Today (August 11, 2014): Top 10: most beautiful National Parks of the USA.
The United States of America is fortunate to have an abundance of gorgeous places to visit, with the majestic National Parks rightfully being atop the bucket list of most tourists. Whether you are enjoying the shorelines of the East Coast, traveling along the magnificent West Coast, or hiking in the majestic Rockies, there are more than enough opportunities to explore the great outdoors in one of these spectacular parks. All National Parks, 58 in total, represent an extraordinary variety of pristine natural environments and ranking them would be unfair since they all offer different experiences. Nonetheless, I hereby present you my top 10 list of the most beautiful National Parks of the USA, based on overall scenery, wildlife viewing, hiking opportunities, and our own experience.
There is more information below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite National Park in the comments section, or take my poll below!
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States (so be prepared to share it with the crowds). Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms carved by the Colorado River decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. The Grand Canyon reveals nature’s sheer force with its towering buttes, pinnacles and mesas, and its immense size leaves many visitors weak in the knees. Another way to weaken your knees is to hike to the canyon’s floor, an incredible adventure not to be undertaken lightly (especially not in a single day).
- Official website: Grand Canyon NP
- Highlights: Bright Angel Trail, North Kaibab Trail, rafting on the Colorado River, and the many vistas along the North and South Rim.
Denali is six million acres of wild land, bisected by one ribbon of road, where solitude, tranquility and wilderness await. Travelers to Denali will see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America’s tallest peak, 20,237 feet or 6,168 m high Mount McKinley (unfortunately obscured by clouds 4 out of 5 days). Wild animals, large and small, roam unfenced lands, living as they have for ages, creating outstanding opportunities for spotting them, like the occasional grizzly bear along the road, herds of caribou on the plains and dall sheep high on the cliffs.
- Official website: Denali Canyon NP
- Highlights: Park Road, Mount McKinley, Alpine tundra scenery, and wildlife viewing.
Yellowstone was established in 1872 as America’s first national park – an idea that spread worldwide – to protect the majority of the earth’s geysers, as well as other thermal wonders that make up an otherworldly landscape composed of steam, bubble, and boiling mud. Besides thermal features, Yellowstone’s vast wilderness includes mountain ranges, lakes, waterfalls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The main reason of most tourists for visiting Yellowstone is observing the amazing wildlife: grizzly and black bear, bison, bighorn sheep, elk and moose roam the plans and valleys. Unfortunately, you will have to share Yellowstone’s wonders with many other visitors.
- Official website: Yellowstone NP
- Highlights: Old Faithful geyser and other thermal features, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, and wildlife viewing in the Lamaar Valley.
Atop this volcano, located on Hawaii’s second largest island Maui, you can hike above the clouds across an otherworldly desert (is this the planet Mars?) with incredible vistas towards the Pacific Ocean. The park also cares for endangered species, some of which exist nowhere else, such as the Nene (Hawaiian goose). Perhaps just as spectacular are Haleakala’s world-famous sunsets are the bright, starry skies revealed at night. As the park stretches out towards the sea, the desolate volcanic landscape gives way to lush bamboo forests and thundering waterfalls.
- Official website: Haleakala National Park
- Highlights: watching the sunrise or sunset atop Haleakala peak, hiking in the crater, and Pools of Oheo area.
At Zion National Park, forces of nature have come together creating one of the American West’s most dramatic cliff-and-canyon scenery, that offers almost unlimited opportunities for hiking, camping, canyoning, and other wilderness experiences. The main valley boasts some of the most iconic hikes in the National Park system, such as the (in)famous Angels Landing hike along a frighteningly narrow ridge, from where you can gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Wildlife such as mule deer, golden eagles, and mountain lions, also inhabit the Park.
- Official website: Glacier Bay NP
- Highlights: Angel’s Landing day hike, The Great White Throne monolith, and the Narrows slot canyon.
Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site (one of the world’s largest protected areas). Long before global warming became a headline, the glaciers of Glacier Bay began a rapid retreat, which has created a 65-mile (104 mk) fjord of spectacular beauty that is still dominated by numerous large glaciers that cascade down from the surrounding mountain peaks. The most spectacular summer residents of Glacier Bay are the humpback and killer whales, and it’s easy to spot them.
- Official website: Glacier Bay NP
- Highlights: boat trip to the glaciers (often part of cruise liner’s itinerary through the Inside Passage), kayaking with whales (this activity also features in my top 10 list of the world’s best wildlife holidays), and hiking in Barlett Cove.
Olympic National Park is a land of such variety in climate and terrain that it’s hard to believe it’s just one park. It’s more like many magical parks in one. A day’s exploration can take you from spectacular Pacific Ocean beaches with colorful tide pools to inspiring mountain scenery dotted with massive glaciers and alpine meadows of wildflowers. In addition, in the heart of Olympic National Park, you can hike through some of the largest remnants of ancient sopping-wet rainforests left in the USA. We suggest to take some time to explore its different faces, and to escape from the outside world in the largely untouched forests, the beautiful mountains, and desolate, wild beaches.
- Official website: Olymic NP
- Highlights: Hurricane Ridge, Ruby Beach, and the Hoh Rain Forest.
Spectacular Grand Teton National Park is located just south of its more famous sibling Yellowstone. Rising above a flat valley rich with extraordinary wildlife and pristine lakes, the Teton Range stands monument to the people who fought to protect it. These are mountains of imagination, where you can explore over 200 miles (320 km) of trails, float the Snake River, observe grizzly bears and moose, or enjoy the serenity of this remarkable place. One of the convenient features of Grand Teton National Park is that it’s not a huge park (with less crowds as) compared to its neighbour Yellowstone, so everything is fairly close together and doesn’t require a lot of driving.
- Official website: Grand Teton NP
- Highlights: Grand Teton peaks, Jackson Lake, trail to Inspiration Point & Hidden Falls, and wildlife viewing.
First protected in 1864 and one of the first parks in the National Park Service, California’s Yosemite is a World Heritage site. The park’s central feature is Yosemite Valley, which is surrounded by towering granite summits, densely forested with pines, and its famous spectacular waterfalls. But the Park is so much more than just a great valley with waterfalls; it’s a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra. Within Yosemite’s vast wilderness area, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and more than 800 miles (1300 km) of spectacular hikes.
- Official website: Yosemite NP
- Highlights: granite monoliths of Half Dome and El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, giant sequoias, Tioga Pass, John Muir day hike.
The one million acre Glacier National Park wilderness area is located in the state of Montana and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. The Park, not to be confused with Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park (see above), was established in 1910 to preserve its pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, glacially-carved valleys, and spectacular lakes. Its diverse habitats support healthy populations of grizzly & black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, wolverines, wolves and mountain lions. With over 740 miles (1200 km) of trails, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude.
- Official website: Glacier NP
- Highlights: Going-To-The-Sun Road scenic drive (this drive also features in my top 10 list of the world’s most beautiful roads), the Highline day hike, Many Glacier area trails, and wildlife viewing.