I spent a lot of my childhood traveling to different National Parks in both the US and Canada on summer vacations.  And for the most part I can honestly say I did not appreciate it at the time. But now my world has started to come full circle and my friends are starting to choose to visit the places I went as a child. But what are the nation’s best National Parks? The travel experts at Conde Nast Traveler ranked the 25 best National Parks and 3 of them are within driving distance of North Carolina.

The Nation’s Top National Parks

And that is saying something considering many of the often thought of a “best” National Parks are out west. You immediately think of places like Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona), Yellowstone (Wyoming), Grand Teton (Wyoming), and Yosemite (California). On the east coast the first one that comes to my mind is Acadia National Park in Maine.

Each of those understandably made Conde Nast Traveler’s list. And while all those are fantastic places to visit (many would call them must see parts of America), they are costly if visiting from NC. While I guess theoretically you could drive, it would require a significant time investment, one many of us just don’t have to commit. Which is why it’s great news that 3 of those top 25 National Parks are within driving distance of the great state of North Carolina.

While none of them are in either of the Carolinas all three of these destinations are a reasonable drive. You’ll find each of those three below and learn a little more about them. Interested in reading the top 25? You can find that here via Conde Nast Traveler. Have you been? Perhaps 2024 is the year you’ll check one or more of these off your bucket list!

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

    Oconaluftee overlook, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fall 2014

    The closest national park, Great Smoky Mountain sits on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s actually America’s most visited national park! Great Smoky Mountain National Park is known for its diversity of plant and animal life, the stunning beauty of the mountains, and that Southern Appalachian mountain culture. Learn more here.

  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

    Sunset over the Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

    Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is about 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C. According to the National Park Service it features “cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows.” Shenandoah National Park consists of more than 200,000 acres land that is home to animals such as  deer, songbirds, and black bears. Get more info here.

  • New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

    New River Gorge Bridge, WV

    And finally we have southern West Virginia’s New River Gorge National Park. It’s highlighted by the whitewater river-the New River- that flows through the deep canyons that make up the park. The new river is one of the oldest rivers in North America. New River Gorge National Park is made up over over 70,000 acres with many scenic views and opportunities for recreation. Learn more here.


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