The OGRES Score – Power Ranking National Parks

In our over 10,000 miles of driving to and from 15 national parks, Adam and I have had a lot of time to consider why some parks are amazing and some parks are only great. After much discussion, we narrowed it down to five key criteria, which together, create the OGRES score to rank National Parks:

The OGRES Score

One of a Kind natural beauty. Or, alternately, does it make you go “Oh $*@&!”. Every single natural park has at a little “O”, but some have a lot more than others.
Groupability and Geographic Accessibility – High marks given for parks that are close to other great sites, near cities and airports. It also considers nearby small towns or on-site groceries and amenities and wifi.
LetterRRevisitability – Having visited, would you return to see more or go back to re-experience the park again? Some parks like Zion have hikes that would be great again, and in others, like Yosemite, I would return to see new things I didn’t get to the first time around.
LetterE2Ease of Access and Activities – This component captures the variability of things to do at a park, as well as the ease with you can figure out what to do, and where to eat and sleep. The rangers and park materials are huge here.
LetterSSolitude or Swarms – At the park, is it possible to get away from the crowds and traffic to appreciate the natural beauty, or are there swarms of tourists and traffic that are too difficult to avoid.

Each park can earn up to 10 points on each segment, for a total of 50 points. These rankings will be based largely on my experience at each park, and only the parks that we visited were included. Ranking parks is incredibly difficult, because they’re all uniquely different and every one is worth a visit. Despite the official sounding name and numbers, it’s by no means an objective analysis, so let me know what you think in the comments or over a beer when possible.

Summer 2015 OGRES Score Power Ranking of National Parks: 

RankNatParks_15YellowstoneScoreWhile Yellowstone‘s  geysers and prismatic springs are one of a kind, those areas are incredibly crowded and the small parking lots needed to access the sites fill well before lunch, hence the low score on Solitude. Rangers at the backpacking office we visited were not helpful, and it seems there are minimal options for long hike across and the parks, making it hard to avoid the crowds. Go once for one day, early, see the volcanic parts, and get out of there. Links: National Park Service (NPS) Site, My Post.
RankNatParks_14RedwoodsScoreEspecially compared to Sequoia, these trees at Redwoods don’t quite stack up. The park is remote, too, making for poor groupability. It’s about 5.5 hours from San Francisco and 4 hours to Lassen Volcanic National Park. The park has good hiking, biking, and beach-going. It wasn’t crowded while we were there and there were good camping options. This park was great, but generally weaker on most categories than the other parks we visited. Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatParks_13PointReyesPoint Reyes, a National Seashore, has dramatic, pristine beaches. It is just 1-2 hours north of San Francisco and near the Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais, making for solid Groupability. While you can hike, bike, and horse back ride many trails, this means many trails are a little boring, but crowds and traffic are minimal. Camping is backcountry only, so availability is usually good.  Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatParks_11ArchesArches has over 2,000 natural, sandstone arches, but visit early in the day to beat the heat and the crowds. There are just a few campsites in the park, and none are first-come-first-serve. The desert is fragile so off-trail and backcountry hiking is limited. If you go, plan to camp in nearby Moab, where there are tons of activities: world class mountain biking, river activities, hiking, and even jeep tours, Moab and nearby Canyonlands gave Arches it’s strong score in Groupability. However, like Yellowstone, it’s more of a driving park, which gave it a low Returnability score and a lower overall rank. Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatParks_11JTreeGrotesque yet beautiful Joshua Trees cover this huge southern California park, and were unlike any other desert or forest we’ve seen. Getting in, out and through takes time, but there’s spots for hiking, biking, and rock climbing. Water availability is tough so backpacking would be very difficult. However, the park has good camping and is very spread out, giving lots of options for uncrowded solitude. Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatParks_10RainierMount Rainier is an active volcano and the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48. It gets a lot of attention for extreme trips like summits and the 90 mile Wonderland trail around the mountain, but there are tons of good day hike options as well. However, it seemed quite similar to other Cascade mountains, giving it the low “O” score. However, it’s only about 2 hours from Seattle and close to Mount St. Helens and other Cascade Range mountains, so there’s lots to do in the neighborhood. Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatParks_8CapitolReefCapitol Reef is famous for putting it’s geology right out there for everyone to see. It’s also the home of Fruita, a historic farm with active orchards. It’s more out of the way than some of the other Utah parks, but that made it less crowded. It’s a good place for hiking and biking. Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatParks_8GTetonGrand Teton was one of the more unassuming parks we visited, with relatively young mountains rising dramatically from the plains. However, it’s incredibly accessible, with hiking, rafting and paddling, a great bike trail through the park, and snow sports in the winter. One huge campground, Gros Ventre, is not particularly nice, but usually doesn’t fill until late in the day, making it a great roadtrip destination. Links: NPS Site, My Post.
 RankNatPark_7BryceEarly in our trip we heard Bryce Canyon described as the Grand Canyon on a human scale. The rock hoodoos are one of a kind, and you can pair a trip to Bryce with nearby Zion, or go crazy and road trip through all five Utah parks, making it a great vacation destination. We were there a little early in the season, but didn’t have crazy crowds. Our visit was short, but I think there was a lot more we could’ve seen at Bryce. Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatPark_6Canyonlands Canyonlands is a huge park, with hiking, biking, climbing, and rafting. It’s divided into three districts, It’s accessible, not crowded, and close to Arches and Moab, earning it strong scores across most categories. Like the other desert parks, backpacking is challenging as you need to carry your water, but there are many great day hikes. Links: NPS Site, My Post
RankNatParks_5YosemiteYosemite is stunningly beautiful and is incredibly backpacker friendly, which is a park-saver. 99% of people head to Yosemite Valley, making it hard to avoid traffic and crowds there. Famous hikes like the path up Half Dome are so crowded they require a permit obtained via a lottery. If you must visit the valley,  at least head for the hills there or grab a bike to get some solitude. Otherwise, get to the backcountry to experience this park. Links: NPS SiteMy Post.
RankNatParks_4OlympicOlympic is a huge park straddling diverse ecosystems and including beaches, mountains, and the only rain forest in the lower 48 states. The park is great for backpacking, and is only about 2-3 hours from Seattle. It also has multiple entrances and many great campsites, so we found it easy to find areas without much traffic. Despite our traumatic experience backpacking on Graves Creek Trail, I would return to this park, especially for the Seven Lakes Basin Trail. Links: NPS Site, My Posts – Seven Lakes Basin and Camping, Graves Creek Backpacking
RankNatParks_3SequoiaThe Giant Grove of massive redwoods at Sequoia is one of the most awe inspiring sights in the park system, earning one of the few perfect scores for the “Oh $%@#” factor. The park also scored lower on Ease of Activities, as you are mostly limited to hiking or backpacking, and the park maps and other information from rangers was not the best. For instance, while hiking in the Giant Grove, we found unmarked trails, confusing signs, and discrepancies with our map. However, the park scored really high on return and solitude, and it’s our 3rd place ranked park overall.   NPS Site,  My Post.
RankNatPark_2ZionWith so many great things to do, Zion deserves multiple days and multiple trips to experience the dramatic red rock canyon and tackle famous hikes like Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. Bryce Canyon and other Utah parks are nearby, and the adjacent town of Springfield has reasonable offerings in terms of groceries, food, and crappy 4% Utah beer. The park has the best shuttle we saw all summer, with free buses running every 15 minutes up and down the canyon road. The only potential downside is that the park gets crowded, so hit up the popular hikes early to beat the heat and the crowds. Links: NPS WebsiteMy Post
 And now, without further scrolling, here is the #1 National Park on the Summer 2015 OGRES Ranking: 
RankNatPark_1GlacierGlacier is home to amazing wildlife and spectacular backpacking, and earned the top overall  OGRES score, with nearly perfect scores on most categories. We were awed by mountains, meadows, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife. The park has hiking, biking, paddling, fishing, and even a shuttle across Going-to-the-Sun Road. The backcountry office was the best organized one we’ve seen on the trip and those rangers quickly and efficiently set us up with the best backpacking trip we did. Even though the park was crowded near the visitor’s center, we had no trouble with traffic or parking. The park is out in the middle of nowhere, so plan to spend whatever vacation time you have there. Links: NPS SiteMy Post

So, there you have the first ever OGRES Score, at the request of voting blog readers! If you are really interested in the nitty-gritty details of how I ranked each park, download my excel file with notes and comments for each score. Please let me know what you think of the score, the rankings, and the parks that I missed in the comments!

7 thoughts on “The OGRES Score – Power Ranking National Parks”

  1. Thank you for the time and effort you put in to this, Les. What a comprehensive , detailed list! I look forward to visiting some of these sites!

  2. love this ranking post! Cleverly done and very entertaining…more things/places added to my “to do” list now!

  3. I was both sad and happy to see that you ranked Yellowstone so low. Sad, because I’ve wanted to drag the family out there for some time now. Happy, because I did drag them to the rush-hour train stop that is Yosemite in August, and now you’ve warned me.

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