West Coast National Parks: The Definitive List for 2022

Post Summary: West Coast National Parks

Magnificent waterfalls. Towering mountain ranges. Spectacular alpine lakes. The world’s largest concentration of geysers. The Western United States is home to some of the most diverse and epic landscapes in the world. The region is made up of 13 states and 3 territories. The National Parks of the West protect some of the most amazing natural features. There are 63 National Parks in the United States, 42 of them are located in the West.

These parks are some of America’s best and showcase a fraction of the national park system sites in the west. There are another 112 national parks to explore in the west. These include national monuments, historical sites, memorials, and much much more. This gives the Western United States a total of 155 national parks to explore.

The article is a guide to the Western National Parks including parks in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah Washington, and Wyoming along with the territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. We will cover:

  • Tips on Visiting the National Parks in Western US
  • Western National Park Maps
  • National Parks of the Western United States by State
  • List of National Parks West by Unit

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Looking to explore the National Parks in the West? Click HERE to learn all about the West Coast National Parks plus a range of other national park units.  national parks in the west united states	/ national parks in the western united states / national parks in western united states / national parks of the western united states / National parks west / national parks western us / national parks in the western us	/ national parks west coast / national parks on west coast

How many National Parks are in the West Coast?

There a 42 West Coast National Parks. They are split between Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

If we want to talk about all the National Park Service units in the West Coast, there are 155 national parks in the West. They are divided as follows

  • 42 National Parks
  • 48 National Monuments
  • 14 National Preserves
  • 16 National Historical Parks
  • 16 National Historic Sites
  • 1 National Battlefield
  • 3 National Memorial
  • 10 National Recreation Areas
  • 1 National Seashore
  • 1 National River
  • 1 National Parkway
  • 2 National Reserve

Tips on Visiting National Parks Out West

Best Time to Visit the National Parks in the West United States

The western national parks cover a lot of landscapes. They range from desert parks to tropical islands to Arctic tundra. These parks can range from the hottest place in the US to some of the coldest. The best time to visit these national parks depends on the park and what you would like to do in said national park.

Most national parks are busiest during the summer season due to the fact that the kids are off from school and the weather is warmer. Personally, I prefer to visit the parks during the spring or fall when possible.

Summer Parks Suggestions – Katmai, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Olympic

Fall Parks – Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Denali, Joshua Tree

Winter Parks – Death Valley, Big Bend, Saguaro

Spring Parks – Yosemite, Pinnacles, Petrified Forest

National Parks vs National Parks Units

This section is going to get a little bit technical about the National Park System. So if you are not interested in learning a bit about why some sites are National Monuments and others are National Park, feel free to skip want to get straight into the National Parks of the Northeast.

The National Park Service is responsible for 423 units. These units have 19 different titles ranging from “National Historic Site” to ” National River. Per NPS, every unit under their purview is a national park.

Generally speaking, when someone talks about visiting a National Park they are talking about the 63 units that hold the designation “National Park.” The 63 National Parks are the creme of the crop parks (or they are supposed to be but that is a topic for a different day). These National Parks are typically the big outdoor-focused parks that are worth a 3-5 day visit.

People with a National Park Obsession are usually working on the list of 63 and visiting the other 360 national parks as they can A few hard-core people have the goal of visiting all 423. That is great for them but 423 is WAY more than 63. Personally, I’m almost done with the 63 and will probably keep working towards the 423 but I really hate visiting battlefields so it will take a lot longer to get motivated to visit them. I lived in Richmond, VA for two years. It took me 18 months to drag myself over to visit the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

If you want a more detailed explanation of the difference between a National Park and a national park unit click here.

Yellowstone National Park (left) and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (right) are both parts of the National Park System.

How much does it cost to visit a Western National Parks? – National Park Fees & Passes

Most of the National Parks in the West Coast region charge an entrance fee, but there are a handful that are free to enter. The fee is usually $35 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. For the remaining 112 NPS units in the west, the entrance fees vary greatly. Many are free to enter. Others charge an entrance fee. The fees range from $5 per person to $35 a vehicle.

If you are planning to explore more than two National Parks or 3-5 other designations in a year, you should plan on getting an America the Beautiful Pass. The pass is $80 and you get unlimited access to all entrance fee-charging in National Parks along with more than 3,000 other federal lands.

Both Grand Canyon and Zion charge a $35 entrance fee. That is $70 in entrance fees right there. Throw another park in and you have just saved $25 in entrance fees.

>>> You can get the America the Beautiful Pass from REI.

Fee Free Days in 2021

If you don’t plan (or can’t afford to) on purchasing an Ameria the Beautiful Annual Pass, there are six fee-free days each year. You can access the entrance fee-charging national parks for free on these days. Even if you have the Annual Pass, Fee Free Days can be a great time to visit the parks. Many parks offer special activities on these days.

  • January 18: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 17: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4: One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 25: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Western National Park Map

States of the West Coast

National Parks of the West Coast by State

Alaska

Alaska has eight units holding the title of National Park. This is the second most of any state. Alaska’s National Parks are some of the most remote and most expensive parks to visit. Here is a guide for how much does it cost to visit Alaska’s National Parks.

Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park and Preserve is Alaska’s oldest national park. It was established almost a half-century before Alaska became a state. This majestic park is the most popular of Alaska’s National Park. Denali is over 6 million acres and is the home of North America’s tallest mountain. The only way to access the park is the 92-mile long Denali Park Road.

Denali National Park is one of the best National Parks to see wildlife including moose, grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and Dall sheep.

A tall snow-covered mountain and a road heading towards it.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is the northernmost national park. The park is located entirely north of the Arctic Circle and within the Brooks Range. There is currently no road access to the park**. The only way into the park is via air taxi or a bushwhack from the Dalton Highway.

Gates of the Arctic is a wild park. There are no roads or trails within the park. Visitors are welcome to hike anywhere they would like with limited restrictions.

*** There are currently plans to build a private road through a small section of the Preserve. This road will provide access to the Ambler mining district.

A mostly dry riverbed and a glacier valley

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is the second most popular national park in Alaska and is a popular stop on an Alaskan cruise ship route. Glacier Bay isn’t attached to the road system and you either need to fly or take a boat to visit.

Most visitors explore the park via water and take a boat tour back to the park’s tidewater glaciers.

A tidewater glacier and a mountain ridge

Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve is could be best described is the National Park of the bear. The park is home to one of the highest concentrations of bears in the world. There are an estimated 2,000 Alaskan Brown Bears in the park. The most well known bear viewing spot in the park is Brooks Camp area that include Brooks Falls and Brooks Lodge. While the bears make the park famous today, its the 1912 volcanic eruption of Novarupta that inspired the creation of Katmai National Park. This massive eruption was herd almost 500 miles away in Juneau.

Like many of Alaska’s National Park, Katmai is off the road system so the only way to reach the park is via boat or air.

A mountain and two smaller mountains

Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park protects the costal fjords, glaciers, and the Harding Icefield on the Kenai Peninsula. The Harding Icefield is on the the largest ice fields in the United States and the park has 38 named glaciers.

Kenai Fjords is one of the more accessible parks in Alaska. The park is a short 90-minute drive from Anchorage. From the road system you can access the Exit Glacier hiking trails and Harding Icefield. If you want to see the park’s famed fjords, you need to take a boat tour from Seward.

A river mouth with a forest

Kobuk Valley National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park is is home to some of the olderst archaeological sites in North America, an amazing caribou migration, and the largest active Arctic dune field in North America. Like it’s sister park, Gates of the Acrtic, the park is a wilderness park with no roads or trails.

Kobuk Valley can only be reached by air taxi. Flights can be arranged from Kotzebue, Bettles or Coldfoot.

Sand dunes
NPS Photo

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is another Alaskan National Park that has amazing bear viewing along with an AMAZING collection of glacial lakes. One of the most unique and popular spots in the park is Richard Proenneke’s cabin. Proenneke moved to Alaska and filmed himself building his cabin and wrote a book about his experiences. He spend 30 years living that cabin. When the park was created, the park service gave Proenneke a volunteer shirt and let him continue to live in his cabin.

Lake Clark is another on the hard to access Alaskan parks. You can only reach Lake Clark by flying.

A girzzly walks by a river over looking a mountain range

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve is MASSIVE. At 13.2 million acres, its the largest National Park in the park system that is 6 Yellowstone if we are counting. The park is home to a large number of North American’s highest peaks. All of these peaks are within the Saint Elias Mountians. The park is home to glaciers, tideware, icefields and some of the highest despists of copper.

Wrangell – St. Elias can be reached by the road system and there are several small towns within the park.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is an International Biosphere Reserve and are part of the Kluane/Wrangell–St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A glacier in a valley in Alaska
Images of Alaska National Park Itineraries

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Other National Parks Units in Alaksa

Here are the nine other National Park units in Alaska.

  • Alagnak Wild River
  • Aniakchak National Monument
  • Aniakchak National Preserve
  • Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
  • Cape Krusenstern National Monument
  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
  • Noatak National Preserve
  • Sitka National Historical Park
  • Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
2 painted totem poles
Sitka National Historical Park

American Samoa

American Samoa has one unit holding the title of National Park.

National Park of American Samoa

National Park of American Samoa is the southern most national park in the United States and the only one south of the equator;. The tropical park protects the coral reefs and rainforest on the islands of Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta‘ū. The park is a great place for hiking and snorkeling.

Getting to American Samoa can be a bit of a challenge. Flights are limited and most visitors have to stop in Hawaii first.

The blue ocean in on a tropical island.

Arizona

Arizona has three units holding the title of National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is home to the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a 277-mile long canyon that is up to a mile deep and 18 miles wide. The canyon is the most visited national park on this list. The park is easily reached from Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Las Vegas. For a giant hole in the ground, it is pretty cool.

The Grand Canyon has been carved over millions of years and showcases billions of years of geological history. Standing on the rim, one can see the different rock layers. Each layer is a new period in history.

Grand Canyon National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A wide canyon in the morning light

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is just that. A forest is full of trees that have turned to stone. The trees are from the Late Triassic Epoch period and is a colorful record of the forest that once stood in this region. In addition to the colorful fossils, the park has a series of colorful badlands called the Painted Desert.

A petrified log broken apart

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is home to the Saguaro cacti. These tall cacti dominate the park’s landscape. The park is split into two districts around the city of Tucson. Each district is made up of one mountain range and slightly different landscapes. The Rincon Mountain District is dominated by the Rincon Mountains which are higher and wetter than the Tuscon Mountains of the Tuscon Mountain District.

A bunch of saguaro cacti in the desert

Other National Park Units in Arizona

Here are the nineteen other National Park units in Arizona.

  • Canyon De Chelly National Monument
  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
  • Chiricahua National Monument
  • Coronado National Memorial
  • Fort Bowie National Historic Site
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (AZ, UT)
  • Hohokam Pima National Monument
  • Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site
  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area (AZ, NV)
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument
  • Navajo National Monument
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
  • Pipe Spring National Monument
  • Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
  • Tonto National Monument
  • Tumacacori National Historical Park
  • Tuzigoot National Monument
  • Walnut Canyon National Monument
  • Wupatki National Monument
A tall mountain with sparse trees on it.
Sunset Crater National Monument

California

California has nine units holding the title of National Park. This is the most of any state.

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park is known as the Galapagos of North America due to the unique ecosystems and wildlife found in the park. The park protects five of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of Californian near Ventura and Santa Barbara. The park is home to several endemic species such as the Island Fox and the Island Scrub Jays. The park is also home to important bird rookeries.

The Channel Islands are only accessible by boat and select islands can be reached by charter flight. There are regular ferries to the island from Island Packer.

Some birds fly over a large stone arch

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is the park of extremes. It is the driest, the lowest, and the hottest place in North America. It also holds the record for being the hottest place on Earth. The park is mostly desert with a few oases. The park is located between the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts and this transition gives the park a unique otherworldly landscape.

Sand dunes over looking a desert valley and mountains

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is home to the famed non-tree plant species called Joshua Trees. Joshua Trees are actually a tree-like yucca plant. These unique plants dominated the Mojave Desert region of the park. The Colorado Desert region of the park does not have any Joshua trees but it is home to some great hiking and amazing rock formations.

A oddly shapped yucca plant

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a volcano national park. The park is dominated by Lassen Peak which is the southernmost volcano of the Cascade range. While the last eruption was in 1915 but the park is still home to many active fumaroles and other volcanic features.

A mountain with light snow.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is one of the smallest national park in California and one of my personal favorites. I get why some people are unimpressed with this small park, but they are just wrong. The park is home to a couple of caves and some tower hills of rocks. But the best part is that it is the BEST national park to see the highly endangered would be extinct if it wasn’t for a captive breeding program California Condors.

some interesting rock formations on a cliff

Redwoods National and State Parks

Redwoods National and State Parks is the home of the coastal redwoods. These trees are some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world. The park is made up of a series of federal and state lands and is home to several different groves of these trees. The park also protects Pacific coastlines, prairies, and rivers.

a lush forest with trees

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two separate national parks that are right next to each other and administered as one national park. These parks are home to some of the largest trees by volume including General Sherman Tree which is the world’s largest tree. Both parks protect parts of the High Sierra mountains and are excellent for hiking and backpacking.

3 very tall red trees

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of California’s national parks and is the oldest legally protected landscape in the United States. It can be said that the American Conservation movement began in Yosemite. It was the majesty of Yosemite Valley that inspired men such as John Muir and others to fight to protect these landscapes from development.

Yosemite Valley is home to some of the most impressive and well-known landmarks in the park system such as El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. (Here is my suggested itinerary for one day in Yosemite or two days in Yosemite.)