What are the Mount Rushmore of National Parks?

The first three are pretty easy, IMHO:

Grand Canyon

What is number 4?

Crater Lake?

I vote for Denali (“don’t call it Mount McKinley!”)

Probably Denali, followed by Katmai.

What do you mean by “the Mount Rushmore of National Parks”? Mount Rushmore is a National Monument that gets about 2.1 million visitors a year.

It looks like the biggest National Parks in terms of visitors are: (1) Great Smoky Mountains, (2) Grand Canyon, and (3) Zion. Yellowstone and Yosemite are pretty high up there in terms of visitors. Did you mean more of a subjective “in the popular culture” thing? Your first three seem sound. Glacier seems like a decent fourth, although I have to imagine this will be quite regional. Great Smoky Mountains blows the others out of the water in terms of visitation, but I suspect that’s probably mostly because it is in the more populous part of the country.

“the Mount Rushmore of” is a pretty common phrase mean the 4 best/most important/essential/etc of some group.

How about Everglades? I think it’s pretty well-known, has an image in popular culture, and is probably pretty well visited.

My personal favorite is Arches, but I don’t think that it would be fourth on the “Mount Rushmore” in the sense that rankings are being applied here.

I think it would be the Grand Canyon, because it’s uniquely identifiable. Shots of Yellowstone etc all look like some park. Beautiful but nothing immediately identifying.

Some other ones that came to my mind (I agree on your top 3):


Siam Sam:

Not if they include Old Faithful. Or one of the colorful hot pools.

For sheer natural beauty, disregarding issues of overcrowding etc, Zion or Arches.
IMO both are “better” than Yellowstone.

Arches, while lovely, is too small and set up for car access to qualify as a top 4 park.

Zion has more remote terrain that is rarely used (true for nearly all national parks) but it has a few signature hikes (The Narrows, Angel’s Landing). Bryce is similar, although most hikes are off a single road access. Canyonlands and Capitol Reef have more backcountry access but lack the unique hikes and lodges.

I’ve never been to the Alaska parks; Denali would be hard to vote against. But of the parks I’ve been to I’d add Glacier as the Teddy Roosevelt. It has Going to the Sun Road, several signature hikes, two wonderful lodges, amazing and accessible wildlife, and excellent backcountry access.

For an honorable mention I’d include Olympic NP and Acadia to represent the East Coast.

I also think that part of what makes Yellowstone iconic is the fact that it was our first National Park (and may have been the first national park in the world).

The primary attraction in Yellowstone is the wildlife.

Isle Royale - the epitome of national park. No cars, no roads, few visitors. It’s just nature. I’ll also give a shoutout to Voyageurs which is also not as heavily visited, but a very awesome park

Just for discussion Mesa Verde should be mentioned as well as Acadia and Big Bend.

Yellowstone is definitely #1. The canyon, the thermal features, or the wildlife would, any one of them, be enough to justify making it a national park, and it’s got all three.

I’ve visited Yosemite once, and I honestly don’t remember anything at all about it. Granted, I was 11 years old at the time, but that was also the age at which I first visited Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Carlesbad Caverns, and those, I all remember.

But the Grand Canyon is, I think, overrated. It’s too big. When you go there, you don’t see a canyon. You just see a cliff, and then waaaaay over there, another cliff.

At Glacier, on the other hand, you feel the grandeur and might of the mountains, in a way I’ve never experienced in any other mountains. The eponymous glaciers are almost completely vanished now, but the mountains are easily worth the trip.

And Cuyahoga Valley is near the top in number of visitors (mostly just because it’s right smack next to a major metropolitan area), but my sense of hometown pride doesn’t have nearly enough pull to put it in the top for quality. I mean, it’s nice and all, and I’m glad it’s so close, but it still doesn’t even feel like a proper National Park.

I’ve been to the top three and many more, but the one I’d love to see is Glacier. The pictures look just wonderful. Gotta get there before they have to change the name.

I was considering the Badlands or Haleakala (Maui), as two parks that dropped my jaw. The Badlands, as it’s so unexpected: flat farmland, then boom! Miles and miles of craggy landscape. Haleakala, it’s the moment you look into the crater on the top.

They’re not really destinations in themselves, though. They didn’t seem on the same level as those top three.

If I were to expand it to being part of the National Park System, rather than “____ National Park”, I might consider Gettysburg National Military Park. It’s incredibly well-preserved, dotted with cannons and statues, and gives a great sense of the battle.

I would nominate Mt. Rainier. Not as high as Denali, but visible to millions of people on a good day.

That’s kinda what I thought the first time I was there, so I went back a few years later to hike across it. Hard to appreciate with just my eyes; but unmistakable in my aching muscles for weeks afterward.

Lots of good suggestions here and many I agree with–Bryce and Zion and Mesa Verde are all fond memories. However, Haleakala is unlike any other national park–and beautiful, and intimidating. Has to be in the top 4.

There’s a big difference between seeing a National Park from the car, and getting out into the wilderness for an extended adventure. I remember reading a statistic that 90% of visitors to the US National Parks never get more than 200 yards from a paved road.

Seeing the Grand Canyon from the rim is impressive. Seeing it from the Colorado is awe-inspiring, IMHO. Different people go to the parks for different reasons - I don’t think there is one single way to experience them.

The majority of the visitors to Yosemite only see the Valley, and it’s impressive enough. But there is so much more to that park.