• Bryan Donoghue

Top 5 National Parks To Visit in 2021

Pathloom's Picks for our must-see US destinations this year

Zion National Park, UT - Photo Credit: Falco Rodriguez


2021 is finally here! After all the planet went through in 2020, I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the most highly anticipated Januaries in recent memory, if only to get as much distance as we can from everything last year threw at us. And while the events of this first week haven’t been the best look for the US as a whole, we can take some small solace in the fact that time spent in our National Park system remains an excellent reprieve from what we see every day on the news.


In the spirit of anticipation for all we hope to achieve in 2021, and in recognition of the endless opportunities for outdoor recreation of all sorts within our National Parks, here are the top 5 parks I am most excited to explore this year. I’ll also list a few parks that other members of the Pathloom team are looking forward to visiting as well. We’ve all made (and broken) New Years’ resolutions in the past, here are the parks I'm resolving to visit this year (that I swear I won’t break unlike just about every other resolution I’ve made in the past. Honest.)


Joshua Tree National Park, CA - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan


Joshua Tree National Park - California


Joshua Tree has officially become my white whale. I’ve had 4 different opportunities to go, and all have fallen through for various reasons. Most recently, back in October I was driving from LA to Phoenix, and had set aside a full day to visit the park and take in as much as I could within that timeframe. One day is better than nothing, right? Unfortunately, as I pulled up to the front gate, plans changed suddenly, and I got word that I had 4 hours to get to Phoenix - about a 3.5 hour drive from my current location. I literally had to make a U-turn while in line to get in, and drive away from the park I’ve been trying to make it to for at least decade now. I will not miss out on another chance to camp under these stars, climb these rock formations, and just bask in the tranquility of this surreal desert landscape!

Zion National Park, UT - Photo Credit: Falco Rodriguez


Zion National Park - Utah


I finally made it to Southern Utah last year, and the National Parks, Forests, and Monuments in that region exceeded every last one of my lofty expectations. Never have I seen a landscape so alien, colors so vibrant, an atmosphere so unlike anywhere else I’ve been in the world. As this trip was during wildfire season we had to be wary of fire restrictions while camping, and unfortunately when we were in the area Zion had a full fire ban in effect. Due to this, we ended up camping in Bryce Canyon and Escalante instead - not too bad of a consolation prize - but that meant that Zion would have to wait for another trip. That trip is happening this year - Angels Landing, The Narrows, Emerald Pools, and everything else I can possibly fit in. Plus, I wouldn’t mind being back within striking distance of Escalante, there’s quite a lot I have left to explore over there as well!


Acadia National Park, ME - Photo Credit: Steve Patton


Acadia National Park - Maine


The lone National Park in New England (in the entire Northeast for that matter, from Maryland on up), Acadia is a magical place - thousands of acres of rugged rocky coastline, miles upon miles of trails (with rock ladders built into the cliffs!), and mind-blowing sunsets from the crest of Cadillac Mountain. I plan on visiting in the early Fall to catch the dazzling peak foliage in the area - and would highly recommend you plan any potential trips here around that same time of year (even if that means you’ll arrive too late to see the puffins).


White Sands National Park, NM - Photo Credit: Sharon Berardino


White Sands National Park - New Mexico


I’m a Northeastern boy, I want to go sledding! But maybe, just maybe, it might be nice to do so without freezing my core to the bone and losing feeling in my extremities for a change. With that in mind, White Sands has been on my radar since I first heard you could bring a saucer and sled down those pristine gypsum slopes. The park features plenty of great hiking and backcountry campsites throughout the dunes as well, making it all the more appealing for a visit this year!


Crater Lake National Park, OR - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan


Crater Lake National Park - Oregon


So I’ve been out on the West Coast for just about 2 years now, and as yet the farthest north I’ve made it out here is to Shasta and Lassen in Northern California. Yeah, I know - unacceptable. Believe me, I agree. And I’m looking to fix that this year, after rampant wildfires in the area prevented me from doing so in 2020. Crater Lake strikes me as an excellent place to start. I want to traverse the rim, I want to visit Wizard Island, I want to head to Cleetwood Cove to think long and hard about diving into the icy waters of the lake (and maybe actually do so, we’ll see). Crater Lake is also surrounded by National Forests and Monuments as well, so would make for an excellent home base for (finally) exploring the entire region.


National Parks you can (hopefully) find members of the Pathloom team at in 2021


Ankit - Great Smoky Mountains (TN), Denali (AK), Glacier (MT), Shenandoah (VA), Acadia (ME)

Jordan - Zion (UT), Bryce (UT)

Christian - Joshua Tree (CA), Zion (UT)

Sierra - Zion (UT), Katmai (AK), Hawai’i Volcanoes (take a wild guess)




Which National Parks do YOU plan on visiting in 2021?

Glacier National Park, MT Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan




Check out these other articles by Pathloom which you may find helpful:

Pathloom Picks: Best Campsites of 2020

Day Trip Hikes

All Hands on Deck! Seeking Stories From The Trail

Cold Weather Camping & Hiking

How to Recreate Safely During the Coronavirus Pandemic

5 Essentials For a Day Hike


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