The USA's Best National Parks
By Real Travelling
Last updated: 20th November 2017
Going on a USA adventure, or in the middle of planning one? Don’t forget to put plenty of time aside to visit at least one national park on your travels. With 58 to choose from, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding one close by, but we’ve selected seven of our faves to give you an idea of what’s on offer around the States.
If you have an appreciation for trees, Yosemite is a great place to visit. With magnificent Giant Sequoias reaching up to an astonishing height of 250 feet (found mainly in the south of the region), and their Redwood cousins, reputedly the tallest trees on earth at a preposterous 350 feet (give or take), you’ll need to remind yourself to look down every now and then to take in the beauty a little closer to ground level. Yosemite isn’t all about the trees. The landscape is covered in awe-inspiring sights, from fast-flowing rivers and great, tumbling valleys, to colourful meadows and mountains formed in all shapes and sizes. Visit during mid-February and you might just get to witness the natural phenomenon of the firefalls at El Capitan – an annual event where the light from the sunset hits the waterfall at just the right point to make the cascades look remarkably similar to fire.
Yellowstone, although mainly in Wyoming, straddles Idaho and Montana, so if you happen to be passing through any of those three states, you simply don’t have any excuse to miss this fantastic nature haven. Made up of dramatic mountainscapes, ravines and forest, Yellowstone is uniquely situated around a volcanic hotspot, where you’ll find huge, rainbow-coloured hot springs and incredible erupting geysers, including the world’s most famous geyser – Old Faithful. Its main draw for visitors, aside from its spectacular scenery has to be its huge variety of wildlife. It’s not unusual to walk side-by-side with bison, elk, and moose, or catch sight of wolves, mountain lions, and grizzly bears in this nature wonderland, in fact it would be unusual not to see any of these magnificent creatures whilst visiting Yellowstone – David Attenborough, eat your heart out.
3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
If the name of this national park hasn’t given the game away already, you’ll be interested to hear that this spot in Arizona is home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world – The Grand Canyon (surprise!). One of the few natural sights that can be viewed from space, the mile-deep layers of red rock that reveal millions of years of erosion are far more impressive viewed up-close. Of course, you might struggle to trek the entire 277 miles of the canyon’s length, but nothing compares to riding on horseback through the meandering trails, rafting along the Colorado River, or hiking up to Mather Point or Lipan Point to catch the colourful light display at sunset.
If national parks to you drum up images of snow-capped mountains, bright blue lakes, and dense pine forests adding that unique scent us Brits only ever experience in air-freshener form, then this is the place you’re thinking of. Right at the top end of Montana, Glacier National Park unsurprisingly crosses the border into Canada and is filled with breathtaking views framed by the Rocky Mountain range at every turn. You’ll see smatterings of snow sprinkled throughout the park most of the year, but springtime is when it’s at its best with fresh blooms, bright sunshine, and baby animals prancing through colourful meadows to boot. The park’s name was given due to the number of glaciers within its grounds originally, sadly due to global warming effects many of the glaciers have since disappeared, but around 25 still remain and can be viewed on guided tours.
5. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion is one of the smallest national parks on our list, but definitely deserves a spot due, simply, to its other-worldly vistas and fantastic colour-clashes not ordinarily found in other parts of the world. Made up of steep red canyons and towering cliffs, just driving through the park makes for a unique experience – if you ever go during the winter months, the red rock capped with snow and set against bright blue sky is a sight to behold, although a little precarious to navigate! From the foot of the cliffs, you’ll find bright colours aplenty, in the form of turquoise pools and brilliant white falls, to deep green valleys, and wild hanging gardens. Walking through the park’s famous narrows will make you feel like you’re discovering another planet, as will trudging through icy waters to get to huge caves and dune-like tunnels – it’s incredible.
6. Everglades National Park, Florida
Made up of 1.5 million acres of wetland, this watery wonderland is as diverse an ecosystem as any rainforest or tropical island, and supports more than a whopping 700 different species of bird, reptile, mammal, and fish. Declared a Wetland of International Importance in 1987, among other impressive titles, the Everglades is a constantly evolving ecosystem, and with an abundance of wildlife, including endangered species like the leatherback turtle, Florida panther, and American crocodile, is a huge attraction for tourists and biologists alike. The best way to see this magical place is by water (obviously!), so take a private boat tour, go on an airboat safari, or kayak through the water forests. Just don’t be tempted to dip your toes in the open water – you might get more than just a fish pedicure!
7. Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio
If you’re au fait with REM’s back catalogue, then you’ll be well aware of Cuyahoga, but may not have realised it’s significance as a national park in Northeast America. Unusually close to a large city (Cleveland), Cuyahoga is one of the most visited national parks in the USA, by Americans rather than tourists. Its proximity to Cleveland makes it the ideal escape from busy city life and so thousands of city dwellers make a beeline for the park every year – there’s even a railway that runs rather pleasing old-fashioned engines straight through the park to make it more accessible for locals. A beautiful and easy-to-trek-around park come snowstorm or heatwave, Cuyahoga is full of stunning views year-round, but is probably most photographed in the autumn when the entire area is covered in a fantastic golden-red canopy of leaves, which is a beautiful sight against picturesque waterfalls and quaint tracks littered with pretty little bridges and pathways.
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