The 25th August 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service! For 100 years the NPS has created these astounding national parks to preserve the incredibly diverse landscapes and heritage sites throughout the USA. These national parks protect all of the incredible nature and wildlife within them, like the Yosemite National Park (California) and Everglades National Park (Florida). But as well as that, the National Park Service also conserve the nation’s complex historic landmarks, such as the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial (Ohio) and the Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky).
Written by: Gemma Walsh / 25 August 2016
When most people think America’s National Parks, they think of the vast, wild landscapes with the big, iconic names such as The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks. And whilst these are definitely standout destinations and should belong on every travellers bucket list, the USA has so much more to offer in the way of National Parks and Historical Sites - 412 to be exact! Among them are the parks with the big renowned names, but also, the less familiar parks and sites - which of course are all equally as magnificent.
The National Park Service invites visitors of all ages to join in with the 100th year celebrations with special events across the country and free admission to all 412 national parks from August 25th through to the 28th August! Feeling overwhelmed by the number of parks to visit? Well fear not because we have carefully created our Ultimate American National Park bucket list to help you create your very own...
Great Smokey Mountains National Park - Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park throughout the whole of America and it’s clear to see why. Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, this park is packed full of forestland which is world renowned for its sheer diversity of wildlife. Aptly named for the occurrence of fog which appears as if its rising from smoke stacks in the distance, this park is one of the wettest habitats in the US, experiencing more rainfall than anywhere else in the states. The damp atmosphere combined with all the steep uphill slopes means that natural waterfalls are in abundance. It also produces miles upon miles of dense forestation which provides the ideal habitat for a huge variety of animals, including the majestic black bear, and over 1,500 species of wildflower! Southern Appalachian mountain culture presents itself all across the Great Smokey Mountains and the beauty of these ancient mountains add to the captivating aura which can be felt throughout this spectacular park.
Zion National Park - Utah
Renowned for its soaring sandstone columns, towering arches formations and painted canyon walls – Zion National Park is a wilderness wonderland providing some of the greatest natural vistas in the whole of Western USA. Follow the paths where ancient natives and pioneers walked and gaze up at a kaleidoscope of red, cream and pink sandstone pillars that extend into the deep blue sky. Experience wilderness like never before – Zions unique array of desert vegetation and wildlife will enchant you as you take in the history and heritage of the wild-west and enjoy its present day expeditions. The demand is so high for access to some of Zions protected wilderness, that backcountry travellers must enter a lottery for a chance to explore this wild terrain.
Haleakala National Park – Hawaii
Located on the Island of Maui, this rare and sacred landscape is a special place where ancient Hawaiian ancestry and modern day culture come together to protect the bond between the land and its people. Haleakalā National Park is a tropical paradise which preserves a variety of endangered species, some of which you will not find anywhere in the world, as well as a dormant volcano which is supposed to have erupted more than 400 years ago. Your visit may involve exploring a bamboo forest, catching a glimpse of a rare native animal, experiencing Hawaiian culture first hand or feeling the warm sun on your back as you hike over a volcano. Come to Haleakalā National Park and have your spirit renewed and your senses awakened in a spectacular tropical utopia.
Yellowstone National Park - California
Established in 1872 – Yellowstone is America’s first national park and blessed with an enchanting natural splendour that has inspired and mesmerised explorers, adventurers, nature lovers and artists for generations! Yellowstone is like a geographical playground – here you can witness a volcano’s power rising up through colourful hot springs and geysers as well as exploring picturesque forests, lakes, mountain backdrops and towering waterfalls. The parks 2.2 million undeveloped acres provide a habitat for an abundance of free roaming wildlife including herds of elk and bison - America’s national animals. Yellowstone is steeped in history and its rustic past echoes through the park through numerous lodges, visitor centres and conserved national treasures – all working together to compliment Yellowstone's incredible natural atmosphere.
Virgin Islands National Park – US Virgin Islands
Situated in the Caribbean Sea and covering most of St. John and Hassel Island, the beautiful and enchanting Virgin Islands National Park is steeped in history and loved for its clear blue skies, warm waters, white sandy beaches and incredible marine life. Its subtropical climate makes it a year round holiday destination and whether you prefer to be on land or sea, there is certainly a lot to discover here. Trunk bay is home to a 225 yard underwater snorkelling trail and on land there are more than 20 different hiking trails to explore where you can discover the incredible selection of wildlife that exists here. But amongst this incredible land lies a complex past dating back more than a thousand years. Since the arrival of Christopher Columbus 1493 the Virgin Islands have been bustling with many types of people, creating one of the world’s first ‘melting pots’.
Denali National Park - Alaska
Displaying North America’s tallest mountain, amongst 6 million acres of rolling scenic backdrops displaying over 650 species of flowing plant and wild life, Denali is one of Alaska’s most loved national parks and it’s easy to see why. This protected area, about the same size of Massachusetts, is intersected by just one strip of road made of gravel, creating a rustic yet essential artery allowing travellers to explore deep into the heart of Denali. This innovative approach promises to change visitors’ experience and interaction with their surrounding environment, tourists can take in astounding mountain, lake and forest vistas as well as having the opportunity to observe over 39 documented species of wild animals, both large and small, roam un-fenced lands in their natural habitats. Solitude, tranquillity and wilderness await – Denali is truly nothing short of incredible.
Joshua Tree National Park – California
Within Joshua Tree National Park there are two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, which come together and provide a habitat for a captivating assortment of desert wildlife in a land of strong winds and the occasional torrential rain storm. Set amongst nearly 80,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park is diversely immense and boasts some of the darkest nights in Southern California, offering many visitors a chance to admire the spectacular Milky Way for the first time! Dark skies, cultural heritage and intriguing geography are just some of the things which make up the Joshua Tree wonderland – even the Joshua Tree itself looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book! Hikers are drawn to the rugged nature trails and springtime wildflowers, stargazers marvel at the clear night skies and outdoor explorers are free to roam across the desert plains – Joshua Tree is as much an entertainment hotspot as it is a live nature show.
Yosemite National Park – California
Yosemite National Park is a true icon of America’s magnificent natural beauty. Set across 1,200 miles of picturesque lanscape featuring dramatic waterfalls, jagged mountains, deep canyons, colossal sequoias and breath-taking cliffs such as the famous Half Dome and El Captin. Yosemite is also home to an abundance of wildlife which roams free throughout the park as well as a range of seasonal outdoor activities including biking, horse-riding, rafting, skiing, rock climbing and fishing to name but a few! Whether you’re looking to get back to nature or experience the adventure holiday of a lifetime in one of the most beautiful places on earth – you’re sure to experience it in the incredible Yosemite.
Everglades National Park - Florida
Everglades National Park is the third largest National Park in the contiguous United States and protects 25% of the original Everglades wetlands in Southern Florida. This park is the only subtropical wilderness in the USA and is made up of a complex grid of rivers and swamplands which house an extremely important and stunning yet delicate ecosystem. The Everglades have 2 seasons – wet and dry with dry season being the most popular with mild temperatures. Everglades protects an unparalleled environment that provides important habitat for a number of rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and the Florida panther as well as over 350 species of birds.
Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah
There is no place on earth quite like Bryce Canyon National Park. Hoodoos (the oddly shaped rock formations) absolutely cover Bryce Canyon, and of course they can be found all across the planet, but not anywhere near this scale – this park has the largest collection of hoodoos in the entire world! Is it a forest of stone? Cave without a roof? Is it even really a canyon? The answer is – no one really knows! Descriptions fail and pictures just don’t do it justice, seeing is believing and an imagination will serve you well when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park. There is something for everyone here, visitors can embark on guided tours and learn about the various rock formations or simply set off on their own accord – hiking is a very popular activity here. Bryce Canyon also boasts one of the best night skies in the world; visitors can camp under the stars, enjoy moonlit hikes and telescope stargazing at the Annual Astronomy Festival.