Not all U.S. National Parks are created alike. In fact, that’s what makes our country’s 63 parks so fun to explore. From giant forests and deep canyons to alien-shaped formations and volatile geysers, these national treasures showcase nature’s diverse wonders.

While each national park has something very special to offer, some truly stand out. We chose these seven for their unique features, which make for a magical experience—even for families that aren’t obsessed with the outdoors. Note that many parks now require a timed reservation. Once you’re inside a park, stop by the visitor center to get tips for making the most of your time.

Sequoia National Park


sequoia national park

From giant trees to lush meadows to dome granite rocks, the Giant Forest dwarfs everything around it. It’s mind-boggling to stand at the foot of the 275-foot high General Sherman the largest known living single-stem tree in the world, and end the day with canyon views at Sunset Rock. Why are Sequoias—and most things in the park—so big? Scientists believe that California’s snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains constantly provides water to the trees. The snowmelt also feeds the cascading Tokopah Falls (a great hike!) and Kaweah River.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park


Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Photo: Mimi Slawoff

One of the most sacred sites in Hawaii, Pu’uhonua is a peaceful park with ancient ceremonial structures. For hundreds of years,  pu’uhonua was a place of refuge for Hawaiians who broke the law (kapu). Today, pu’uhonua is still a place of refuge, but now it’s for people seeking respite from the hectic modern world. You can explore a reconstructed Hawaiian temple, wooden images of gods, and koi ponds. Relax on the black lava beach, home to many sea turtles.

Arches National Park


Arches National Park

Looking like a set for a science-fiction movie, the park features over 2,000 alien-looking sandstone formations. The unique formations include towering natural red stone arches, pinnacles and rocky wonderland. The most popular are Landscape Arch, Delicate Arch and Double Arch. How were these created? Geologic forces and water shaped arches and formations from a salt bed layer beneath the park about 65 million years ago.

Acadia National Park


Acadia National Park by James Coffman
Photo: James Coffman

Experience the best of New England’s treasures in the Northeast’s only national park. A network of diverse biking and hiking trails traverse the varied terrain in Acadia, home to the tallest coastal mountains on the Atlantic. Explore rocky beaches and coastal forests on foot or cruise along the 27-mile Park Loop Drive around Mountain Desert Island to see popular spots.

Grand Canyon National Park


Majestic Vista of the Grand Canyon at Dusk

Whether you gaze down from the rim or hike to the bottom (bring lots of water!), the Grand Canyon is sure to make a huge impression. At one mile deep and up to 18 miles wide, the Grand Canyon is a massive chasm with layered bands of red and orange rock. At the bottom, the powerful Colorado River continues to expand the canyon – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Open year-round, the South Rim is the most popular. It’s where you’ll find the Grand Canyon Village, Bright Angel Trail, and the interpretive Trail of Time paved trail. The North Rim is less crowded but closed in winter.

Yellowstone National Park

Wyoming, Idaho and Montana

Excelsior Geyser and Tourists

It’s no wonder early explorers thought mythical creatures lived in Dragon’s Mouth Springs, a steam vent that belches smoke and gases. Steam vents are among Yellowstone’s unique hydrothermal features—including multicolored hot pools home to microorganisms that thrive in hot temperatures, and geysers shooting steaming water high into the sky. While Old Faithful is always a crowd pleaser, forge your own path through the 2.2 million-acre park that spans three states. Keep your eyes open for bison, moose and elk as you explore the park’s lakes and forests.

Mammoth Cave National Park


The large walking path inside of Mammoth Cave near Kentucky, U.S

For eerie subterranean thrills, take a tour through the longest known cave system on the planet. Formed 10 million years ago, the cave has 400 miles of trails and tunnels. A variety of walking, crawling and lantern tours take visitors through spacious and narrow passages – depending on how adventurous you are!

Mimi Slawoff is a travel writer and photographer based in Southern California.