North America is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse National Parks the world has to offer. With so many choices at hand (there are over 100!), it can be hard to decide where to start! Here are eight of the top National Parks that should be on your travel bucket list!
Yosemite (Yoh-se-mi-tee) National Park may well be the most scenic of all American parks and a USA round up without it is like scones without jam; nachos with no guac; buttery bread without marmite. Head for the deepest bowels of the Yosemite Valley and you’ll observe a lush, glacier-carved wilderness teeming with wildlife. You’ll also find a plethora of superlatives: Yosemite is home to North America’s highest waterfall, the world’s tallest uninterrupted granite monolith and has been a World Heritage Site since 1984. There are spectacular vistas, great hiking, rafting, fishing, big-wall rock climbing and it’s exploding with biological diversity, so it really does have it all.
Vernal Fall Yosemite National Park
It seems everywhere has Pinnacles (how many are there in New Zealand? Two, three?!), luckily California’s incarnation of them upholds the mighty name. The park almost appears out of nowhere; one moment you’re traveling through lush rolling hills and then a craggy formation of spindly red juts out of the countryside. Also America’s newest national park, Pinnacles got the promotion from national monument in 2013 because of its vital connection with the condor recovery program. Being little known, it’s largely quiet and undiscovered which means thousands of acres of ancient volcanic remains, hiking trails, emerald-green forests, sloping green valleys, precariously positioned boulders, huge caves and of course, towering spires without hundreds of other tourists. Keep your eyes peeled for the condors.
Pinnacles National Park, California
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Have you really been to America if you haven’t visited this great, gaping hole in the desert that’s come to epitomize the Wild West? You may have seen this great red canyon on postcards, movies, posters or the like, but nothing prepares you for seeing it in real life. Measuring 277 miles (446km) long, almost 18 miles (29km) wide and a mile (1.6km) deep, this sprawling crevasse in the earth is almost like a full spectrum of the colour red; full of pinks, oranges and off-whites. Hike into the abyss on the Bright Angel Trail, or try your luck at getting a spot on the coveted kayaking list for a trip down the winding Colorado River at the very bottom. However you view it, there’s no doubt it will be an experience that stays with you forever.
Havasu Falls Grand Canyon
This is a world away from any other park in America. Take in the beauty of the USA’s farthest-flung state through the snowcapped peaks of the Alaska Range. Here you’ll find North America’s tallest mountain Denali (an important peak of the Seven Summits, and formerly known as Mount McKinley) standing at 20,320 feet (6194m). It’s also the place to spot the “big five”, a phrase we often thought reserved for the African Serengeti. But in Alaska, this means moose, sheep, caribou, wolves, and the famed grizzlies. It’s a great place for thrill-seekers too, with plenty of backcountry hiking, white water rafting, flightseeing, and if you’re game climbing the majestic Denali itself.
The world’s very first national park, Yellowstone holds a special place in the people of America’s hearts. The geothermal wonderland is home to some of the planet’s most amazing volcanic and thermal spectacles – think natural hot springs, fumaroles, geysers and mud pots. Let’s not forget Old Faithful either; a cone geyser that spouts sporadically throughout the day and the park’s most iconic landmark. There’s almost too much to list enveloped in this park, with the craggy peaks of the Rockies, Yellowstone Lake (North America’s highest altitude lake), the spectacular Canyon of the Yellowstone, waterfalls, petrified forests of grandiose scale, and wildlife galore.
Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring
Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina/ Tennessee
Surprisingly, this is actually the nation’s most-visited national park – not least for the rather major highway cutting straight through its middle. The park straddles the Great Smoky Mountains, are a sub range of the large Appalachian Mountains and form a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Full of towering peaks and explosions of colour from blooming wildflowers (the park boasts over 1600 species of flowering plants, more than any other North American national park), it’s a sight to behold, both from the seat of your car on the highway, and from an outpost as you’re embarking on one of the hiking trails.
Flowers near Clinghams Dome, Greay Smoky Mountains
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Renown by 20-somethings on their gap years, wanderlusts, and luxury travelers alike, Banff is arguably the jewel in Canada’s crown. The country’s first national park is famous the world over for its postcard-worthy views of jagged, snow-capped mountains, turquoise lakes, and lush greenery at every turn. Lake Louise provides a worthy backdrop for just about any activity, whether it be hiking, skiing, camping, or just surveying the view, with a mirror-like surface for all the pristine scenery to reflect itself in. Ski Banff is renowned the world over for its spectacular powder, but there’s several major resorts servicing the more luxury-inclined traveler (it might not surprise you then that this is one of the top honeymoon spots in the world).
Lake Louise, Banff, Canada
Torngat Mountains National Park, Newfoundland/ Labrador
Polar bears. Are you hooked yet? This northern park may be icy and cold much of the year, but that also means its home to one of the most majestic of creatures: the it-looks-cuddly-but-probably-isn’t polar bear. It’s also home to the grand Saglek Fjord, and if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of the northern lights.