“And this, our life exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”William Shakespeare
1. Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks
Yellowstone has been on my must-visit list since I first heard of it! Grizzlies, geysers, and hiking trails galore? Yes, please! Mountains are abundant, as are the hiking trails – with the famous triple-crown Continental Divide Trail running through! Opportunities to be immersed in surroundings never seen before are a why these parks should be on everyone’s travel list!
Per The National Park’s website (nps.gov/yell), “On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park for all to enjoy the unique hydrothermal and geologic wonders. Magma is close to the surface in Yellowstone. Magma plumes carry heat from deep in the earth to the surface and create[s] “hot spot” volcanism.” How cool is that?! That is something I would LOVE to see!
One thing to note, though, is that Yellowstone is a seasonal park, so visits need to be well planned and prepared for! The months of July and August are the best months to visit, in my opinion. They are the only months that all facilities, roadways, and services are open in the park due to its extreme winter seasons that cover the park in multiple feet of snow each year!
2. Glacier National Park
I find it extraordinary that we can see glaciers in the continental United States! That one reason is enough to put Glacier National Park on this list, but there is much more that makes Glacier a must-visit location!
As for the glaciers, they are unfortunately melting – and FAST! Per the National Park’s website, the park had over 100 glaciers in 1910 when it was established, but by 2015, there were only 26 named glaciers remaining in the park, with more glacial mass disappearing each year. It’s better then to visit sooner, rather than later – as well as doing all we can to reduce our carbon footprint in our daily lives so climate change can move towards being reversed!
There are many more things to do in the park than viewing glaciers, too! From hiking (there are 700+ miles of trails, 110 of which are on the Continental Divide Trail!) to backcountry camping (you can cross into Canada on foot!), RV camping (this is how I will visit the park), and activities like skiing, bicycling, and even boating! I think it’s fair to say more than a few days need to be spent at this park to soak up all it has to offer!
“If we are to have broad-thinking men and women of high mentality, of good physique and with a true perspective on life, we must allow our populace a communion with nature in areas of more or less wilderness condition.”Arthur Carhart, Former US Forest Service Official
3. Crater Lake National Park
Now, this list isn’t just national parks, but they surely are areas of unamassed beauty and nature, which is why there are so many listed here. Crater Lake is no different. I first heard of Crater Lake a couple of years ago, and then saw some footage by a PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) thru-hiker. I was in AWE!
Just look through the gallery above and you’ll see why! Crater Lake National Park is located in Oregon and is technically just a sleeping volcano full of water! “Native Americans witnessed its formation 7,700 years ago, when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of a tall peak. Scientists marvel at its purity: fed by rain and snow, it’s the deepest lake in the USA and one of the most pristine on earth,” reads the National Park’s homepage.
In the national park there are two campgrounds, a lodge, restaurants, and two visitor’s centers. There are tons of things to do besides look at the lake: take a boat or trolley tour, hike the PCT or other trails, backcountry camp, or drive the 33 mile Scenic Rim Drive which has over 30 overlooks allowing you to see the majestic lake and surrounding mountains.
Winter provides even more to do at Crater Lake! You can cross-country ski, snowshoe, go on a ranger-led snowshoe walk, snowboard, go sledding, snowmobile, or even backcountry winter camp! I believe this park is definitely one to visit more than once – and in more than one season!
4. Biscayne National Park
Biscayne is a very unique park, comprising of mostly water! Per the park’s website, “…Biscayne protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs. Here too is evidence of 10,000 years of human history, from pirates and shipwrecks to pineapple farmers and presidents. Outdoors enthusiasts can boat, snorkel, camp, watch wildlife…or simply relax in a rocking chair gazing out over the bay.”
One unique aspect of the park lets you explore what’s under the water – mooring buoy locations! These floating markers indicate where you can see something spectacular under the water’s surface! If a park was ever to be explored by boat, Biscayne should be the first choice! You can also explore the water by kayak, swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving!
You can even camp in Biscayne! The campgrounds are only accessible by boat, so you’ll need to bring food and other supplies depending on which campground you choose. You can camp up to 2 weeks and the $25 per night fee includes a boat slip. There are two campground options:
“Boca Chita Key is the park’s most popular island. It features beatiful waterfront views, a grassy camping area, picnic tables and grills. Toilets are available, but there are no showers, sinks or drinking water. The harbor entrance at low tide is approximately four feet.” -NPS Biscayne
“Elliott Key is the park’s largest island. Restrooms with sinks and cold water showers, picnic tables and grills are available. Drinking water is available, but bring water as a precaution if the system goes down. Elliott Key harbor is approximately 2 ½ feet at low tide. There are 33 boat slips in the marina.” -NPS Biscayne
Wilderness is more than a natural place, more than a place for recreation. It is a place for inspiration.The Wilderness Society
5. Zion & Grand Canyon National Parks
Both Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks are parks that I have visited before, but on a severe time crunch. I was only able to drive through each park, while stopping at overlooks only at the Grand Canyon. They are both worthy of another visit, though!
I have one agenda when re-visiting each of these parks, and that’s hiking!
Zion National Park is basically split into two parts: Northwest and Southeast, which are connected only by backcountry trails. This prevents a unique opportunity to explore what few else have: nearly perfectly preserved canyon-filled wilderness. The trek would take nearly a week and consist of approximately 50 miles! Other hikes are also must-do’s, particularly The Narrows and Angel’s Landing, two famous hikes know for their gorgeous views and dangerous conditions. I’ve included links about both of them, in case you’re interested.
The Grand Canyon offers a similar opportunity: to walk from one side of the park to the other. Opposite of Zion, though, the Grand Canyon trek happens inside the canyon, as opposed to on top of it. The journey from the North Rim to the South Rim will take you one to three days, depending on which route you take (the North and South Kaibab trails equal 24.3 miles in total).
If you plan on visiting either of these two parks, I highly recommend getting out for a hike!
Resources (Clickable Links): Grand Canyon Backcountry Hiking Brochure, Grand Canyon Day Hikes, Grand Canyon Trip Planning Guides, Zion Wilderness Info (including Map & Guide), Zion Backpacking Information
“Without wilderness, we will eventually lose the capacity to understand America. Our drive, our ruggedness, our unquenchable optimism and zeal and elan go back to the challenges of the untrammeled wilderness.
Britain won its wars on the playing fields of Eton. America developed its mettle at the muddy gaps of the Cumberlands, in the swift rapids of its rivers, on the limitless reaches of its western plains, in the silent vastness of primeval forests, and in the blizzard-ridden passes of the Rockies and Coast ranges.
If we lose wilderness, we lose forever the knowledge of what the world was and what it might, with understanding and loving husbandry, yet become.
These are islands in time — with nothing to date them on the calendar of mankind. In these areas it is as though a person were looking backward into the ages and forward untold years. Here are bits of eternity, which have a preciousness beyond all accounting.”Harvey Broome, Co-Founder, The Wilderness Society
6. Alaska’s National Parks
In the video, I state that Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is on this list, but I also mention that this spot encompasses all of Alaska’s national parks (it boasts a total of 24 National Park areas!) Wrangell-St. Elias is the United States’ largest national park with 13.2 million acres and is so diverse that it encapsulates neat all Alaska has to offer. Though, this list wouldn’t be complete without including all Alaska’s other parks as well, because, well… Alaska!
Here’s a list of Alaska’s national parks (I’ve only included those designated a “national park” or “national historical park” (NHP):
- Wrangell-St. Elias – mountain ranges with some of the largest volcanoes in North America!
- Sitka NHP – “On an island amid towering spruce and hemlock, Sitka National Historical Park preserves the site of a battle between invading Russian traders and indigenous Kiks.ádi Tlingit.” -NPS
- Lake Clark – volcanoes, bars, salmon, an intact ecosystem, and turquoise lakes!
- Kobuk Valley – caribou, sand dunes, no developed facilities, and Northern Lights!
- Klondike Gold Rush NHP – trails, boomtowns, and stories of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush
- Kenai Fjords – glaciers, ice field hiking, kayak camping
- Katmai – camping…with bears…and ancient volcanoes
- Glacier Bay – 3.3 million acres of a 25 million acre World Heritage site filled with rugged mountains, glaciers, rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords
- Gates of the Arctic – “…does not contain any roads or trails…Wild rivers meander through glacier-carved valleys, caribou migrate along age-old trails, endless summer light fades into aurora-lit night skies of winter. It remains virtually unchanged except by the forces of nature.” -NPS
- Denali – 6 million acres, America’s tallest peak (Denali, 20,310′), one road
7. Acadia National Park
The “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic” and one of the top 10 most visited National Parks, Acadia boast wild Maine coastline, rugged mountains, wetlands and marshes, lakes, and forests. You can go hiking, climbing, swimming, tidepooling, and even horseback riding! This park is one to visit in the off-season, though, as they have a whole section on their website dedicated to how to find parking. Yikes!
Camping is available at Duck Harbor on Isle au Haut, but is accessible only by passenger-only ferry. Unfortunately, there is no backcountry camping allowed anywhere in the park.
“The wilderness and the idea of wilderness is one of the permanent homes of the human spirit.”Joseph Wood Krutch, writer, critic, naturalist
8. Volcanoes National Park
“Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park protects some of the most unique geological, biological, and cultural landscapes in the world. Extending from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet, the park encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.” -NPS
Hawai’i is my home state.
Sure, I’ve never been there, but as soon as I discovered it (in my early twenties), I knew I had to live there. It will be my forever home when I finally go. Something about the islands draws me in like a magnet, energy pulling energy. It might sound woo-woo, but all things are made of energy (positively and negatively charged particles – it’s science!) and somehow, my energy is being drawn there for some reason. I get a minor version of this pull when I visit Florida beaches, but I know that’s not home. So when I do go home, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is going to be one of the first places I visit!
The park is changing all the time. Lava floes into the river, hardens, and forms more of the island. Eruptions devastate the land (the latest occurrence was 2108!), water pollution endangers aquatic life, earthquakes rock the landscape, and water is steadily growing inside the summit of Kilauea (Halema’uma’u crater).
9. Cape Coral to Naples, Florida
Like I said before, Hawai’i will be my final home state, but while I’m essentially stuck inside the continental US, Florida will need to be visited many many times to curb my magnetism towards the clear blue ocean.
The water from Cape Coral to Naples is so crystal clear, so enticing, so warm… it had to make my list! Any chance I get to go on an extended southern vacation will be spend between these two cities, soaking up the vitamin D, saltwater breeze, and lots of fresh fruit!
“The land, the earth God gave to man for his home … should never be the possession of any man, corporation, (or) society … any more than the air or water.”
“Laws change; people die; the land remains.”Abraham Lincoln
10. Antelope Canyon – Page, AZ
This supernatural slot canyon lies within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation and is available to visit only through tours run by the Native American tribe.
The light beams that light the canyon walls a myriad of colors are not always visible, but frequent more in summer months, unfortunately when the southern desert landscape is the hottest.
You can beat some of the heat by exploring the canyon by kayak – which is definitely the route I’ll take when visiting this rare geologic site!