Top 10 US National Parks
Published 22 June 2016
You’re never short of a national park or two in the United States: the country boasts an impressive 59 of these natural playgrounds, spread across 27 states. So, in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the creation of the US National Park Service (NPS), here’s a rundown of our favourites. Cameras at the ready.
The shining star of America’s national parks, Yosemite is ridiculously photogenic and offers year-round beauty. There’s flowing rivers and plunging waterfalls in spring; blooming wildflowers in summer; changing foliage colours in autumn; and dustings of white snow in winter. It’s always a good time to hike, climb, drive or ski the deep valleys and majestic meadows. According to the NPS, to be considered as a national park, an area must have at least one of the following features: natural beauty, unique geological features, unusual ecosystems and recreational opportunities. Luckily for us, Yosemite ticks all the boxes and then some.
Visit Yosemite with Round the World Experts’ National Parks & Canyons Journey.
Big Bend, Texas
One of the least visited of the US national parks, Big Bend is nature at its rawest. The park is named after a turn in the Rio Grande as it winds its way through the Chihuahuan Desert, forming a natural border with Mexico. With far fewer visitors than other national parks, you can often have the pathways to yourself here, allowing you to observe over 450 bird species and some wonderfully diverse plants without the crowds. Look out too for skunks, raccoons, foxes and, very occasionally, black bears and mountain lions.
Visit Big Bend as part of a longer trip to Texas with Round the World Experts’ Texas in Depth Journey.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Around a million people visit Bryce Canyon National Park every year, tempted by the horseshoe-shaped amphitheatres and jagged spires, known as hoodoos. These twisted rock formations offer shelter to deer, elk and black bears as well as excellent hiking and horse riding opportunities to us visitors. Don’t miss the Rim Road Scenic Drive, an 18-mile route taking in the very best of the scenery. Just make sure your camera is fully charged or you have a spare battery.
Check out Bryce Canyon National Park with Round the World Experts’ National Parks & Canyons Journey.
Death Valley, California
The vast, desolate landscape of Death Valley has an otherworldly feel to it, and is one of the hottest places on the planet. In fact, the highest temperature ever recorded on earth was measured here in 1913, a sweltering 56.7°C. Visitors come to explore the weird and wonderful beauty spots such as Dante's View, which overlooks the salt flats of Badwater, the incredible Devil's Golf Course, a large halite salt crystal formation, or to gaze in wonder at the Race Track (pictured), where rocks appear to move on their own.
Witness the landscapes of Death Valley with Round the World Experts’ California & Canyons Journey.
The Native American inhabitants of the Everglades called the area a ‘River of Grass’ and it’s easy to see why. A wetland area enveloped by greenery and lined with mangroves, the Everglades are the perfect escape from the heat of nearby Miami. Cruise the tranquil waterways, kayak the labyrinthine mangroves or fish for snapper and sea trout, keeping a watchful eye out for lurking crocodiles.
Cruise the Everglades in search of crocs on our Cities & Paradise Journey.
Image: Rachel Locke
Grand Canyon, Arizona
One of Mother Nature's greatest achievements, the Grand Canyon is famous the world over, its towering cliffs and sheer size causing it to top many a bucket list. Marvel at the scale of this natural spectacle from one of the many vantage points throughout the park, walk the trails that run around the canyon or see it from the best position of all: a helicopter. In summer it’s even possible to raft the churning white waters of the Colorado River.
Drive to the Grand Canyon on our Casinos Craters & Carousels Journey, which includes a helicopter ride over the canyon.
Hawaii Volcanoes, Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea. The 11-mile Crater Rim Drive and the hollow Thurston Lava Tube are impressive enough in their own right, but what really draws the punters are the lava flows. Look out for the rivers of smouldering magma steaming and sizzling as they pour into the sea and, after dark, watch the orange glow as they snake hypnotically through the darkness.
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Round the World Experts’ Hawaiian Explorer Journey.
The spectacular woodlands of Shenandoah National Park, filled with majestic peaks and rolling hills, are best admired from the 105-mile Skyline Drive, a scenic route along the hilltops. Over a million people venture into this park every year, with photographers flocking in October to capture the golden hues of the fall foliage. Shenandoah boasts over 500 miles of walking trails, including 100 miles of the mammoth Appalachian Trail, an ultra-long hike covering 2,190 miles through 14 states.
Explore Shenandoah National Park with Round the World Experts’ Colonial America Journey.
Zion National Park is unusual in that, instead of looking out over the scenery from a raised viewpoint, visitors walk along the bottom of the narrow slot canyons and crimson sandstone cliffs. This reversed vantage point allows you to look up at the towering cliffs above, no doubt bringing on that strange feeling of insignificance. Zion has been inhabited for over 12,000 years, so there’s plenty of history to discover, not to mention the thousands of desert plant species. Explore this beautiful landscape by bike, on horseback or, if you’re feeling adventurous, by canyoneering (a mix of climbing and abseiling).
Take a walk in Zion National Park with Round the World Experts’ National Parks & Canyons Journey.
The world’s first national park, Yellowstone was designated way back in 1872. It’s also a World Heritage site, celebrated for its spluttering geysers, hot springs, mudpots and fumaroles as well as the vibrant mineral deposits that dot its landscape. Located atop a giant supervolcano that erupts every 600,000 to 900,000 years (the last eruption was 640,000 years ago) underlying molten magma heats the surface, creating wondrous hydrothermal features. Not only that, grizzly and black bears are spotted here, as well as sheep, bison, lynx, moose and a vast number of birds. At 2.2 million acres, this is one massive park, so be sure to give it the time it deserves.