6 OF THE BEST NATIONAL PARKS
If you've never seen a National Park, you've been missing out on some of the world's most fascinating and varied landscapes. Chosen for their natural beauty or historical significance, National Parks contain mountains, lakes, beaches and forest, as well as rare and wonderful wildlife.
These rugged and remote lands have been set aside 'For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People'; allowing generations of visitors the opportunity to get back to nature and experience the real Americas.
Whether you're hiking to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, viewing wild buffalo and black bear in Yellowstone, or running the rapids of the Grand Canyon's Colorado River; the 'great American road trip' will get you off the beaten track, into the very heart and soul of America, for one of the greatest adventures on Earth!
The Grand Canyon is one of the world's most outstanding spectacles. So much so, that it has been awarded National Park status, ensuring it stays just as perfect as it has been for millennia. The rock layers of the Canyon's walls are pages of a book illustrating nearly half of the planet's history referred to as the "staircase of time" and it has been designated a UNESCO Heritage site. The continuous show of light and shadow, the dazzling extremes, and the dimensions of this place are mind-boggling. Standing at 277 miles long, one mile deep and up to 18 miles wide, the canyon ensures an endless supply of hiking opportunities. Nothing can prepare you for your first trip to the Grand Canyon.
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One of the 3 Crown Jewels of the U.S. National Park system (sharing the honour with Grand Canyon National Park and Yellowstone National Park), Yosemite stands proudly mid-way along the central Sierra Nevada Mountain Range of California. Created over millions of years ago through volcanic eruptions and ice age glaciers, it boasts some of the world's tallest waterfalls, Giant Sequoias and possibly the world's best example of glacially sculpted stone. The name Yosemite originated from the American Indian word, "Uzamaiti", meaning Grizzly Bear, now you can only find Black Bears amongst the wilds. Blessed with hundreds of trail miles, diverse raw scenery and an abundance of wildlife, Yosemite is a top choice for a National Park first timer.
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The world's first National Park, Yellowstone was created in 1872 and today recognized as both an International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO Heritage Site with 95% located in Wyoming, but flowing into Idaho and Montana. It is made up of over 1,000 miles of trails within an incredibly diverse 3,000 square miles of mountain lakes, valleys, canyons, waterfalls, rivers, petrified trees, Lodgepole forests, fire-scarred forests and the greatest variety of mammals in North America. With over 10,000 thermal features, Yellowstone boasts the greatest concentration of thermal activity on Earth, Old Faithful geyser stealing the show as the crowning glory. The habitat of the Yellowstone Ecosystem supports all walks of animal life from the pocket gopher to the threatened Grizzly Bear.
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Canada's first National Park and UNESCO heritage site, is also its most popular and includes Lake Louise and a portion of the Ice Fields Parkway Drive. Over 6641 sq. km in size, the park features countless wildlife, jagged mountains, vast glaciers, sweeping valleys, lush meadows, alpine forests, lakes of all sizes, wild rivers and natural hot springs. 25 mountains and over 1500 km of hiking trails offer refuge for hikers and we guarantee you'll be awestruck by the amazing display of natural beauty. Banff's bustling town site is situated, surprisingly in the heart of the park but a short distance away, travellers will be rewarded with still valleys and incredible panoramas. Possible wildlife on the checklist are Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Grey Wolf, elk, moose and birdlife. Nature's very own playground!
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The images of Alaska that most readily come to mind are glaciers, bears, salmon, and grand vistas, but for many the prominent thought is Mt. McKinley. Towering above the tundra, it is the image of Alaska in many people's minds. Early visitors to the park came primarily to attempt climbing the tallest peak in North America. Prior to 1957 the only park access was via the train from Anchorage, but since the opening of the paved George Parks highway in 1972 it has become slightly more easily to access, except in heavy snow, of course! Today it is the most visited National Park in Alaska receiving more visitors than all of Alaska's National Parks combined. However, it has ample empty space once inside to walk straight into a virtually untouched wilderness. Extreme and remote scenery await all who gaze their eyes inside Denali.
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In 1972, Manuel Antonio National Park narrowly avoided being bulldozed to make room for a coastal development, and what a shame that would have been indeed. Situated just 132km from the sprawling metropolis of San Jose, it is an oasis of calm, white sand beaches and lush green forests speckled with indigenous wildlife such as white-headed capuchin monkeys, iguanas and toucans. The park itself is closed to vehicles, so hiking is not just encouraged, but completely necessary. Take one of the many trails through the forest to spot the elusive three-toed sloth, or simply relax on a sandy beach and listen to the wind floating through the palm trees.
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