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My US National Park wishlist

Old map of the USA

After writing about my highlights from the US National Parks I visited in the southwest this year, it got me thinking about the other parks in the USA that top my wishlist. The country has 59 different National Parks, which cover a huge range of spectacular landscapes – all the way from the coral reefs of the Dry Tortugas (Florida) to the icefields of Kenai Fjords (Alaska). There’s even a tropical island in the Pacific in amongst them (American Samoa). Visiting them all would be an amazing travel challenge, but to start me off I’ve come up with a list of the six parks I’d most like to visit. Which would you choose?

The Everglades

As with a few other travel destinations on my wishlist, this one comes from a TV series. Though in this case it’s one I watched almost 30 years ago – Gentle Ben. I might not be able to remember much about the show (a kind of Lassie meets Yogi Bear), but I’ve never forgotten the slightly surreal image of a black bear riding on a air boat through the Florida Everglades. The Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the US and the National Park was set up to protect its fragile ecosystem, with rare wildlife like turtles, manatees and panthers living there. You can see the park from land by hiking and cycling trails, or from the the water by kayak or boat trip. Though you’re unlikely to spot any bears.

Everglades National Park, Florida, USA

The Florida Everglades – photo credit Phil’s 1stPix

Hawaii Volcanoes

I climbed my first volcano last year, but although Vesuvius is still active, it’s more of the silent menacing type of activity than the active lava-spewing version. But at Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island you can see the volcanic activity that created the island chain in action. The park covers two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. The Halema’uma’u Crater has been erupting since 2008 so you can see gas plumes and fiery rocks glowing at night. Or hike through sulphur tubes, steam vents and lava flows. After years studying geology it’d be amazing to see all the theory come to life.

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, USA

Lava flowing in the Halema’uma’u Crater – photo credit Greg Bishop

Death Valley

Now I do like it warm, but the extremes of Death Valley, where temperatures reached 54°C this year, might be a bit hot for me. Straddling the California–Nevada border, this is one of the most inhospitable places in the world and the hottest, driest and lowest place in the USA. It’s another place for geology fans, with examples of rocks from most of the earth’s geological eras exposed by the harsh conditions. There are sand dunes, salt pans and rocky mountain slopes. But it’s not as dead as its name might suggest, with wildlife like foxes and bobcats venturing out after dark and huge blooms of wildflowers in spring.

Death Valley National Park, USA

The sandy expanse of Death Valley – photo credit nate2b

Glacier Bay

From intense heat I’m moving to the opposite extreme with my next choice, Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. This marine wilderness is made up of fjords, glaciers and snow-capped mountain ranges. When the area was discovered in 1794 it was covered in a thick layer of ice, but the glaciers have retreated by 65 miles. The newly exposed land has slowly come to life with new vegetation and animal species. But I’ll have to get over my dislike of boats to visit, as most of the park is only accessible by sea. It’s the best way to get out into the clear water of the fjords to see seals, porpoises, humpback and killer whales.

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, USA

Glacier Bay in Alaska – photo credit Steve Wall


Established in 1872, Yellowstone was the original US National Park and the first in the world. It’s centred over a giant volcanic caldera, and the violent forces deep underground which formed the park millions of years ago still make themselves known in the geysers, hot springs and steam vents. It reminds me of Wai-O-Tapu in New Zealand with its steaming pools of bright coloured water, bubbling mud and pungent sulphur smells. There’s more than just geology here though, with the park being a sanctuary for Rocky Mountain wildlife like bears, bison, wolves, moose, deer and coyotes.

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Geothermal pools at Yellowstone – photo credit Julie Falk


And finally there’s Yosemite National Park. It looks a bit like Switzerland crossed with New Zealand, with 1200 square miles of sheer granite cliffs, lush meadows, waterfalls, lakes and giant sequoia trees. I’ve seen so many fantastic photographs of the park I can’t wait to get out there with my camera (and a few spare memory cards). They even run free guided photo walks if you want to follow in the footsteps of Ansel Adams, whose iconic black and white shots were inspired by the park. The scenery might tempt me into doing a few longer hikes too, to catch some of the best views.

Yosemite National Park, USA

Yosemite view – photo credit Steve Dunleavy

Which is your favourite US National Park? Or where would you most like to visit?

42 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think from the above it’d have to be Alaska for me. The scenery is just stunning and it’s always been a dream of mine to go whale watching in Alaska.

    August 29, 2013
    • Alaska would be fantastic – I think I could just about get over my dislike of boats to do a whale watching trip (as long as it was a very calm day!).

      August 30, 2013
  2. White Sands in New Mexico is pretty cool too if you happen to be passing through. Roadtrip!

    August 29, 2013
    • I was briefly in New Mexico this spring but it was a flying visit so I’ll have to go back and see some more!

      August 30, 2013
  3. Very good choices. I live in Denali National Park and so I’m partial to it, but you should add it to your list. Kenai Fjords in Alaska is similar to Glacier Bay but easier and cheaper to get to.

    I want to go to Yosemite and Death Valley also. Europe has cities and history, the Middle East has ancient sites, Asia is loaded with charms, Africa has its animals. But the USA has incredible natural wonders.

    August 29, 2013
    • What a great place to live! I would love to visit Alaska – thanks for the tip about Kenai Fjords. It’s amazing the completely different landscapes that you have all within the same country.

      August 30, 2013
  4. The Everglades were fantastic, although I only had a small taste – I’d love to go to Yellowstone though (although as a volcano fan, I should add Hawaii to the list too)

    August 29, 2013
    • I’m hoping to get out to Florida this spring so the Everglades might be the first one I manage to see. After doing a geography degree I do love a geological feature, so anything volcano related was a must!

      August 30, 2013
  5. Have you been to the niobrara? I liked it a lot. We didn’t get to see as much as I had planned on but it was def worth every scare mile we explored 🙂
    Oh, and a great list, by the way!

    August 29, 2013
    • Had never heard of it but it looks great – I’m going to end up with a very long list at this rate!

      August 30, 2013
  6. I loved Yellowstone and Yosemite but Dry Tortugas is number one on my list next time i’m in the states.

    August 29, 2013
    • I’ve got a possible Florida Keys trip in the pipeline for next year so may have to try and get the Dry Tortugas and Everglades in one!

      August 30, 2013
  7. That’s the best to do list I’ve ever seen!

    August 30, 2013
  8. Yosemite’s El Capitan is breathtaking and Bryce Canyon’s Hoodoos are not to be missed! Haleakala on Maui is also one for the list.

    August 30, 2013
    • I loved Bryce Canyon and can’t wait to see Yosemite. There seems to be quite a few parks on Hawaii – it’s such a long trip from the UK I’d need to have a good few weeks out there!

      August 30, 2013
  9. Although all these are also on my list, my top choice is the Everglades. I’m visiting Yellowstone next year with a group of teen boys. I know, crazy! I look forward to reading about your upcoming adventures and referring to your blog when I hit the places you’ve already visited!

    August 30, 2013
    • That sounds very brave of you! Hopefully I should be visiting at least one of these early next year so keep an eye out!

      September 2, 2013
  10. I have visited 4 of them and none of them looked so splendid as those professional photos you chose. I guess they were shot from helicopters or being cropped to make them looked very near. That being said, your choices are all very good.

    August 31, 2013
    • The photos are all from Flickr Creative Commons so there’s a mix of professional and amateur, they’re all spectacular though – I will have to see if I can get anywhere near as good!

      September 2, 2013
  11. Oh my!! I can’t make up my mind at all! Fingers crossed that I will live long enough and be fit enough to see all of these 🙂

    September 3, 2013
    • Tough to choose isn’t it? I’d love to see all 59 parks but these six would be a good start!

      September 4, 2013
  12. Reblogged this on seshirley and commented:
    What a wonderful wishlist: the National Parks!

    September 3, 2013
  13. klp13 #

    I just got back from Olympic National Park this past month and it is now my favorite National Park. It’s incredible! I’d recommend it even over Glacier National Park, which I also saw recently.

    September 6, 2013
    • Thanks for the tip, it does look spectacular. I’m hoping to go and visit Seattle and Vancouver soon so will have to try and fit a visit there in too.

      September 6, 2013
    • klp13 #

      If you enjoy longer hikes, the Obstruction Point Trail was beautiful and have incredible views of the mountains. However, due to the elevation it’s closed certain times of the years so keep that in mind. Have fun!

      September 6, 2013
  14. Great list and helpful tips 🙂

    September 8, 2013
    • Thanks, I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing them all now!

      September 9, 2013
  15. We got to spend a brief amount of time last month in Pinnacles National Park in California. It only became a national park last year, and has very limited services. It has great hiking and rock climbing and the scenery is very stark but beautiful. I’d love to get in a longer visit there someday.

    The one park I want to visit above any other at the moment would be Glacier National Park. The feeling of the infinite horizon is overwhelming in Montana.

    September 10, 2013
    • Pinnacles sounds really interesting, it must be great to get out there before it gets many visitors. Glacier also looks beautiful, I love those wide open skies.

      September 10, 2013
  16. But Lucy, what about Page??? Ok, that was a joke 😉

    I liked Acadia National Park in Maine but partly for the food (lobster). A road trip in Maine is something I look forward doing again.

    While not in the USA, you may also want to take a look at Banff

    September 14, 2013
    • Banff and the Rockies are definitely high on my wish list. I’ve not made it to Canada yet and have so much I want to see out there.

      September 17, 2013
  17. I am thrilled that you spent your time in the US focusing on our national parks. In my opinion, they are our best asset, so I am happy you got to focus on a few of them. One of my favorites is Glacier National Park in Montana. It offers outrageous views, spectacular hiking, and lots of wildlife, and it’s just a hop, skip and a jump up to Waterton National Park on the Canadian side of the border. You really can’t go wrong with any US National Park, so try to get to them all!

    September 15, 2013
    • Thanks, the parks I saw this year were just amazing and I can’t wait to see more. Glacier sounds spectacular and I’m well overdue a trip to Canada so that sounds like a good plan – thanks for the tip.

      September 17, 2013
  18. Lucy, thought of you as I posted this one:

    September 19, 2013
    • Great arch photo! Brings back lots of good memories.

      September 20, 2013
  19. Great list!
    I’m a big fan of national parks. Last year I took a road trip from LA to NYC and visited Grand Canyon West Rim, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Colorado National Monument and Rocky Mountains. The year before that, Grand Canyon South Rim, Death Valley and Yosemite.

    Next year I’ll drive from Seattle to New Orleans and there will certainly be parks…

    September 30, 2013
    • That sounds like a fantastic trip! I hope to try and fit in some of the parks around Florida next year and then who knows?

      October 1, 2013
  20. Goglobe #

    Great choices! Check out Glacier NP as well. A more rugged, majestic version of Yellowstone

    October 5, 2013
    • Looks fantastic – this list is just going to get longer and longer!

      October 8, 2013
    • Goglobe #

      When I was there last August, half the park trails where closed due to Bear and Mountain lion sightings – Felt a lot more wild than Yellowstone 🙂

      I hope you’ll update your list when you’ve been to any of the parks!

      October 8, 2013

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