageable list-which will still take you the better part of your paid vacation for a year or two.
1. Stony Hill Overlook, Denali National Park
You can’t drive the 92-mile Denali Park Road in your car, but Denali National Park’s tour buses and shuttle buses can, and they’ll stop here to let you out and take a look at the highest mountain in North America, which fills your camera’s viewfinder with about 17,000 feet of snowy vertical relief.
2. Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park
When you go to Yosemite, you’re probably thinking about at least two famous rocks: Half Dome in all its Ansel Adams glory, and the 3,000-plus feet granite face of El Capitan. When you pop out of the tunnel on CA 41 on your way into the park, don’t ask anyone in the car if they want to stop-just pull over to the parking lot on the left and get some photos of the entire valley, including El Cap and Half Dome, spread out underneath you.
3. Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park
At just over 2,400 feet tall, Yosemite Falls is the tallest measured waterfall in North America (and sixth- or seventh-tallest in the world, depending on whose list you use). Pretty swell of the Park Service to build a parking lot right at the base, where you can open your car door, step out, and pick up your jaw off the asphalt.
4. Bryce Point, Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon has four great viewpoints looking down at the bizarre pink and orange hoodoos below, but Bryce Point trumps them all with the highest vantage point and a view of the whole amphitheater. Get there at sunrise to watch the light show.
5. North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park
If you want to see the Grand Canyon and get your socks wowed off, but don’t want to share it with the 1 bajillion tour bus passengers who visit the South Rim every seven minutes, try the North Rim. It’s a bit longer walk to get an ice cream cone than it is on the South Rim, but it’s worth it-same enormous, 80-million-year-old canyon, but much closer to nature.
6. Snake River Overlook, Grand Teton National Park
Ansel Adams made the Tetons famous with his photo from this exact spot, right on U.S. 191. You will not take the same photo as he did (trees that have grown over the past 70-some years obscure the river a little bit now), but there’s no harm in getting your own version. Get there at sunrise for alpenglow.
7. Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is known for its density of big, rugged glaciated mountains. At the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, you can sit down at a picnic table and have a cup of coffee with them right in your face: perched on Hurricane Ridge itself, the visitor center is a quick 40-minute drive from the town of Port Angeles, up into the alpine. And it’s open year-round.
8. Range View Overlook, Shenandoah National Park
There are dozens of viewpoints in Shenandoah National Park to take in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and you could argue for days about which one is the best. Give us one, and only one, at we’ll take Range View: Its southern exposure means a view of a huge chunk of the mountains-which are of course best when they’re wearing their fall colors.
9. Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
At just over 5,000 feet, Newfound Gap is the highest drivable point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. U.S. 441 climbs 3,000 feet from either side to the top, where views of mountainsides abound on all sides of the huge parking lot.
10. Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park
The top of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain is famous for being the first place the sun rises in America-that’s partially true, as it does in fall and in winter, but not exactly in other times of the year when the sun’s orientation is different. Regardless, it’s a magnificent view, a sunrise over the ocean from the highest point on America’s East Coast. And you can drive to the top with a cup of coffee in your cupholder.
Photos by Shutterstock