America's Most Incredible National Parks: Grand Canyon
The sheer size of Arizona’s Grand Canyon can overwhelm the senses: It’s 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep. Upon visiting the area in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, advocated for its protection, saying, “The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American should see.” Grand Canyon National Park was established on Feb. 26, 1919.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the U.S. when it was established in 1872. Many Americans consider it the quintessential American national park; its highlights include Old Faithful geyser, hot springs, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and wildlife such as grizzlies, wolves, elk and bison. The park, spanning across parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, boasts about 10,000 hydrothermal features — half of the ones that exist in the world — among them 300 geysers.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is small by national park standards (56.2 square miles), but its unique geology is sure to leave an unforgettable impression. A series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters, this area is proof of the eroding forces of frost and rainwater. The limestone, in numerous and subtle hues, has been shaped into many spectacular formations, most famously into spires called hoodoos.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina, is the most-visited national park in the U.S., drawing between 8 million and 10 million visitors each year. In the seemingly endless wave of forested ridges, travelers find incredible diversity in plants and animals as well as sublime beauty in views of waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Acadia
Acadia National Park in Maine became the first national park east of the Mississippi River when it was established in 1919 under the name Lafayette National Park. It encompasses seacoast, islands and mountains. Visitors can drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the U.S. Atlantic coast at 1,530 feet, or around the 20-mile Park Loop Road, offering ocean and mountain vistas and sights such as Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs. Or, those interested in more active pursuits can check out the historic carriage road system, built by John D. Rockefeller, which includes 17 stone bridges that carry cyclists and hikers over streams and waterfalls, past cliffs and around lakes.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Badlands
South Dakota’s Badlands National Park contains the world’s richest fossil beds dating from the Oligocene epoch (28 million to 37 million years ago), telling the evolutionary story of mammals such as the horse. The park’s 244,000 acres comprise one of the largest protected mixed-grass prairies in the U.S., but Badlands is perhaps best-known for the colorful buttes, pinnacles and spires that have been shaped by erosion.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Big Bend
Big Bend National Park in Texas is considered to be three parks in one, with Chisos Mountains, Rio Grande and Chihuahuan Desert environments providing immense biological and geologic diversity. Big Bend is part of one of the largest transboundary protected areas in North America, with more than 2 million acres of Chihuahuan Desert resources and more than 200 miles of river under the protection of the U.S. and Mexico.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Crater Lake
Crater Lake’s quiet beauty was born in the violence of a volcano that caused Mount Mazama to collapse nearly 8,000 years ago. The lake, located in southern Oregon on the crest of the Cascades, is the deepest in the U.S. (1,943 feet), with crystal blue waters reflecting the surrounding sheer cliffs. Its only water supply is snow, averaging 533 inches a year.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Death Valley
Death Valley National Park stakes a claim as one of the hottest (temperatures reached 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913), driest (no rain was recorded in 1929) and lowest (Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level) places on Earth. Those who dare can see sand dunes bowing to the wind, snow-topped mountains and canyons curved by water. The park’s name belies the fact that more than 1,000 species of plants call it home.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Mount Rainier
At 14,410 feet, Washington’s Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascades, giving national park visitors access to glaciers, rain forest and mountain meadows bursting with wildflowers. It’s no wonder an early visitor exclaimed, “This must be what paradise looks like,” giving name to the Paradise area of the park and the recently remodeled Paradise Inn.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Everglades
The River of Grass, Everglades National Park, Florida, is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. Only a quarter of the historic Everglades remains, but within its protection are American crocodiles, Florida panthers and West Indian manatees, which prowl and wander the mangrove tunnels, sawgrass prairies and coastlines. Though many people believe the Everglades to be a swamp, it is technically a river, flowing at the rate of about a quarter-mile a day.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park’s rugged mountains are reflected in its stunning lakes, drawing visitors to Montana for adventurous hiking or peaceful solitude. Travelers can choose to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, backpack deep in the wilderness, visit lodges and chalets, learn Native American stories or simply take in the grandeur of the scenery.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Redwood
Redwood National Park in California protects the tallest trees in the world, which draw visitors’ eyes inexorably upward. Many of the trees tower above 300 feet; one deep in the backcountry was measured at 379 feet in 2006. Redwood forests teeter on a narrow strip along 450 miles of coastline from the California/Oregon state line to Monterey Bay. The tree is considered sacred to the Yurok Tribe, says elder and master canoe carver Glenn Moore Sr., who adds, in the park’s official visitor’s guide, “They say a redwood tree has a heart.”
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Rocky Mountain
Rocky Mountain National Park showcases the Colorado mountains for which it’s named. The park tops out at Longs Peak at 14,259 feet, an elevation that, like the views, could be considered breathtaking. Within its 416-square-mile wilderness, at least 60 mountains exceed 12,000 feet. Not only do they muscle into the forefront of any vista, but they also shoulder delicate alpine flowers and thick forests and provide a home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Volcanoes
With two of the Earth’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii has an ever-changing landscape. The park begins at sea level and peaks at the summit of Mauna Loa in rugged, high-altitude wilderness. Kilauea is more accessible to tourists and can be explored on the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive that circles the summit caldera, passes through desert and rain forest and crosses the caldera floor. Chain of Craters Road takes drivers on a steep 3,700-foot descent over 20 miles, with black-sand beaches to reward them at the bottom.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Yosemite
Yosemite National Park in California is best known for its waterfalls, and the Merced and Tuolumne, federally designated as wild and scenic rivers, begin within its boundaries. But the 1,200-square-mile park, one of the first wilderness parks in the U.S., also offers stunning granite cliffs, deep valleys, peaceful meadows, giant sequoias and a vast wilderness. Though the park has more than 3.5 million visitors each year, it’s still easy to find a quiet corner — most tourists concentrate in the seven-square-mile vicinity of scenic Yosemite Valley.
America's Most Incredible National Parks: Zion
Etched by rain and river and colored in part by iron oxide, the narrow canyons and deep chasms of Utah’s Zion National Park range in hue from red to natural white. The park’s valley floor is at 4,000 feet elevation, while its highest points reach nearly 9,000 feet. Pinnacles, domes, arches and spires strike awe in visitors who take in the view, which is especially remarkable from the lower elevations.