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A traveler gazes out over Zion National Park in Utah.

America the Beautiful: 5 Iconic National Parks Out West & What To See

National parks are huge sources of jaw-dropping sights, and huge sources of, well, being huge. Don’t know where to start with our finest natural gems out West? We’ve got you covered. Lucky for you, EF Ultimate Break hits all 5 of these incredible parks in one meticulously planned trip (that’s sort of our thing). But showing up is only half of it—knowing what to see is just as important. So we tapped our Tour Director Tyson, one of our more… adventurous… friends (he’s trekked through many a national park) for pro tips on visiting these beauts.

by Reid Flynn
November 25, 2020

For purple mountain majesties

Not sure if you guys have heard, but there’s a whole lot of beautiful country itching to be explored right here at home. That’s right, America’s got a load of national parks that are calling your name. They’re all like “Josh!” or “Emily!” or you, know, whatever your name is.

But when it comes to visiting the best national parks out West, you might not know where to start, or what to pack, or what you simply gotta see. That’s where we come in. We’ve got you covered on your national parks vacation from your first “woah” to your final “I can’t believe I’m here right now.” Check out our top tips for five must-see American national parks out West, courtesy of seasoned outdoorsman and EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Tyson. Then, put your new knowledge to use with a trip that hits them all.

Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park
View of Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park, from John Muir Trail.
The view of Half Dome from the top of Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.

Top: Yosemite Tunnel View (Vashishtha Jogi/Unsplash) | Left: View of Nevada Fall from John Muir Trail (Ryan OConnor/Unsplash) | Right: View of Half Dome from the top of Clouds Rest (Fran/Unsplash)

Yosemite | California

Ah, Yosemite. Home to big rocks and bigger views—it’s always an excellent place to start a national parks vacation. We asked out expert tree-hugger and national parks-loving Tour Director, Tyson, what he thinks a visitor needs to do and see at Yosemite. He says to start with a visit to Tunnel View. “Nothing is more iconic than the view from here, it’s breathtaking.” Other highlights include Nevada Fall (one of a few stellar waterfalls here) and Clouds Rest.

Yosemite provides a certain chill vibe. You can lay in the meadow and watch the rock climbing hardos scale El Capitan, or you can follow an endless number of trails ranging from flat nature walks to grueling high sierra wilderness hikes.

Pro tip: Don’t miss a walk among the giant sequoia trees of Merced Grove, some of the biggest and oldest trees anywhere in the world. Do you know how old, exactly? Anyone? Muir? Likely over 2,000 years old!

Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

Top: Exploring Death Valley (Photo: EF Ultimate Break) | Bottom: The famous and unique landscape at Badwater Basin, in all its 282-feet-below-sea-level glory. (lucky-Photographer/Shutterstock)

Death Valley | California & Nevada

Don’t be dismayed by the ominous name, you can have the time of your life in Death Valley National Park. The park contains the famous Badwater Basin, and no trip is complete without a stop there. According to Tyson: “Badwater Basin is a must. It’s the lowest place in North America, what more can be said?”

Death Valley looks positively martian. With its craggly canyons and endless sand dunes, it can feel like you’re on another planet. Explore this brave new world in all its weird glory, but not for too long, which brings us to our next point…

Pro tip: Bring. A. Lot. Of. Water. It literally does not get hotter than Death Valley. The record temperature here is 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and while you’re likely to experience something a bit more palatable than that, it’s important to over-prepare in the hydration department, just in case.

US National Parks: California to the Grand Canyon

11 days. 6 cities.

Gaze into the great void of the Grand Canyon. Snap pics of the most famous rocks in America: El Capitan & Half Dome in Yosemite. Hit the lowest (and hottest) point in North America: Death Valley. Stroll over the rock bridges and under the archways at Bryce Canyon. And trek the out-of-this-world terrain of Zion. Oh, and did we mention the sightseeing day in Las Vegas?

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A traveler gazing out over the funky hoodoo spires at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

The funky hoodoo spires at Bryce Canyon. Photo: EF Ultimate Break

Bryce Canyon | Utah

A visit to Bryce Canyon National Park is a downright hoodoo hoedown. What is a hoodoo, you ask? It’s a naturally occurring rock that looks like a funky chimney, and Bryce Canyon is chock full of hoodoos (and a hoedown is a joyous group dance, the likes of which you are more than welcome to do here).

To get the full Bryce Canyon picture, Tyson recommends a walk along the Rim Trail, then heading into the canyon itself for full rock formation immersion. For him, it’s the only way to truly appreciate the geology of the park.

Pro tip: The elevation of Bryce Canyon is mostly above 8,000 feet. To avoid elevation sickness, just be sure to take it easy as your body acclimates, stay hydrated, and remember that that post-hike beer is going to hit you harder than you think.

A guy and a girl pose for a photo at Zion National Park in Utah
A girl sits on the rocks at Zion National Park in Utah
Scenery at Zion National Park, Utah

Our travelers enjoying the perfect backdrop at Zion. Photos: EF Ultimate Break

Zion | Utah

Close your eyes and picture an old cowboy movie. Ok now open them. First, that’s a snazzy new hat you’ve got on there. Second, you basically were picturing Zion National Park. This Utahn gem should be a staple on any Western national parks itinerary.

This is a park for serious hikers. Tyson’s advice: “Zion Canyon is the highlight here. You’ll want to hike high to get stunning views looking down.” But he says beware if you’re afraid of heights, “Its two famous trails are not for the faint of heart!”

Pro tip: Tyson warns that you’re likely going to walk out of here covered in the ubiquitous red dirt of the canyon. Pack accordingly.

Travelers walking along a staircase at the Grand Canyon
Travelers walking along a staircase at the Grand Canyon

The granddaddy of them all: The Grand Canyon. Photos: EF Ultimate Break

Grand Canyon | Arizona

The Grand Canyon. That famous big hole in the ground in Arizona. America’s most iconic natural landmark. Or, as Tyson calls it: the Sistine Chapel of nature. And ain’t that apt. The Grand Canyon will take your breath away. Stand on the South Rim and peer in a mile deep and try and comprehend what you’re looking at, to say nothing of its width, length, or age. Everything about it is immense.

Tyson suggests spending some time below the rim. “Hike down as far as you’re comfortable going… but remember you’ll be walking uphill to get back out.” Much respect to the Pueblo people who called this wonder of the world home for thousands of years.

Pro tip: It’s better together. Like all hikes, sharing the moment, even in out-of-breath silence greatly improves the experience. Your phone or your DSLR can store the photos but only your trailmates can store the memories.

And that’s where we come in. If you’re looking to see not one, not two, but all of these national parks out West in a single go, we’ve got you. Our US National Parks: California to the Grand Canyon trip covers ‘em all. We handle everything, (accommodations to meals and more), and your whole tour will be guided by an expert—maybe even Tyson himself.

So say yes to an adventure with a new group of hiking BFFs. We guarantee a trip so memorable that once you take that last step out of the Grand Canyon you’ll never want to wash your hiking boots again.

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by Reid Flynn

Reid is a copywriter at EF Ultimate Break. He loves cheese, playing guitar, and speaking loudly about indie rock to anyone who will listen. His favorite place in the world is Amsterdam.

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