10 Best U.S. National Parks for Seniors to Visit (2023)

“The story is, a man came up to Yosemite and the ranger was sitting at the front gate and the man said, “I’ve only got one hour to see Yosemite. If you only had one hour to see Yosemite, what would you do?” And the ranger said, “Well, I’d go right over there, and I’d sit on that rock, and I’d cry.”

Dayton Duncan, author of “the National Parks: America’s Best Idea

For us older adults, there’s no time to cry. It’s time to get out and enjoy the richness of America’s national parks. The United States has over 84 million acres of federally protected land. We – the American people – have parks with breathtaking vistas and abundant wildlife, as well as volcanoes, geysers, waterways, and vast cave systems to explore. Where to start? I’ve been fortunate to visit 21 national parks (two thirds of the 63 NPS parks still to see!) and suggest what I consider the must-see parks – the best national parks for seniors.

Family time in Grand Teton National Park in 1963.
My Dad, brother, and me, Yellowstone
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  • Kids at Yellowstone National Park, one of the top wildlife parks in the US
  • Sunset at Grand Canyon National Park, one of the best National Parks.
  • Amy and Dave in Yosemite National Park, a great National Park for older adults
  • Zion is one of the best national parks for seniors. Photo of Dave and Amy on overlook.
  • Mt Rainier is one of the best National Parks for seniors

Fun Facts About the U.S. National Parks

  • Hot Springs in Arkansas was the first protected reservation in the U.S. (1832) but didn’t get designated a national park until 1921.
  • In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant set aside 2 million acres of land in the area now known as Yellowstone National Park to be a public park “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
  • In 1916 the Organic Act, signed by President Woodrow Wilson, created the National Park Service. At the time there were 35 sites being managed by the Department of the Interior.
  • Today there are 423 sites in the system – 63 National Parks, 84 National Monuments, 74 National Historic Sites, 61 National Historical Parks, 31 National Memorials, and 12 more categories of protected sites.
  • The largest national park is the 13.2 million acre Wrangell-St. Elias park in Alaska (25% of which is glacier covered)
  • The smallest national park is the Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas – 5,550 acres.
  • National parks contain ~600 threatened or endangered species of plants and animals, and nearly 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures.
  • The first national park established to protect a living organism was Sequoia National Park. The largest living tree in the world – the General Sherman sequoia – stands in this park.
  • The NPS employs about 20,000 people, with work supplemented by over 275,000 volunteers.
  • The most visited park is Great Smoky Mountains, and the least visited is Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.”

George B. Hartzog, Jr.
buffalo herd in the American west. Wildlife and National Parks. Source: Pixabay

Tips for Visiting a U.S. National Park

Plan ahead! The parks have busy, slow, and shoulder seasons. And they fill up FAST! If you are restricted to visiting during the busy season, book your accommodations far in advance. We booked our Southwest parks two years in advance and got the lodges we’d hoped for. On our trip to the Pacific Northwest parks we were unable to find a room in any of the park lodges with 6 months lead time.

For information on the park’s schedule, accommodations, accessibility, etc., you can go to each park’s page on the NPS website. Note: service dogs are allowed in every park in the system. Emotional support animals are not included in the ‘service dog’ category.

Download the NPS app. It’s free and has all the information, maps, and updates you’ll need for your visit. The updates include road closures, and estimated wait times at the park’s entrances. Very important! You can use the included trail maps offline too.
[ NPS app available for Android | Apple ]

Another useful app for your visit is iNaturalist. With this app you use your smartphone to photograph and identify species seen in the parks (or anywhere!). Using iNaturalist adds enjoyment to your visit and is useful to the park for recording and monitoring species. I’ve used iNaturalist for several years and have been pleased with the simplicity of the app.
[iNaturalist available for Android | Apple ]

When you arrive at the park stop first at the park’s visitor center. The park rangers are great sources of information, and the center will often feature a film or similar introduction to the park. The center’s gift shop has the usual souvenirs, but also guidebooks and histories specific to the park. This is also where you can get your NPS passport book stamped if you enjoy this collectible activity.

America the Beautiful Senior Pass

This is the ultimate prize for reaching ‘senior’ status. The Senior Pass is a lifetime pass to every site in the park system for only $80. Note that the pass covers walk in entrance fees but also fees for a car and entrance to all the passengers in the car regardless of age! You can get the pass at any of the parks or online through the NPS website. U.S. citizens and permanent residents age 62 and older.

Other passes available:

  • Military Pass – free entrance for active U.S. military, and free lifetime pass for U.S. veterans and Gold Star families.
  • Access Pass – free lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
  • 4th Grade Pass – free admission for all U.S. 4th graders!
  • Annual Pass – $80

Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Be a responsible visitor to the beautiful national parks.

Be a Responsible Visitor to the National Parks

The National Park Service was established with the mandate to conserve the scenery, natural and cultural resources, and other values of parks in a way that will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. As visitors to the parks, and beneficiaries of this national treasure, we can do our part by following basic guidelines of ethical wildlife viewing and the principles of Leave No Trace.

Put simply:

  • Know before you go. Understanding the unique concerns and challenges of the park you’re visiting will ensure you enjoy the park in a sustainable way.
  • Stay on the marked trails.
  • Give wildlife room. Don’t approach, disturb, or attempt to feed the animals. Be aware of seasonal activities that might make wildlife more dangerous, eg. mating season, animals with young.
  • Pack it in / Pack it out. (do I really have to mention that no one wants to find your litter on the trails??)
  • In national parks with abundant wildlife, store trash and food securely.
  • Play it safe, and know your limits. (don’t make the rangers have to rescue you!)
  • Be prepared for emergencies. If you’re hiking or camping, carry the Ten Essentials.

A national park is not a playground. it’s a sanctuary for nature and for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.

Michael Frome,
For more information on sustainable and ethical tourism read: How to Be a Responsible Traveler

The Traveling Tulls Best National Parks for Seniors

These parks are chosen for several criteria –
1. truly must-see parks for the American experience,
2. relatively easy to get to by car, bus, or on a tour.
3. accessibility once inside the park. This last criteria is challenging. The National Park Service is working towards accessibility for all, but the age of the parks, the topography, etc. make many of the parks inaccessible except from viewpoints. If I’ve listed some of these parks, in my opinion they are still worth the trip.

Yellowstone National Park sulfur pools are just one reason Yellowstone is our favorite national park
Laminda Nickla on Unsplash

Yellowstone National Park

  • Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
  • First National Park in the U.S. – established in 1872
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site
  • International Biosphere Reserve*
  • Fun fact: more than half the world active geysers are in Yellowstone.

Why is Yellowstone one of the best national parks for seniors? Because (in my opinion) Yellowstone is the best park for everyone! Yellowstone has extraordinary geological features and is one of the best national parks for wildlife viewing. There are wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, bobcats and 63 other species of mammals in the park. Yellowstone is the only place in the U.S. where buffalo have roamed freely since prehistoric times.

But it’s the unique geological features that take center stage. The park is actually part of the Yellowstone Caldera, a super volcano that’s produced some of the world’s biggest volcano eruptions. Today this is evidenced in the active geysers, the sulfur pools, and the salt flats. It’s an otherworldly park.

Tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park – Yellowstone is not open year round. The park is open from late April until the roads close in September due to snow. The park reopens for snow vehicles from mid-December through March.

If you’re heading to Yellowstone add a day or two Grand Teton National Park. It’s only 31 miles from Yellowstone and is a gorgeous park with miles of trails to enjoy! Spend the night in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where you’ll enjoy great food in a traditional western atmosphere.

National Park Tours for Seniors: There are several approved bus companies which offer service in the park. Other options for park tours can be found on Viator, Road Scholar, or for the ultimate Yellowstone/Grand Teton experience book a Tauck Ken Burns trip.

Zion National Park Inn. Zion is one of the most beautiful National Parks

Zion National Park

  • Utah
  • Fun fact: originally named Mukuntuweap National Monument, its popularity improved considerably when it was renamed the more pronounceable ‘Zion’ in 1919.
  • Zion is second on the list of the most visited national parks!

Why is Zion one of the best national parks for older adults? Zion has something for everyone. For those fit (and brave!) there is Angel’s Landing, one of the most well known and treacherous climbs in any of the parks. Less dangerous but equally challenging is the hike through the Narrows, a slot canyon where you’ll be waist deep in water part of the time. But within Zion there are also gorgeous, wheelchair accessible trails, and wide fields for the kids to enjoy. And there are photo-worthy sandstone cliffs everywhere you look!

Tips for Visiting Zion National Park – Private vehicles are strongly discouraged in the park, though people with mobility issues may be granted an exception. The park operates an regular, accessible, shuttle service to all the trailheads. (Much easier than trying to drive actually!)The park is open year round, but the shuttle only begins regular run in mid-March.

Redwall Cavern - rafting the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

  • Arizona
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site
  • Fun fact: one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

What make the Grand Canyon National Park a must-see for older travelers? Carved from the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is an extraordinary sight that every American should see! The fact that it’s listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders gives you a idea of the canyon’s scope and magnificence. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles in length and at points over 1 mile in depth.

Though the trails into the canyon are inaccessible to people with mobility issues, there are many view points along the rim that make this park worth the visit. Travelers can request a scenic drive accessibility permit to allow them access to more of the park.

Tips for Visiting Grand Canyon National Park – With over 1.2 million acres of park bisected by an enormous chasm, it’s important to decide where to go. If you’re traveling from Arizona (Flagstaff, etc.) you’ll probably head to the South Rim. This is the more visited area of the park and easy to access. But if you’re combining the trip with a visit to Utah’s great parks, head to the North Rim. It’s a quieter area with many lovely viewpoints. (Note that the North Rim is closed during winter months due to snow.)

Read about our Grand Canyon river rafting adventure.

Yosemite valley, one of the best National Parks for photography

Yosemite National Park

  • California
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site
  • Fun fact: Yosemite made a bid to host the 1932 winter Olympics but lost to Lake Placid.

Why is Yosemite one of the best national parks for seniors? Yosemite is another of those iconic parks where there’s something for everyone to enjoy. It’s a photographer’s dream destination with three of the ten highest waterfalls in the world, giant sequoias, and the iconic Half Dome of El Capitan towering over the valley. In addition there’s abundant wildlife, horseback riding opportunities, hiking trails from easy to challenging, and rock climbing for the top athlete.

Yosemite has one of the grandest of the National Park Inns, the Ahwanhee Hotel. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, I’d suggest you visit to admire the architecture and get a delicious meal.

Yosemite gets VERY busy so make a reservation early if you’re interested in visiting.

Acadia National Park in Maine oceanfront. One of the most beautiful national parkss.
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Acadia National Park

  • Maine
  • Fun Fact: Acadia is the first place in the U.S. you can see the sunrise. Head to Cadillac Mountain to enjoy the view.

Why is Acadia one of the best national parks for seniors? Acadia is located on Mount Desert Island near the town of Bar Harbor, Maine. It’s is one of the top ten most visited parks in the U.S and one of the few national parks on the East Coast. That in itself makes it a great destination, but Acadia is ruggedly beautiful, with the highest rocky headlands on the Atlantic coast.

Visitors to Acadia can bike, or drive along the coast, enjoying stunning views at every turn. The park operates a wheelchair accessible shuttle to most of the park’s attractions. Or for a change from the usual national park experience, take a ranger led boat tour, or a commercial whale watching trip out of Bar Harbor. And while you’re in town, don’t forget to get a lobster roll!

Everglades National Park in Florida, mangrove forest. Source:Pixabay

Everglades National Park

  • Florida
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site
  • International Biosphere Reserve
  • Fun fact: the Everglades is the only place where crocodiles and alligators coexist.

What makes the Everglades National Park unique? The everglades are one of the most important ecosystems protected by the park service. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., the largest stand of mangrove, and is thus essential habitat for many endangered animals. Unfortunately this environment is at risk from invasive species and climate change.

Why is it one of the best national parks for senior travelers? The Everglades National Park is one of the most accessible parks in the NPS. Visitors with mobility issues can enjoy the park on boat tours or can explore on the many wheelchair accessible trails.

Note that there are distinct wet and dry seasons in the Everglades. Travel is recommended for the dry season (December through April) as the mosquito population thrives during the wet season.

Wildlife and national parks - Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to see wildlife. photo: elk, Pixabay

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Colorado
  • Fun fact: The Trail Ridge road in the highest continuous paved road in the U.S.

Why is Rocky Mountain a great national park for older adults? Rocky Mountain National Park has some of the most picturesque topography in the United States. With towering mountains and crystal-clear alpine lakes those who enjoy photography will love this park.

This is one of the top national parks for wildlife. Bighorn sheep, the largest wild sheep in the U.S., can usually be spotted from the park’s roads. Black bear and mountain lions are present, but more difficult to find. Birdwatchers will enjoy looking for the over 260 species of birds that have been recorded in the park. After a day of hiking or touring, visitors will find good food, artisan shopping, and (expensive) lodging in the town of Estes Park. Those on a budget should look towards Boulder for more economical hotels.

Rocky Mountain National Park is less than two hours from Denver but be aware that the roads will be steep at times. Admission to the park is through a timed entry from the end of May through October. Book your entry ahead of time.

Mt. Rainier National Park in the Pacific Northwest is known for its trees.

Mt. Rainier National Park

  • Washington
  • Fun fact: Captain George Vancouver, of the Royal Navy, named Mt. Rainier after his friend, Admiral Peter Rainier. The original name for the mountain (actually a strato volcano) was Tahoma, or Tacoma.

Why do we recommend Mt. Rainier as one of the best national parks for seniors? Mt. Rainier is less than 2 hours from the Seattle/Tacoma airport, making it one of the easiest destinations on this list. It is a gorgeous park with the mountain, the most glaciated peak in the continental U.S., visible from almost everywhere within the park. The park has easy trails leading to fields of wildflowers and stands of over 1000-year-old trees – Douglas-fir, hemlock, and western red cedar.

Though the park is open year-round, many of the facilities close for the winter season. Check the NPS app or webpage for more information.

Our family trip to the Pacific Northwest, including Mt Rainier and Olympic National Park.

Smoky Mountain National park is the most visited national park in the U.S.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • North Carolina, Tennessee
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site
  • Fun fact: It’s the most visited national park with more than 11 million visitors annually

Why is Great Smoky Mountains National Park a must-see park? The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its biodiversity, in part due to the mountains’ geologic history as some of the oldest mountains in the world. Of note, the park has recorded over 30 species of salamanders, giving it the nickname – the Salamander Capital of the World.

In addition to the views and wildlife viewing, visitors can also tour historic homes and learn about southern Appalachian Mountain culture. Due to the age of these homes, they are not accessible to visitors with mobility issues.

The park is open year-round, though roads may be closed seasonally. There is no entrance fee for this park.

Bryce Canyon National Park as seen from the rim trail
Bryce Canyon National Park

More of the Best National Parks for the Active Senior Traveler

Mammoth Caves National Park

  • Kentucky
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site

Why visit Mammoth Cave? It’s the longest cave system in the world!

Arches National Park

  • Utah

Why visit Arches National Park? It’s a photographer’s dream. Get there early to get those sunrise images.

Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Utah

What is unique about Bryce Canyon? There are more hoodoos (spire and pinnacle formations) than anywhere else in the world.

Mesa Verde National Park

  • Colorado
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site

Mesa Verde was the first national park established to protect man-made structures. Within the park are 600 cliff dwellings built by the Pueblo people.

Ready for adventure? Check out our guide for preparing for outdoor travel.

Beautiful National Parks We Look Forward to Visiting

We have yet to visit some of the most beautiful national parks. But we will correct that shortly! These parks are known for the beauty of their landscapes, but also for the wildlife in the national parks. We may very well add these to our list of the best national parks for seniors.

Denali National Park

  • Alaska

Glacier National Park

  • Montana
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site

Carlsbad Canyon National Park

  • New Mexico
  • UNESCO designated World Heritage Site

Kenai Fjords National Park

  • Alaska

Reading Suggestions For the National Park Traveler

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
Lassoing the Sun 
by Mark Woods
Dear Bob and Sue 
by Matt and Karen Smith
National Geographic Atlas of the National Parks
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is available to rent on Prime VideoKindle copy available FREE with Prime membership.

“If the national park is, as Lord Bryce suggested, the best idea America has ever had, wilderness preservation is the highest refinement of that idea.”

Wallace Stegner

Must-See National Parks for the Older Traveler. Suggestions for exploring the most iconic of the U.S. park system, incl. info on Senior Pass to the National Parks #USNationalParks #USParks
Best National Parks for Older Travelers, 9 iconic U.S. parks, and more, incl. info on the Senior Pass to the National Parks #nationalparks #seniorpass #travelafter50
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7 thoughts on “10 Best U.S. National Parks for Seniors to Visit (2023)

  1. You listed tons of parks I’ve been too, great recommendations! The beginning where you told facts about the park was very cool, and I LOVED the picture of you/brother/dad.

  2. I love this list of ideas for older travelers to visit the national parks! As a busy mom of 6, I have a feeling I won’t get to all of them before my kids are grown, so it’s great to hear from others who are just getting to them as seniors.

  3. This is such a great guide for older people who want to visit the stunning national Parks in the US. Great photo’s too! Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. I would love to share this article with some of my family members if you don’t mind 🙂 And I find it very useful for myself as well… so thank you for putting it together!

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