Area: 3,734 sq km
Best for… hikes of all types, tidepooling
Why go? This park is a jack-of-all-trades. It incorporates a diverse range of habitats from the glacier-cloaked highs of the Olympic Mountains to moss-fuzzed temperate rainforest; its wild Washington coast section – separate from the main bulk of the park – is dotted with tidal pools, driftwood and Native American settlements.
The park is encircled by Highway 101 but few roads penetrate far within its boundaries, so you need to explore on foot – there are plenty of day-hike trails as well as tougher backpacking options. Try tramps from the Dosewallips park entrance for spectacular views of Mount Anderson. In the Pacific section, hit the 27km South Coast Wilderness Trail – it involves climbing ladders, fording creeks and waiting out tides, but the pay off is access to some of the park’s most impressive shores.
When to go: Open year-round, though some roads and campsites close outside summer months.
Plan your trip: Olympic is just west of Seattle. Try a classic two-week roadtrip: Seattle-San Francisco, via Olympic, Portland, the Oregon coast, Redwood NP and Napa.
Area: 133 sq km
Best for… cycling, hiking, railways
Why go? Cuyahoga Valley is Ohio’s only national park, and attracts people in their droves: over two million visited the park’s waterfalls, steep ravines and caves in 2013. But what is it about this ‘crooked river’ valley that’s so enticing?
For most, it’s all about the trails – there are 200km of them. For a good taster, hike or bike the 32km Towpath Trail, which follows part of the old Ohio & Erie Canal. Visitors can also fish, bird-watch, picnic, canoe, kayak and visit historic sites. Winter provides a fresh list of activities, from snowshoeing or sledding to ice fishing. You can also hop aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, one of the oldest and longest scenic tourist railways in the country. Rides are seasonal;
When to go: Open year-round. Trails can be crowded on the weekends, especially in the spring and summer. Fall colours peak mid-October.
Plan your trip: Start a seven-day round-trip in Chicago, passing through Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, before reaching Cuyahoga.
En route, you could stop off at several state parks along Lake Michigan, as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.