With Earth Week coming to a close, I wanted to present my personal ranking of the 10 National Parks I have visited. National Parks are one of the gems of the United States, and it is essential that we preserve and appreciate them for years to come. Without further ado:
1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The first thing that I noticed gazing out over the awe-inspiring chasm in the Earth is how small and insignificant I felt. While humans have certainly made an impact, at the Grand Canyon I feel as if existence is put back into order. In a hundred years, I will no longer be alive, but the Grand Canyon will still exist, hopefully as beautiful and haunting for the next visitor as it was for me. The ability to hike down into the canyon and stay overnight is perfect for adventurous travelers, but there’s also plenty of easier and accessible options up top. At night, the stars from any part of the park are stunning, as there is no light pollution surrounding several miles in all directions.
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
While Yellowstone is the most visited National Park, I found it well worth the praise. We were there for two short days, and yet I feel like we explored so many different and diverse places. From mountains with wildflowers to expansive plains with a multitude of animals, Yellowstone offers so much to do and see that anyone who goes there will leave satisfied. In one day, we saw hundreds of bison (they even caused a road block), a lone wolf, a herd of gazelle and a brown bear. Even visiting in the height of the tourist season, it’s not difficult to find places to immerse yourself in nature and feel truly alone.
3. North Cascades National Park, Washington
Immediately following the most visited is the most remote National Park in the continental United States! I went to the lower part of North Cascades, which required a ferry ride to a secluded, no cell service, haven in the mountains. It truly felt like time had turned backwards, biking down the singular road amongst the trees and the sounds of the woods. Being so solitary, this National Park is definitely more geared for intermediate to experienced travelers. Make sure to be prepared to see a black bear, along with the stunning mountain range and crystal clear glacier water!
4. Zion National Park, Utah
Switching gears to the desert, at Zion National Park the beautiful swatches of red rock contrast the blue sky in a stunning piece of natural architecture. One of the hikes leads to an outlook over the rest of the park, where giant tour buses appear as the size of an ant. A cavernous river meanders next to a path that leads into the rocks, offering a cool relief in the heat. The geological history is incredibly visible here, as the rock wall showcases the different colors and textures.
5. Glacier National Park, Montana
A unique part about Glacier is that they were the first National Park to have a bus system – this is due to the singular, winding, high-altitude road that leads up through to the top of the mountains and back down. It is not a drive for the faint of heart. But with beautiful fields of flowers on one switchback turning to overlook a lake in the next, everywhere is picture-perfect. Plentiful with wildlife, it’s likely to spot mountain goats, marmots, and if you’re lucky, a moose at this slice of the wild.
6. Crater Lake, Oregon
Close to home, we often underestimate the beauty and serenity of Crater Lake. While at first glance it may seem simple, this volcano in a volcano is full of history and hikes, which are two of my favorite things. The freezing water provides a shock for those brave enough to jump in, but enjoying the boat ride over to the island for a spiraling hike is also an excellent option.
7. Grand Tetons, Wyoming
A massive span of land surrounded by mountains, spending several days there felt like I had only begun to scratch the surface of what there was to offer. With several lakes and rivers, there are a multitude of water activities to choose from, from kayaking and canoeing to white water rafting. There’s also a small subsection of the park that is run by the Rockefeller Center, and it’s full of the history of the land and how it made its way to the federal government.
8. Mesa Verde, Colorado
My absolute favorite part about Mesa Verde is the incredibly preserved history within the rocks. Home at one point to the Anasazi indigenous tribe, the dwellings built into the rock are a snapshot into the past and the ingenuity of early civilization. The road winds around, making these extraordinary views easy to access, even without hiking to them. During certain times of the year, the rangers offer tours into the dwellings, and even during the off-season, there are ruins to explore at the top of the canyon.
9. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Unique to Bryce Canyon are the red rock spirals and spires that emerge and provide a stark contrast to the blue sky. With the ability to go down and walk within the canyons, the precision of this natural architecture is stunning. The paths vary in difficulty, and can narrow and provide shade before opening back up.
10. Rocky Mountains National Park, Colorado
As one of the largest National Parks, I once again struggle to adequately summarize the beauty and diversity that it encompasses. Leading up to an impressive mountain range, the wildflowers and wildlife are abundant. The climate is unpredictable, changing from sunny mornings to stormy evenings in the middle of a hike, so it is important to be prepared for all weather situations.