7 Marvelous National Park Views Without the Guard Rails

Glacier National Park

Sure, amazing views are easy to come by in our national parks. But there’s something extra special about the views that you not only have to get out of your car to enjoy, but that you have to work for. Because when it takes a little extra effort to get there – perhaps an epic hike or several days on the river – it’s so much more than a view. It’s an experience. 


Grand Canyon National Park

The sweeping vista from the Nankoweap Granaries is one of the most dramatic views at Grand Canyon National Park. It’s also one of the hardest to get to. Descending more than 6,000 feet over 14 miles, it’s considered one of the most difficult hikes within the park. However, located at mile 53 along the Colorado River, the short but steep hike to the granaries from river-level is just one of the many perks of a Grand Canyon rafting trip. No matter how you get there, as you stand on a ledge carved into Redwall Limestone 500-feet above the river, you’ll surely feel a sense of wonder.

Cloud’s Rest

Yosemite National Park

Person hiking up Cloud's Rest trail at Yosemite National Park

Clouds Rest at Yosemite National Park

Kasey Earls, Share the Experience 2012

Climbing Half Dome may be the obvious choice for snagging incredible views of Yosemite National Park, but Cloud’s Rest is where to head for a much more intimate experience. After a 7.25-mile, 1,776-foot one-way climb from the Sunrise Lakes trailhead at the west end of Tenaya Lake, hikers are rewarded with spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite, including Half Dome up-close-and-personal – minus the tough-to-get permit and scary cables. Here, at an elevation of 9,926-feet, you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of the world.

Champlain Mountain

Acadia National Park

Man climbing up cliff on Champlain Mountain at Acadia National Park

Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park

James Kaiser

While it’s not a particularly long trek to the summit of Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park, the 2.6 mile round trip Precipice Hike, with its nearly 1-mile, 1,000-foot vertical climb to the top, is thrilling to say the least. Iron hand holds, narrow rock ledges and ladder climbs aside, the magnificent coastal views of Maine from this vantage point can’t be beat. There’s only one hitch, the trail is closed during prime summer months, typically March 15 – August 15 (sometimes earlier), to protect nesting Peregrine Falcons.

Triple Divide Peak

Glacier National Park

Epic view of lake and towering mountains at the Triple Divide Peak at Glacier National Park

Triple Divide Peak at Glacier National Park

Jacob Ueda, Share the Experience

You’ll go for glaciers and be awed by waterfalls, but in Glacier National Park its Triple Divide Peak that serves up the best rewards for your efforts. Yes, it requires backpacking; and yes, it requires a 3,000-foot climb, but the views on top can’t be overstated. Plus, it’s the only place in the United States where water drains into three oceans – the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Arctic via Hudson Bay. Pour a drop from your bottle on the summit and speculate which ocean it will fill.

Doll House

Canyonlands National Park

Panoramic view of sandstone cliffs from Dolls House at Canyonlands National Park

View from Dolls House at Canyonlands National Park

James Kaiser

To get incredible access to one of the most remote corners of Canyonlands National Park – the Maze District – you could venture out on a 5+ hour drive (in a high clearance vehicle), or you could raft the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon. From Spanish Bottom on the Colorado River, a steep 1,300-foot ascent will take you to the playful rock formations that make up the Doll House, along with awe-inspiring panoramic views of the endless spires and mysterious canyons that make up the Needles and Island in the Sky Districts of Canyonlands.

Longs Peak

Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail sign on Longs Peak Trail at Rocky Mountain National Park

On the way to the summit of Longs Peak at Rocky Mountain National Park

Mallory Godfrey, Share the Experience

If you have summit fever, there’s no better cure than 14,259-foot Longs Peak. As the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, its lofty view lords a huge panorama over the glaciated terrain of the region. Best to go late summer after the snow fields have cleared, the 16-mile round-trip trek is strenuous, exposed, and potentially dangerous, but that’s what makes the summit all the more rewarding.

Inspiration Point

Channel Islands National Park

View across the top of the Channel Islands

Inspiration Point at Channel Islands National Park

James Chang, Flickr CC

Even though Channel Islands National Park offers up post-card worthy views in every direction, it’s one spot in particular that makes the hour-long boat ride to “the Galapagos of the North” so worth it – Inspiration Point. Located on tiny East Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point is not only the iconic view of the park, it’s arguably one of the best sights in California. From the visitor center at Landing Cove, follow the trail 1.5 miles across the island and be rewarded with dramatic views of ocean waves crashing around the chain of rocky islands that make up this unique archipelago just off the shore of Southern California.

Interested in exploring other smashing national park views? Or wondering where you can stay while you’re out finding your park? Check out the National Park Foundation’s free Owner’s Guide series, including “Happy Trails” which is filled with 25 unforgettable treks in national parks. 

Travel Idea provided by O.A.R.S., which is an authorized concessioner of Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and Grand Teton National Parks, an authorized concessioner in Dinosaur National Monument and operates by special permit in Crater Lake, Yosemite, and Yellowstone National Parks.

Photo credits: Grand Canyon National Park by Monty Pollack; Acadia and Canyonlands National Parks by James Kaiser; Yosemite National Park by Kasey Earls, Glacier National Park by Jacob Ueda and Rocky Mountain National Park by Mallory Godfrey via Share the Experience Photo Contest; Channel Islands National Park by James Chang.


Jim and I traveled 61 of the National Parks/Expos and what a great experience it was. We were never scared nor had any problems.

Start a Conversation

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Stay Inspired
Connect with the parks you love. Sign up to receive the latest NPF news, information on how you can support our national treasures, and travel ideas for your next trip to the parks. Join our community.