With today’s instant communications, fast travel options, and convenience-oriented lifestyles it can be easy to lose a grip on just how vast this country really is. But there is nothing like a journey through the sprawling grandeur of just about any National Park to provide a healthy perspective that diminishes the constrictive illusion of urban existence.
In the following article, we will take a trip through the magical and the bizarre National Parks that you would have to experience to believe they are not alien in origin. Indeed, the geographical forces that molded this land are unique to the planet and have produced gorgeous vistas and formations like no other.
For your next vacation, forget the aggravation of long lines and suffocating crowds around dismal urban attractions. Instead, head out to the wide open spaces of the greatest National Parks in the USA. Whether you choose to travel with a solitary backpack, amble with a close friend, or band with family, here are some key locations that everyone should visit at least once.
Acadia National Park, Maine
The east coast of Maine is as far east as you can go on land in the continental USA and is home to one of the most underrated national parks, Arcadia. Here on the jagged shorelines of the Atlantic is a region of rocky islands, sheltered coves, mountainous coastlines, and plenty of thick forests and marshlands to captivate the mind and feast the eyes. Pair this breathtaking experience with MONQ’s Forest or Mountain.
Acadia National Park sits on 50,000 acres of Mount Desert Island in Frenchman Bay. This location offers spectacular ocean views and even a chance to see marine life like local seals sunning on the rocks. Even larger marine creatures like whales, sharks, and Giant Tuna can be viewed on boat tours.
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Visitors can explore the shady forest scenery along over 50 miles of carefully planned carriage roads, paid for by John D. Rockefeller Jr. You will also want to enjoy the views along the 20 mile Park Loop Road and sample some of the delicious seafood at local lobster shacks.
Locals recommend visiting this region in the summertime when everything is green and the weather is perfect. If you make the trip during the other months be sure you rise early one morning to greet the dawn from Cadillac Mountain. Between the months of October to March, this point is the first spot to receive the sun’s rays in the USA. This daily triumph is invariably greeted with cheers and rejoicing.
(Note: Mount Cadillac in Acadia National Park is 60 miles west of West Quoddy Head, the easternmost point of the continental USA.)
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park gives visitors a close and personal introduction to the seething cauldron of inner Earth in vivid detail. But Yellowstone is much more than the Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful Geyser, which are definitely worth the trip. While these are often crowded, there are plenty of other less-known attractions where you and yours can get some breathing space. Yellowstone has a multi-faceted display of pristine natural wonders including red stone canyons, wild plains, dense forests, and magnificent waterfalls.
Yellowstone Grand Canyon is every bit as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon and features red stone ravines that drop into Yellowstone River. Visitors will also find a booming wildlife population that would otherwise be impossible to find in such a varied array and in one location.
There are many trails to be explored and endless conveyance options for exploration as well. Horseback riding is by far one of the most popular and an especially exciting outdoor adventure. Then there is also fishing and boating so take time to consider all your options before coming over.
The best times to visit would be in the middle of the summer, except that there will be roughly 4 million other people visiting through this time. Qualified sources suggest going in the months of April to May and September to November. This will lessen the thick summer multitudes and avoid the mud season that may be hard to navigate.
Glacier Park, Montana
The rough mountain slopes, alpine meadows, and lush forests are all that remains of the glaciers that formed Glacier National Park. This pristine location has also been called the Crown of the continent not only for its unparalleled beauty but also its position on the continental divide between the US and Canada. The streams and rivers in Glacier National Park will flow west to the Pacific Ocean, North East to the Hudson Bay in Canada, and South to the Gulf of Mexico.
Sitting on over a million acres, there are more than 700 trails to explore and a perfect location for hikers looking for adventure. Trail of Glaciers is a beautiful and mildly challenging route, but the real adventurers will head for Grinnell Glacier. This gives you a chance to see marmots, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and other wildlife in the meadows at higher altitudes.
Going-to-the-Sun road offers 52 miles of scenic views with plenty of locations to pull over and marvel at the scenery. The scenery is unbelievably breathtaking. Tourists are consistently cautioned to use the pullover locations for gawking at the cedar forests, waterfalls, and vistas to avoid causing traffic accidents on the two-lane highway. Glacier Park also offers the opportunity to release a hold on time and technology and slip back to rustic lodges and chalets where energies can be replenished before more adventures tomorrow.
Glacier Park is open all year round but the crowds arrive between July and August to take advantage of the fine weather. September is still a good time to visit if you hope to miss the crowds and those who visit earlier in the year (April to June).
Zion National Park, Utah
Breathtaking landscapes come in a great variety of styles. The deserts of the Midwest host an outstanding visual spectacle in surreal shapes, figures, and tones. Zion National Park features a unique landscape twisted by irregular rock formations, bright canyon walls, mysterious pools, waterfalls, and the unparalleled solitude of a desert at dawn.
The Zion Canyon is the centerpiece attraction. Visitors can hike clear down to the river at the bottom through exciting trails with descriptive titles like the Narrows and the Subway. Be sure to pack a bathing suit because there are plenty of opportunities for swimming in the clear waters of the Virgin River and other sparkling emerald pools dotted about the desert.
Zion National Park contains a lot of jaw-dropping spectacles to defy imagination from the ponderous Great White Throne and Court of the Patriarchs to the fabulous rock arches. Hiking and trail exploration is very popular, but exploring the national park in a car is a great way to enjoy one of the most scenic routes in the USA.
Over 3 million people visited Zion in 2017 so it is a very popular location and most amenities are available year round. December through April are the low seasons for those hoping to miss the crowds, but it may be too cold for swimming.
Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali National Park in Alaska sits on more than 6 million acres of sprawling plains, majestic snow-covered mountains, ice cold glacial rivers, and other spectacular phenomena that can only be enjoyed this far north in the Taiga.
The undisputed attraction for adventurers, photographers and mountaineers alike towers 20,000 feet above sea level and is the highest peak in North America, Mt. Denali. Perhaps the best way to enjoy the grandeur of this spectacle is under the glow of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, which are especially visible between the months of August to April.
Denali is largely untouched by human development and there are no lodges or hotels within the park. There are a few camping grounds but the amenities are basic. There is also only a single road and private cars are only permitted up to a certain point during high season. Most of the park trails are pretty close to the road, but Denali allows its visitors to take their excursions off the trail.
The best time to visit depends largely on what the visitor hopes to do. For the best chances of good weather and a terrific view of Mt. Denali and the surrounding wilderness, summers (May to August) are the best choice. But the sun will be too strong to observe the Aurora within six weeks of the summer solstice, so timing is everything.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a place where the creative power of the volcano can be observed in ageless wonder. Here, an oceanic volcano has been at work for over 75 million years to produce the Hawaiian Islands and the largest single mountain in the world. Measured from its base at the ocean floor to its peak 13,700 feet above sea level.
According to a local legend, the fire goddess Pele makes her home in the Pit crater atop Kilauea Volcano. This is an especially impressive place to visit at night when the glow of lava adds an especially beautiful aspect to the already amazing spectacle.
Other volcanic productions worth visiting include the 600 foot Thurston Lava Tunnel which was carved by a flow of lava more than 500 years ago. Now it is beautifully set in a lush tropical jungle and certainly worth the visit (if the crowds are thin enough).
Travel down to the Chain of Craters Road to view a Martian landscape dotted with craters and solidified lava fields. Here you can take a look at the Pu’u Loa petroglyphs left by the first inhabitants of this island some 5,000 years ago. Keep your eyes peeled and you may catch sight of the shy local goose called a Nene.
Due to the highly popular attractions in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the year-round perfect weather (except during monsoon season), it can be hard to find a time when there are not many crowds. Early in the year before summer hits is typically a good idea to beat the prices that swell during winter and summer months.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
Once the winter chill rolls away and spring breathes new life into the land, avid hikers everywhere head over to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a floral extravaganza like no other. There are over 800 miles of trails to explore and in the springtime, the entire forest is blanketed with blossoms of every color and form conceivable.
There have been 1,660 individual types of flowers properly identified so far, far more variety that can be found in any other national park. Some of these blossoms are called spring ephemerals and only live for this short two-month celebration of color (between February and March) before they return to seed and await the next year’s festivities. Towards the end of the year, another celebration of fall colors can be equally breathtaking as the trees shed their leaves and prepare for a cold winter.
There is a wealth of outdoor activities to engage visitors the rest of the year as well. Fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more all in the lush forests, rivers, and lakes of the Smoky Mountains.
Anytime is a good time to visit this beautiful park, but obviously, the spring is the only time to witness the variety of blossoms that make this region famous. It is called the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage and it’s a big event with the park authorities. There are art exhibits, natural history seminars, photographic tours, and more. Taking some time to investigate what will be happening during your visit is always a good idea.
Final Notes on the Top National Parks in the US
Whenever you will be heading out into one of these sanctuaries of natural wonder, consider your own safety and go well prepared. There are fewer conveniences in the wild and carefully planning your trip can keep you safe and comfortable during your visit. Be sure to respect the local wildlife and never approach animals intentionally. Finally, Leave nothing behind but your footprints and take nothing with you but good memories and maybe some great pictures to share with your friends.
Photo credits: RomianaLee/shutterstock.com, SusannePommer/shutterstock.com, VaclavSebek/shutterstock.com, Fotos593/shutterstock.com, DustinMontgomery/shutterstock.com, joCrebbin/shutterstock.com, DaveAllenPhotography/shutterstock.com