As we get closer to summer, and closer to the end of the lockdowns, many Americans are starting to think about summer vacations. Because of travel restrictions, fear of a second outbreak, and general unease in large crowds, it seems that many people are looking to travel off the beaten path this summer. Now is the time for the world to get more acquainted with America’s National Parks. They’re gorgeous, rejuvenating, exciting, calming, and full of adventure, all at the same time. Not to mention the fact that numerous studies show that being out in nature is good for both your physical and mental health. So, with the world turning to the great outdoors, it seems fitting to release Passport’s list of America’s 10 best National Parks.
Yosemite is America’s 6th most visited National Park, with over 4 million visitors each year. And it’s no surprise that everyone flocks to this beautiful valley in the Sierra mountains. From epic natural rock formations like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Cathedral Peak, to the famous Yosemite Falls, each and every turn you take will guide you to breathtaking views. Aside from the Yosemite Valley, another must-see area is the sub-alpine Toulumne Meadows, which feels so peaceful and still, you’ll think you’re in a dream.
The park offers over 750 miles of hiking trails and is a favorite for rock-climbers. Other activities include kayaking, horseback riding, camping, and even ranger-guided walks to give you all the insider knowledge about the area, its history, and its animals. Aside from camping, the park also features the Wawona Hotel, a Victorian mountain lodge that was built in 1876 and is now a registered National Historic Landmark. The quaint lodge is the perfect way to experience the park’s history, as well as it’s own. The Wawona was where the movie 36 Hours was filmed and was where famous painter Thomas Hill completed many of his masterpieces.
Most people have probably learned that the islands of Hawaii were formed from volcanic eruptions, but what many don’t know is how recent those eruptions were. In fact, to this day, Hawaii is still volcanically active. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you can wander through lush rainforests or hike on volcanic rock. It’s a stunning reminder of how real and active our planet truly is.
One of the most popular spots is Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube) which is a long cavern that was carved out 500 years ago when a river of molten lava flowed underground. Now, you can hike through a piece of Hawaii’s history. Another interesting spot is Ha’akulamanu, the sulfur banks. Here, an underground volcano is still active, and its heat pushes gasses and steam to the surface, breaking through cracks in the ground. Visitors can watch the rising steam, and also see the unique crystal formations the gasses form as they dry.
But the true star of the park is the volcano, Kilauea, who’s most recent eruption was in 2018! Hike the rim of the crater, and see steam still rising from the active volcano that is directly beneath your feet!
The Grand Teton mountains are known for their stunning shape. If you’ve ever seen mountains on a postcard, chances are, they’re the Tetons. Their steep jagged peaks, rising above the meadows of Wyoming provide such a stark and beautiful contrast that its no wonder adventurers of all types come to the Tetons for an escape.
Another fascinating aspect of the Tetons is their abundant animal life. Because the park has the flat plains and meadows, combined with the high-altitude mountains, it holds every iconic American animal imaginable. From bison to moose, elk, lynx, black bears, cougars, and wolves, not to mention it’s one of the last places in the lower 48 that still has the grizzly bear. Aside from land animals, the Tetons are a fisherman’s paradise, with the crystal-clear lakes and streams providing an excellent source of trout and whitefish.
The Everglades is one of the most important ecosystems on earth. The marshes and mangroves help clean the water of toxins, acting like giant filters. It’s one of the reasons why the Florida Keys has such clear water. But aside from its important function of cleaning water, the Everglades is also home to a diverse range of species, some of which are extremely rare. From the sandhill crane, which stands four-feet-tall, to the American alligator, and even the critically endangered Florida panther, the Everglades is a haven for wildlife. When visiting, many people hike the boardwalks, kayak or canoe through the marshy rivers, or speed through the swamps in airboats.
For an in-depth look at the park, the Everglades National Park Institute offers guided educational tours that teach visitors about the ecosystem and history of one of America’s most important natural landscapes.
One of the most beautiful National Parks in the USA is Rocky Mountain. The park’s lowest point is 7,860 feet above sea level, and its highest peak hits 14,259 feet. In fact, the state of Colorado has 58 mountains that top out over 14,000 ft, which are known by climbers as “14ers.”
At the park, hiking, mountain biking, and climbing opportunities are at every turn. But there are two unique features at Rocky Mountain that are also worth visiting. First, at the Holzwarth Historic Site, you can learn what it was like to live in the mountains during the pioneer area (hint: it was really tough). And the park’s Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is a must-see since famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed it.
But one of the biggest draws to Rocky Mountain National Park is its proximity to other places. It’s only about 70 miles from Denver and is right next to mountaintop resort towns like Estes Park, Grand Lake, and Winter Park, so you can hike during the day, and stay in a luxurious lodge at night.