25 Amazing National Parks That Will Help You Reconnect With Nature
Being in nature can be an invigorating experience, especially for people with a penchant for the great outdoors. Fortunately, the world is filled with places where nature still reigns supreme. From world-renowned spots to more hidden reserves, here are 25 national parks that every nature lover should have on their wishlist:
1. Yellowstone National Park, USA
If you're going to begin your excursion into the wild and wonderful world of national parks, why not start with the very first one? Established all the way back in 1872, Yellowstone has amazed people with its beauty for centuries, which is why its protection was signed into law. The park is primarily known for its wildlife, containing large populations of grizzly bears, wolves and bison as well as numerous species of birds. Yellowstone also boasts several spectacular geothermal features, including geysers like the iconic Old Faithful, whose regular water eruptions often draw large crowds. Popular activities include camping, hiking, boating and fishing, with guided tours also being available throughout the year.
2. Yosemite National Park, USA
Located entirely within California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite is another famous American national park. It features impressive granite cliffs, towering sequoias and several beautiful waterfalls, in addition to its remarkable biological diversity. Several attractions located within Yosemite enjoy international recognition, with the picturesque Bridalveil Fall and the imposing vertical rock formation known as El Capitan being just notable examples. Also of note are the giant sequoias that dot the park, especially in Mariposa Grove where the oldest tree bears the name of Grizzly Giant. Climbing is a big sport here, especially in Yellowstone Valley where climbers sometimes stand in a queue to scale the famous Half Dome summit.
3. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
If you're angling for something more exotic, the vast Serengeti National Park is ready to welcome you with its rich wildlife and spectacular terrain. The animals are the stars of the show here, with the Big Five being amply represented. Going on a safari you're bound to run into lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros and buffalo. The Serengeti is also famous for being a stopgap on the annual migration route that approximately 1.5 million wildebeest and 250,000 zebra undertake across the African plains each year. Accommodation inside the park is permitted at various lodges, campsites and hotels, with the settlement of Seronera being the main human hub of the Serengeti.
4. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Located in southern Patagonia and part of the famed End of the World Route, the Torres del Paine National Park is a point of pride for Chile. Its gorgeous mountain vistas are second to none, while its busy landscape and exotic fauna are incredible to witness in person. It all starts with the dramatic backdrop offered by the three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range, which tower over the rest of the park. There are also a host of lakes to be found here such as Pehoe and Sarmiento, as well as several glaciers belonging to the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. Last but not least, visiting Torres del Paine you'll likely get the chance to see guanacos, a llama-like creature that can often be witnessed roaming the park.
5. Goreme National Park, Turkey
Few places on Earth seem more alien than the rocky contours of the Goreme National Park. Blessed with a one-of-a-kind volcanic terrain sculpted by years of erosion, the park is famous for its fairy chimneys, unique rock formations that dominate the landscape. Perhaps surprisingly, ancient people used to carve underground dwellings into the rock, with a few still living there today. A notable highlight, the Goreme open air museum contains the remnants of several rock-carved churches, and is a true joy to explore. And if you'd like to enjoy a bird's eye view of the area, you can book a balloon ride that will take you on an unforgettable tour of Goreme and Cappadocia.
6. Grand Canyon National Park, USA
Centered around one of the most impressive natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon National Park will likely leave you speechless on your first visit. It was formed by an incision made by the Colorado River, which resulted in the Grand Canyon being both wide and deep, with several exposed layers of rock. Both the South Rim and the North Rim of the canyon are attractive for visitors. The former contains several overlooks such as Mohave Point and the Powell Memorial, and also boasts several walking tours including the Rim Trail. The latter is more rugged, but it can still be hiked safely if you follow established routes like the Widforss Trail and Uncle Jim's Trail.
7. Kruger National Park, South Africa
One of the largest game reserves in all of Africa, the Kruger National Park is the perfect place to visit if you want to get a close look at some of the world's most exotic creatures. Lions, elephants, zebras and buffalo are all present in significant numbers, alongside rarer creatures such as cheetahs and elands. The park is also notable for its surprisingly diverse vegetation, which ranges from open savanna grassland to thorn and marula woodlands. Kruger has twelve camps, so you can rest assured knowing that you're never too far off from civilization. Among them, Skukuza is the biggest and most developed, while Berg-en-Dal is easily accessible and has a variety of accommodation options.
8. Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
Who among us hasn't dreamt of exploring an exotic wonderland where beautiful creatures roam free and man is nowhere to be seen? The Galapagos National Park may not be 100% free of humans, since several small towns are still located on its titular islands, but it comes mighty close. Established in 1959 as Ecuador's first national park, the area is primarily known for harboring a large number of endemic species, some of whom cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Its star attraction is the Galapagos giant tortoise, an endangered species whose exemplars are famous for their long lives. Aside from that, the islands also house rare creatures like the Galapagos penguin and the marine iguana.
9. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Named in honor of the Maasai people, the ancestral inhabitants of the area, the Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the largest and most diverse game reserves in Africa. Going on a safari here is the stuff of legends. There are several wild creatures that you can spot throughout the reserve, including lions, leopards, elephants and rhinos, while crocodiles patrol the area near the Mara and Talek rivers. Going on a game drive can be quite the thrill as long as you have a knowledgeable guide alongside you. Despite its size, there are relatively few lodges located within the reserve, which means that you'll want to book your spot well in advance in order to beat the crowd.
10. Grand Teton National Park, USA
Backdropped by the jagged peaks of the Teton mountain range, the Grand Teton National Park is the pride and joy of Wyoming, a popular destination for both local and international nature lovers. Here, you can look forward to activities ranging from hiking and fishing in the summer to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. There are several visitor centers that can help you plan your trip, including the year-round Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. Jackson Hole with its iconic slopes and the calm, serene waters of Jenny Lake are just a couple of the most notable highlights of Grand Teton, with many more waiting to be discovered.
11. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
As perhaps Australia's most iconic natural landmark, Uluru or Ayers Rock - as it's sometimes referred to - is more than worthy of being protected. Thus, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park was born, also encapsulating the Kata Tjuta rock formation located nearby. Both landmarks are considered sacred by Australia's aboriginal population, which is why climbing is no longer permitted here. That said, you can still get an idea of the majesty of the place by walking Uluru's circumference. There are guided tours like the Mala Walk and the Lungkata Walk that showcase the area's many sacred sites. Additionally, you can also explore the park via plane or helicopter ride.
12. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Fiords are typically associated with northern nations such as Norway or Iceland, but that doesn't mean they don't also exist in the southern hemisphere. One famous example is Milford Sound, the crowning gem of the Fiordland National Park located on New Zealand's South Island. Here, the imposing Mitre Peak towers mightly above the water, which is home to a variety of marine mammals including seals and dolphins. Fiordland also contains several large lakes such as Lake Manapouri, as well as several gorgeous waterfalls, with the Sutherland Falls in particular being notable for their incredible height. Water sports such as kayaking and canoeing are quite popular, and there are numerous camping grounds that can serve as a base for your explorations.
13. Haleakala National Park, USA
Hawaii is a place of exceptional natural beauty, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the island of Maui, where the Haleakala National Park is located. It is roughly centered around the Haleakala Crater, which, despite its name, is actually an erosional valley rather than a volcano's caldera. Nevertheless, it's a spectacular place to witness in person, with barren red landscapes that look like they might as well reside on Mars. Climbing to the summit in time to witness the sunset is a popular activity, as is viewing the crater from one of the many nearby overlooks. Meanwhile, the Kipalahu section of the national park is just as beautiful, featuring a variety of natural pools along the Palikea Stream that visitors can swim in.
14. Wadi Rum, Jordan
If you've got a penchant for desert landscapes, you'll likely be amazed by the tranquil beauty of the Wadi Rum Protected Area. Located in southern Jordan, the valley was made famous by its appearance in the celebrated Hollywood classic "Lawrence of Arabia". Perhaps surprisingly for a desert, Wadi Rum is quite varied, ranging from narrow gorges to towering cliffs and massive caverns. There are numerous examples that attest to the presence of humans in the region since ancient times, with over 25,000 rock carvings and almost as many inscriptions having been identified so far. Exploring can be done in a variety of ways, including via camel or Arabian horse rides, and you can even stay overnight in one of the many Bedouin camps located in the desert.
15. Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
As the world's tallest peak, Mount Everest attracts plenty of attention. But even if you don't embark on a potentially-dangerous scaling attempt, simply viewing it up close from the Sagarmatha National Park can be a wondrous experience. Standing at a cool 29,029 feet (8,848 m), Mount Everest pierces through the sky and can be viewed alongside other peaks in the Great Himalayan Range. Despite its harsh weather, Sagarmatha is home to several rare species of animals like the snow leopard and the red panda. Additionally, the presence of a significant population of Tibetan Buddhist Sherpas adds some cultural flair to the region. Visitors can look forward to embarking on challenging hiking and trekking expeditions, with stopgaps in gorgeous places like Gokyo Lake and the Tengboche Monastery.
16. Komodo National Park, Indonesia
While seeing dinosaurs roam the earth is just a pipe dream reserved for movies these days, you can get pretty close to it if you visit the Komodo National Park in Indonesia. That's because the park is home to the one and only Komodo dragon, the world's largest lizard that can grow up to 10 feet in length. These remarkable creatures are present in significant numbers in the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia, and were a driving force in the establishment of the Komodo National Park. Aside from them, the park is also notable for its high marine biodiversity, making it a prized destination for scuba divers and snorkelers.
17. Daintree National Park, Australia
Featuring both rainforest-clad mountains and long sandy beaches, the Daintree National Park is one of Australia's most sheltered places. The park contains two major sections – Mossman Gorge and Cape Tribulation, both of which are worthy of your time and attention. The former is known for its many scenic walks including Baral Marrjanga and the Rainforest circuit track, while the latter boasts unspoiled beaches that are notable for being fringed with beachside trees. In fact, much of the park is covered by tropical rainforest, which supports a thriving flora and fauna, with rare creatures like the flightless cassowary and the striped possum being located within the forest.
18. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Picturesque and overflowing with riches, the Plitvice Lakes National Park is perhaps Croatia's best natural asset, a place that attracts travelers in droves with its postcard-like beauty. It is best known for its chain of 16 terraced lakes, which often flow into one another via waterfalls. The highest one is called Veliki Slap and is located at the end of the Lower Lakes, but there are many similar waterfalls scattered throughout the park. Walkways and hiking trails abound, as do small settlements that showcase Croatia at its most intimate. The untouched natural landscape is also home to several forest species such as the brown bear and the grey wolf.
19. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
Serving as an inspiration for the alien landscapes of "Avatar", the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a world unto itself. It was recognized as China's first national park in 1982, and stands out especially due to its spectacular pillar-like formations, of which the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain is particularly notable thanks to its height and dramatic backdrop. In order to enjoy the best view of the park, be sure to book a ride on the Bailong Elevator, the world's tallest outdoor lift. Also of note is the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge, which allows visitors to walk on a transparent skywalk located 980 ft (300 m) above ground.
20. Iguazu National Park, Argentina
Some natural landmarks need to be seen to be believed. Consisting of 275 drops with the longest one measuring 269 ft (82 m), the Iguazu Falls make up the largest waterfall in the world, a veritable torrent of falling water that puts every other similar landmark to shame. The eponymous national park was created to protect these falls on the Argentinian side, and contains numerous trails and walkways designed to give you the best possible view of the falls themselves. In addition to that, Iguazu National Park stands out for its remarkably diverse ecosystem, with several superb species such as jaguars and ocelots calling it home.
21. Banff National Park, Canada
As Canada's oldest national park, Banff has been welcoming visitors since 1885. Primarily thought of as a winter destination, there are facilities here for skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing and pretty much any other winter sport you can imagine. But even if you'd rather not hit the slopes, Banff is beautiful enough to warrant a trip regardless of the season you're traveling in. Highlights such as Lake Louise and Mount Forbes are beautiful year-round, while historic landmarks such as Fairmont Banff Springs bring an understated elegance to the area. You can even bathe in one of the several hot springs that exist in the area, or go kayaking on the spectacular glacier-fed Moraine Lake.
22. Etosha National Park, Namibia
Located in northwestern Namibia, the Etosha National Park is a top-notch game reserve that also offers up incredible landscapes in addition to its wondrous wildlife. That's because it houses the Etosha salt pan, a vast stretch of flat land that stands in sharp contrast to the savannah terrain that dominates the rest of the park. Whenever it rains, the salt surface becomes virtually transparent, reflecting the blue skies above and offering countless photo ops. In addition to that, Etosha is home to a large number of animal species, including the endangered black rhinoceros and the mighty African bush elephant.
23. Jim Corbett National Park, India
If you're a big-time lover of animals, you owe it to yourself to check out India's Jim Corbett National Park. Established in 1936 primarily as a safeguard for the endangered Bengal Tiger, the park allows visitors to access certain sectors where they can admire its resident creatures in their natural habitat. Aside from tigers, other creatures that call Jim Corbett home include leopards, Indian elephants, crocodiles and Indian pythons. Exploring the park can be done in several ways, from jeep safaris to guided elephant tours, and there are several attractions nestled within the park such as Corbett Falls and the Kalagarh Dam.
24. Tikal National Park, Guatemala
Centered around its titular Mayan ruins, the Tikal National Park is a must for any history lover. The city of Tikal was a thriving settlement before being abandoned, hosting several landmarks that have stood the test of time such as the Lost World Pyramid and the Temple of the Jaguar. It also boasts the tallest pre-Colombian structure in the Americas in Temple IV. While you'll be spending quite a bit of time exploring the Mayan ruins, the nearby forests of the Maya Biosphere Reserve are also worth a visit, featuring spectacular creatures like the ocellated turkey and Morelet's crocodile.
25. Mammoth Cave National Park, USA
When you imagine a typical national park, chances are you're picturing vast open stretches of land filled with untamed creatures. But the Mammoth Cave National Park has none of that. It is located entirely underground and is almost devoid of creatures aside from bats, since it's the world's longest known cave system. Mammoth Cave National Park features more than 400 miles of surveyed passageways, several of which are accessible to tourists. Cave tours usually focus on notable highlights of the complex such as Grand Avenue or Frozen Niagara, but wild tours are also available that venture away from the more well-traveled parts of the cave and into dark and dusty tunnels.
If it's been awhile since you've reconnected with nature, spending time in a national park can be just what the doctor ordered. The choices outlined above are but a sample of what's out there, so take the time to really analyze your options and pick the place that's right for you.