With Yosemite Park due to celebrate its 125th anniversary this October, Parissa Venturini picks out her top 10 National Parks from the 58 in North America
The US prides itself on its beautifully preserved national parks, all of which combine an incredible diversity of landscapes with protected wildlife.
1. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Beneath a huge prairie peppered with bison and elk sits Wind Cave National Park, one of the world’s largest and most intricate cave systems. ‘Discovered’ in 1881, its name derives from air moving in and out of the caves at different times of the day, due to atmospheric pressure. The most-explored section is over 140 miles long, but around four more miles are uncovered every year. This labyrinth of passages is home to boxwork, a rare calcite formation, which is definitely worth looking out for during a visit.
2. Grand Canyon, Arizona
There’s nothing quite like suddenly seeing the surreal and dramatic sight that is the Grand Canyon unfolding before you as your drive through the quiet, surrounding plateau. The seemingly bottomless gorge — one-mile deep, and 18 miles wide — extends as far as the eye can see, and colorful ridges carved by the Colorado River reveal billion year-old layers of rock and sand. Of all the parks, the Grand Canyon is the one not to be missed, and can be explored either on foot, or by helicopter for a truly breathtaking view.
3. Yosemite National Park, California
October 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of Yosemite National Park. California’s most cherished national park boasts a series of records: America’s highest waterfalls (Yosemite Falls) and the world’s tallest uninterrupted granite monolith (El Capitan). In the three wilderness areas surrounding Yosemite National Park, numerous species of animals roam the valleys and forests. Ancient giant sequoia groves, glaciers and towering granite cliffs can all be found in the park as well.
4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina; Tennessee
Standing on one of the highest points and looking down on the dreamy mountainous scene below, it isn’t hard to see how this national treasure got its name. Running along the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts over 10 million visitors every year, making it America’s most visited national park. Its vast plains and peaks once used to house the Cherokee, and today are home to an exceptionally wide variety of flora and fauna.
5. Yellowstone Park, Wyoming; Montana; Idaho
Yellowstone Park was America’s first national park. Stretching across northwest Wyoming, it boasts a high concentration of thermal features, including geysers, mud pots, hot springs and fumaroles. The incredible number of wild mammals, including grizzly bears, wolves and bison, to name just a few, has earned it the nickname of ‘American Serengeti’.
6. Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park in Florida is a haven for wildlife lovers, with the largest concentration of subtropical wilderness in the US. As the third-largest park in the country (after Death Valley and Yellowstone), it’s home to several endangered species, including the American crocodile, the Florida panther and the West Indian manatee. It also happens to be the main breeding spot for tropical wading birds in North America.
7. Arches National Park, Utah
There are over 2,000 stone arches in terracotta hues across the skyline in this national park. On a sunny day, with a vast canvas of blue sky as a backdrop, you’ve got yourself a truly impressive landscape. Sunsets at the Arches National Park offer glorious colour contrasts as well, highlighting the different hues and textures of the natural pinnacles and rocks displayed all over the protected area.
8. Death Valley, California; Nevada
At 282ft below sea level, Death Valley is the lowest point in North America. This vast expanse of Mojave Desert receives little rainfall and has the hottest temperatures in the US, resulting in an extreme landscape of brittle, baked earth and sandy dunes, in sharp contrast with its frosted peaks. Every couple of years, stones seem to move by themselves — an inexplicable phenomenon known as ‘sailing stones’.
9. Zion, Utah
Designated as a national park almost a century ago, Zion is Utah’s oldest park and attracts nearly three million visitors each year. They come in search of stunning views and magnificent canyons. The paradisiac scenery is made up of the reds and pinks of the canyon walls contrasting against the blue of the Virgin River, and all the green surrounding it. Hiking is the best way to admire this park from all angles.
10. Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali is Alaska’s most revered park, and takes its name after the Inuit name for Mt McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. At 20,320ft above sea level, this giant’s snowy peaks are most certainly some of the park’s main attractions, albeit not the only ones. Clear lakes and glaciers complement the dreamy panorama.