Our national parks have a way of mesmerizing visitors and reminding us of why we travel.
From sunset at the Grand Canyon to watching lava pour out of Kilauea to witnessing Old Faithful erupt for the first time, the parks leave memories that will last for decades.
"When you step out of the tour bus or out of the car and stretch your legs and walk over and look at the rim of the Grand Canyon there's a great paradox that goes on. You suddenly feel you're insignificant yet that makes you bigger, it makes you feel connected to everyone else and everything else," said filmmaker Ken Burns, whose new six-episode documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea is airing all this week on PBS.
Burns told ABC News that he chose to focus on the national parksbecause they are "an utterly American invention."
"Nobody else had ever set aside land in the past. Only kings did that. Only rich people got that," Burns said. "In America, in a democratic experiment everybody could own this land."
For Burns, the parks are not so much about nature but about the connections that natural beauty helps bring.
"I've watched families look down in awe, grab each other's hands, look into each other's eyes and then you realize that's the real magic of the national parks," he said. "They're not just showing you spectacular natural scenery, they're also permitting you to have experiences with those closest to you in ways you've never had before."
There are 58 natural national parks in the U.S. But the National Park Service also oversees another 333 battlefields, memorials, parkways, seashores, recreation areas and monuments. They include everything from Abraham Lincoln's birthplace to the Statue of Liberty to a memorial in Pennsylvania for the 9/11 victims of United Airlines flight 93.
With that many parks, it's a hard task to narrow down a list of the 10 best. We know everybody has their own personal favorites -- and by choosing only 10, we also left some of our favorites off the list. (The Petrified Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park are just two of our favorites that missed the cut.)
These 10 parks represent some of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring natural formations in the country.
But first, we had to ask Ken Burns about his favorite national park. The filmmaker said that most favorites are based on personal experiences. He was in Yosemite for the first shoot of his documentary and remembered that in 1959, when he was six years old, his dad took him to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
"My mom was sick and dying of cancer and we were distracted. And I had forgotten that. All of the sudden, lying there awake in Yosemite, I could remember what his hand felt like in mine, I could remember all the songs he sang to me, the hike we took. It was mind-blowing. It just changed my life," Burns said. "So now, in some ways Yosemite and Shenandoah are paired in my mind as my favorite places."
So let's go over our list. Hopefully, you too will soon have a favorite.
#10: Acadia National Park We begin where the sun first hits the shore of America, at Acadia National Park.
This park along the rugged Maine coast has 125 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of spectacular carriage roads that can be explored by bike or a horse-drawn carriage tour. Kayaking and canoeing are popular activities and two beaches in the park offer salt and fresh water for swimming.