Situated in the state of California, Yosemite National Park is the 3rd such designated area in the country. It is set in the High Sierras mountain range, and was opened in 1890.
The park offers a wide range of unique features. Yosemite Falls, one of the highest in the world at 739 metres (2,425 feet), graces the park and is a big draw for photographers. Climbers also frequent the park and the rocks that frame this waterfall.
Set in a valley and complemented by both Merced River and Lake, Yosemite is home to 400 species of animals and ancient giant sequoia trees. Visitors inevitably find themselves in awe of the staggering granite monoliths present in the park. But even more surprising is what park officials call “moonbows”, rainbows that occur at night under a full moon. Magic!
What could be better? The powerful granite rock formations throughout the park look as though they are on fire when the sunset graces them. A photographer’s dream!
This park became more widely known when cartoon character, Yogi Bear, parodied it as “Jellystone” and declared it home turf. But there’s nothing soft or wobbly about the rock formations in this Wyoming park. It opened in 1872 and has since been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it sits in the south-central Rocky Mountains and is home to bison, grizzly bears and elk. Recently, wolves were reintroduced to the park, rebalancing an ecosystem that had run amok without them.
The world’s largest active geyser — Steamboat Geyser — explodes in Yellowstone, but it is Old Faithful, with its blast every 90 minutes that has captured the imagination and drawn visitors; the park is littered with geysers of many sizes and frequencies. Also dotted with lakes, rivers, canyons and mountains, rugged, beautiful Yellowstone sits among volcanoes, some dead, some still geologically active.
Fires, as well as volcanoes, threaten Yellowstone; the last major burn occurred in 1988 and destroyed about one-third of the park. But the trees and vegetation are growing back.
The park is open year round, but the sub-alpine climate makes winters a tough time to visit. There are, besides camping facilities, numerous lodges and cabins, which make for a wonderful getaway any time of year.
Everybody has heard of the Grand Canyon, and they all think they know what it’s like because if they haven’t been, they’ve seen pictures. The fact is, there is no way for even the liveliest mind to grasp the massiveness unless you’re right there (so go!). We can tell you that the Colorado River runs 446km (277mi) (that’s about the same distance between London and Paris!) through the Grand Canyon in Arizona, that the width averages around 29km (18mi) and that it’s 1.6 km (1mi) deep, but you can’t imagine it until you see it.
This is a busy national park so get there early. It offers excellent facilities, including a visitor centre, shops, ranger programs (walks and talks), and several lofty viewpoints. It’s especially popular with regular and backcountry camping enthusiasts, climbers and river-rafters.
At its most dramatic at dawn and sunset, Grand Canyon National Park’s singular colours, bold terrain and dizzying heights overwhelm the sensory system. Be sure to watch for signs that indicate restricted areas and stay safe while your eyes don’t believe what they are seeing!
Less well known than its neighbour, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canon National Park, one of five in the state of Utah, nonetheless is canyon-worthy. Opened as a national park in 1928, it boasts several sets of accommodation, including the well known Bryce Canon Lodge and Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel.
Bryce Canyon’s canyons are not so much the thing here as its moonscape hoodoos; that’s what draws visitors from near and far. The hoodoos are natural spires, in this case red stone, that that protrude from the ground standing around five feet tall to 10 storeys. They are oddly shaped, created by erosion, and turn even more red at sunset. One that finishes in the image of a hammerhead is aptly called “Thor’s Hammer”.
Bryce Canyon boasts a natural amphitheatre, carved into the edge of the Paunsagunt Plateau, a great spot to sit at night and be startled by the brightness of the stars against the pitch black canvas of night. But be aware of animals; the squirrels and prairie dogs are harmless, but mountain lions and pronghorn deer roam this park.
It looks like a bunch of basket handles,” one tourist said of Arches National Park’s peculiar rock formations, all in the shape of arches (hence the name), albeit in varying lengths and widths. Visitors flock here in the spring and fall to observe and photograph the more than 2,000 natural arches; summer is unbearably hot.
Arches National Park is situated in eastern Utah and was opened to the public in 1929; the dramatic Colorado River borders it to one side, adding to its majesty.
Several hiking trails wind their way through the park where these strange geological formations delight and amaze. Check out the Devil’s Garden, which contains sandstone sculptures, not in arched configurations, but also naturally occurring; it looks very much as though someone planted a garden on Mars! You’ll also find a few balancing rocks, which seem to have one horizontal rock atop a vertical one. Winds will eventually topple them, but for now, they seem to be a magic trick!
One of the most popular national parks on the east coat of the USA, Acadia is exceptional not just for its Atlantic Ocean seascape, but for the fact that a charming town, Bar Harbor, sits in its midst. The park is located largely on Mount Desert Island in Maine, home of lobster rolls (you must try one when you go there!) and salt water taffy.
Acadia National Park is an idyllic balance of seaside resort town and natural splendour, with lovely little inns (stay at The Ledgelawn Inn; you’ll love it) and excellent camping. The town is historic, with a Civil War-era cemetery.
Explore the rocky beaches, climb (in your car...) Cadillac Mountain, the highest on America’s east coast, and walk the Jordan Pond nature trail. Here you might be lucky and see a moose, a bear or even a whale offshore. Seabirds abound.
Before you reluctantly take yourself away from Acadia National Park, be sure to stop and watch the action at Thunder Hole. Plan to visit one to two hours before the tide is high. The ocean waters submerge this unusual cave at high tide and in so doing, they make a sound that resembles thunder. Oh, and wear a raincoat; the water can shoot as high as a three-storey building when it collides with the rocks.
This place is not for the faint of heart or the feeble of body. This is Alaska wilderness — six million acres of it (in metric, HUGE!), dramatic, deep and dangerous. But stunning nonetheless. Centred around Mount Denali at 6190 metres above sea level, the entire massive space is divided more or less up the middle by one road. That’s it. If you travel to Denali, go fully prepared. For just about anything from snow to grizzly bears.
While there are eight hotels near the park entrance, the more adventurous traveller will definitely opt to stay at the remote lodge, deep in backcountry. The area of this park is larger than the state of New Jersey (which, we think, is safer...), and visitors do get lost. It is enjoyed mostly by experienced outdoors people, mountaineers, and those not scared of bears...
What Denali National Park offers, that no other USA national park can claim, is an unadulterated view of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights; it is situated within the ring of the north around which they are readily visible and beyond spectacular. It’s almost worth the risk!
Here lie deep canyons, silent about the secrets they may hold, in the depths of land that was inhabited 11,000 years ago by indigenous peoples. Staggering cliffs hover above the Virgin River (you can swim in this water, but it’s cold). The hiking trail through the Zion Narrows is watery; partly a wading trail.
Zion National Park in southwest Utah is accessible because of a 1909 feat of engineering. A road had to be put through to connect the park to the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon; this was achieved, partly by tunnelling, and the 40km (25mi) road is used by thousands of visitors every year. The Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, when traversed, opens onto a natural scene like no other at the opposite end.
This is a favourite park for hiking (be wary of marked danger spots) and camping; be sure to visit the Emerald Pools and their waterfalls, resplendent with a hanging garden.
Covering territory that lies within the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, 2,114 square metres (522,419 acres) measures Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Despite being known as Smoky Mountains, the park encompasses the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, and their famous hiking trails. Autumn is the perfect time to visit and enjoy the staggering fall colours. Remember to respectfully share the park with the black bears that inhabit it, and never approach them.
There are plenty of lodges and camping facilities at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s a popular place, close to several large cities, and strikingly scenic, a favoured spot for weekend getaways.
Littered with streams and rivers, and in the higher areas, waterfalls, plus lush vegetation, including wildflowers year-round, the park offers a sense of civilized paradise, a superb place if you like to canoe or kayak, to paddle around Lake Fontane. All this beauty in one of America’s oldest mountain ranges. Bliss!
Southeast Florida visitors expect to see manatees, American crocodiles and alligators, and even the Florida panther (no, not a sports team) moving about in Everglades National Park, but Burmese pythons? Surely not. And yet, the snake is, although non-native and invasive, now living and breeding there in what is estimated to be tens of thousands in population numbers in the park. There is certainly plenty of food for them to eat...
Comprised of freshwater wetlands and saline coastal fringe waters, Everglades is a mixture of a fishing paradise, “gator” cafeteria and biosphere research centre, with varied boating options. The park is probably best explored with professional guides if you are planning your first visit. And you should go in dry season; waters can be too high for comfort during the wet season (mostly summer).
This is one of the USA’s most unusual national parks, not so much a rugged natural expanse as a concentrated wetland worthy of extensive study. There are few such areas like it in the world, possibly with the exception of the Nile River delta. Florida is better known for its beaches and glittering Miami, retirement living and hurricanes, but Everglades National Park is a lesson in evolution and immediate adaptation. Just ask the pythons when they’re heading back to Burma... They are, for the record, docile when not hunting for food.