US National Parks
There are 59 designated National Parks in the USA, so a bit of advance research is required to figure out which are the best to visit on your trip. In fact, each of them has something unique to offer, but with time always a consideration, we take a look at our favourites and help you narrow down your selection.
The Grand Canyon
The world-famous Grand Canyon is the world’s largest river gorge, carved by the river Colorado and stretching over 400 km throughout the state of Arizona. The main visitor centre can be found in Grand Canyon Village and the best way to admire the mighty canyon is from the many viewpoints surrounding its edge. Many of the more accessible viewpoints are to be found at the Canyon’s South Rim – this is because the North Rim is less developed and harder to access. One thing is sure: regardless of where you choose to view this incredible natural phenomenon, you’re sure to be amazed by the views! South Rim is home to most of the Grand Canyon’s attractions and better-known viewpoints, such as Hermit’s Resets, Hopi Point, Mojave Point, Shoshone Point, Yavapai Point, Desert View Point and the Desert View Watchtower.
As you stand at the edge of the canyon, you can’t help but feel the power and scale of Mother Nature. The more adventurous can also head down to the bottom of the canyon, however, before you do, you must obtain a permit to descend and sleep at the base of the Visitor Center, where National Park employees will check that you are fully prepared for the arduous trip. The trail is 27 km long, with an elevation of 1,500 metres and takes two days to hike, making it unsuitable for absolute beginners.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is located in northern Colorado, approximately 120 km from its capital, Denver. The park’s borders protect the unique alpine landscape and there are 100 peaks here at a height of over 3,300 metres above sea level. You can reach many of the Park’s viewpoints by foot, on horseback or by car. Its most famous route is Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continually paved road in the entire of North America. It traverses the slopes of the mountains to reach an elevation of 3,713 metres above sea level, offering breathtaking panoramas of the alpine landscape with its incredible variety of flora and fauna. The way in which the landscape changes as you continue along the route is fascinating; the road starts at mountain forests, passes through dense fir and spruce forests, which finally give way to the alpine tundra. 577 kilometres of trails, 150 lakes, and over 724 kilometres of streams await you in the Park.
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One of the interesting trekking routes is the moderately-difficult Emerald Lake Trail, which will reward hikers with a stunning view of the three lakes. The Sky Pond route is considered more challenging, as is Longs Peak, a four-thousand-metre summit that requires considerable experience and proper preparation. Regardless of your hiking ability, visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park are sure to see wild animals. The Park is home to thousands of elk, deer, marmots, mouflons and black bears, so whether you prefer quiet picnics, rugged camping, mountain climbing or white-water rafting, the Rocky Mountains can offer all that with a side of untamed nature.
Yellowstone National Park
The world’s oldest national park, Yellowstone, is located on the border of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It is an ideal place for keen campers, as well as those who love hot springs, waterfalls and geysers due to its geothermal activity. A dozen or so kilometres below Yellowstone is a dormant supervolcano and if this giant were to explode, it would have dire consequences for the entire planet. Happily, Yellowstone’s giant remains happily asleep, and any disaster-movie scenarios are at complete odds with the Park’s tranquillity and natural harmony. Enter Yellowstone via one of five designated entry points and you will be given a map to help with your exploration. A seven-day pass to Yellowstone costs US$35 per vehicle and in order to see the most interesting areas of the park, it is recommended to plan at least a three-day stay.
Yellowstone Park is so vast and diverse that it is important to choose the places you’d like to visit along with your route in advance. We especially recommend that you include Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb Geyser, and the largest hot springs at Grand Prismatic Springs in your itinerary. It’s also worth making time for a hike to the Old Faithful geyser, before following the trail to see hot springs, mud volcanoes, and geysers. Covered with moss and conifers, Yellowstone Park is home to numerous animal species such as lynx, grizzly bears, wolverines and elks. You will also spot many birds of prey in the tree-tops but please note that it is strictly forbidden to feed any animals in the park. You should also keep your distance, with a minimum of 100 metres from any predators. The best chance of spotting buffalo, wolves or elk is at dusk and dawn so be sure to bring binoculars!
Yosemite National Park
Located in California, Yosemite National Park is a paradise for those who love crystal clear streams, waterfalls, lakes and rivers. The park is located on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which makes both the fauna and flora of Yosemite very diverse. While hiking, you can encounter black bears, pumas, turtles and coyotes and the park contains museums covering Native American history and the famous California gold rush. A park costs US$30 and is valid for seven days. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in the United States.
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It’s a spectacular series of three cascades that create a waterfall that is over 13 times the height of Niagara Falls! In Yosemite, you’ll also see giant sequoias, the world’s largest and oldest trees.. The largest of them, Grizzly Giant, is over 2,700 years old and about 65 metres high. In addition, we also recommend climbing Half Dome, Yosemite’s most famous granite rock formation. It is a park icon and can also be admired from Glacier Point and Tunnel View. If you like being active outdoors, head to the Bass Lake Resort, which offers activities such as fishing, mountain biking and sailing.
Acadia National Park
Situated off the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park includes Mount Desert Island and many smaller outlying islands. Its location is ideal for coastal observation, cycling, canoeing and sailing and you can also find plenty of museums and galleries here. Tickets can be purchased online or on-site, with a US$30 private vehicle pass valid for seven days. If you are travelling on foot, the fee is $15 per person. The most popular time to travel to Acadia is during the summer when you can expect full parking lots and lots of people.
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As such, we’d recommend autumn as the perfect time to visit. For fans of mountain trips, watching the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain will be an unforgettable experience. If you want to enjoy the day in a slightly more intimate setting, you can go to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Meanwhile, at Jordan Pond Lake, you can admire the crystal clear water reflecting the surrounding hills like a mirror. In case you have little time for sightseeing and hiking, choose the approximately 40 km long Park Loop Road car route to see popular attractions in one trip.