The wide open spaces of the U.S. are home to 59 national parks which are packed full of a diverse variety of plants and animals. Prized and protected for their natural beauty, these parks see literally millions of visitors each year all of whom are left in awe of nature’s power and wonder. A true lover of the outdoors might make an effort to visit each of these parks at least once, but if you lack the time and funds perhaps try checking out a short list of the most impressive.
1. Yellowstone, Wyoming
The first and oldest of all national parks in the U.S., Yellowstone is a geological marvel. Protected in 1872 by President Grant this park, which sits atop one of the world’s largest active volcanoes, is home to a large portion of the planet’s natural geysers. You have probably heard the name of “Old Faithful,” a powerful geyser which jets super heated water every 91 minutes almost like clockwork. With a diversity of habitat in the park you find a wide range of animal life among which includes herds of wild bison as well as most recently reintroduced wolves.
2. Grand Canyon, Arizona
Home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Grand Canyon National Park is probably one of the most visited parks in the world. At 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide in places, the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking site which draws hardcore hikers from around the world to tackle its difficult terrain. This largely desert environment is home to a host of wildlife including mountain lions, rattlesnakes and some sizable creepy crawlies.
3. Badlands South Dakota
Badlands National Park is highly regarded by paleontologists and amateur fossil hunters as a fascinating place to visit. This region, which is heavily eroded by the elements, showcases stunning rock formations in which you can literally see layers of history. Fossils are so close to the surface in this region that you could literally stumble upon an unknown species that died out thousands of years ago. This is a wondrous and beautiful park that gives us a glimpse into a world long forgotten.
4. Yosemite, California
Yosemite National Park in California is home to a vast wilderness in which you can find the largest living thing in the world, Sequoia trees. Growing upwards of 275 feet tall, these trees can live literally for thousands of years and are enough of a reason to visit this park as it is. There is, however, so much more to the park including stunning waterfalls, granite cliffs and a diverse ecosystem of plants and animals.
5. Glacier, Montana
Anyone who understands the activity of glaciers will know of the breathtaking mark they can leave on a landscape. Well, in Glacier National Park, Montana, glaciers have been doing their work for millions of years. Today in the park mountains, valleys and exposed rock layers make for some stunning surroundings. You can still even see some glaciers in the park today, vast sheets of slowly moving ice. Sadly as the years progress these glaciers are melting away so this is not a place to leave until later in your list of visits.
6. Denali, Alaska
Much of the state of Alaska is unspoiled wilderness but especially so is Denali National Park. With six million acres and a 92 mile road right through the heart of it, you will need to have a rugged soul for this park. Home to America’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley, the park is a draw for hardcore mountain climbers and fans of the so called Big Five American animals. The big five American animals include the grizzly bear, grey wolf, Dall sheep, moose and Caribou.
7. Everglades, Florida
The third largest national park in the lower 48, the Everglades is a vast wetland which is home to a weird and wonderful array of animal life. This swamp-like habitat is home to alligators, American crocodiles, Manatees as well as an array of small reptiles and wading birds. The scale of the everglades region is apparent when you consider that the national park itself only covers 1/5 of the entire wetlands. It is a place of strange beauty considering that its essentially a hot, humid swamp.
8. Death Valley, California/Nevada
A place of extremes, Death Valley National Park is one of the hottest, driest places on the planet with a near record highest temp of 134 degrees. This stark barren place earned its name by being unforgiving and taking its share of lives over the centuries. You might then imagine there would be no sane reason to visit this park but this arid environment has its share of stunning scenery. Also, believe it or not, this seeming hellscape has wildlife including 51 species of mammal, 307 species of bird and 36 species of reptile.
9. Hawaii Volcanoes, Hawaii
While Yellowstone has its geysers, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has lava, you can see actual lave coming up out of the ground. Home to Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of Hawaii’s most active volcanoes, this is a wondrous park to visit. As lava slowly oozes from the earth rolling down to the sea you can actually see the island growing as lava cools into rock. This is a truly amazing place to visit which will leave you with memories for a lifetime.
10. Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce canyon is an unusual national park thanks to its very unique natural rock formations. These strange formations are not technically a canyon and are referred to as hoodoos. Pictures do not do this park justice it is really a place you have to see to believe. Aside from the freaky rock pillars this diverse park is home to a massive array of natural history making it a must on any national park checklist you may have.
Honorable Mention: Redwood National Park, California
There are so many great national parks in America that it is hard to just pick 10. The Redwood National Park in California definitely needs to he recognized. It has the tallest trees in the world and that in itself is pretty spectacular!