Yosemite National Park, California, United States

Yosemite is one of the most well known national parks in the world. With over 3.7 million visitors every year, this California park is an incredibly popular nature destination in the United States. Yosemite National Park is known for its awe-inspiring granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and over 800 miles (1,300 km) of hiking trails. Half Dome, a massive granite cliff jutting out of the earth, is one of the famous icons of the park, along with Cathedral Peak and El Capitan. Most of Yosemite’s iconic peaks, lakes, and waterfalls are located in the tourist-heavy 7 square mile (18 sq. km) area of Yosemite Valley, but the entire park actually encompasses an area of 1,189 square miles (3,080 sq. km). Yosemite has the honor of being the first national park ever designated, thanks in large part to conservationists like John Muir and Galen Clark. These men and others worked hard to protect the park both for the impressive diversity of plants and animals that lived there, and also for the enjoyment of future generations. Today, the park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a favorite destination for hikers, rock climbers, campers, and nature lovers of all kinds.

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park

Credit: ScottD75

Yosemite National Park

Credit: Melissa

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, USA

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, located in the state of Colorado in the United States, encompasses an area of 340 square kilometers (130 square miles, or 85,000 acres) of magnificent sand dunes. The 12,000 year old sand dunes include the tallest dunes in North America, rising 230 meters (750 feet) above the valley floor. The park contains other landscape features found in the high desert, such as alpine lakes, tundra, forests, grasslands, and wetlands, all of which provide habitats for many kinds of wildlife. Visitors to the park can enjoy hiking over the dunes, though it is wise to either keep the visitor center in sight, or bring a compass, as there are no marked trails on the ever-changing dunes. The closest town with accommodation is Alamosa, 30 miles southwest of the park. There is also tent camping available within the park. The nearest international airport is located in Denver, the capital of Colorado, which is a 4 1/2 hour drive from the park.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah, USA

Monument Valley is a an area know for its impressively formed sandstone buttes. The region is part of the Colorado Plateau, located in the Navajo Nation on the border between the states of Arizona and Utah in the American Southwest. Encompassing much of the area surrounding Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Monument Valley is an important part of Native American heritage. For a $5 fee, visitors to Monument Valley can take a 2-3 hour scenic drive over a 17 mile (27 km) dirt road, which is open from 6:00am-8:30pm from May to September, and 8:00am-4:30pm from October to April. Other visitors may chose to enjoy a multi-hour or overnight horseback ride to some of the more spectacular views and sites. If you’re interested in a unique view of Monument Valley you can even take a hot air balloon ride over the area. Visitors who are arriving via car can only access the park via Highway 163. There are two hotels near Monument Valley, and the nearest town of Kayenta, Arizona, is about 20 miles (32 km) away. Monument Valley is part of a greater network of attractions called the Grand Circle which also includes Grand Canyon National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Zion Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Arches National Park.

Monument Valley, Arizona

 

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Credit: Thad

West Mitten Butte, Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Credit: Thad

Monument Valley, Arizona

Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, Montana

 

The famously beautiful Glacier National Park is located in the US state of Montana. The park is massively large, encompassing over 1,000,000 acres (4,000 square km). In the mid 1800s the park was named for its roughly 150 glaciers, though only 25 remain today and it’s estimated that all the glaciers will have melted by 2030. With over 130 lakes, two mountain ranges, over 700 miles of hiking trails, and many miles of scenic road, the park is a popular hiking, camping, and scenic driving destination for all manner of tourist. The nearest airport is in Kalispell, Montana, and the Amtrak train line stops at East and West Glacier, but most visitors choose to drive to the park. The park is also home to historic chalets and hotels if you’re looking for a more relaxed than rugged experience.

Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Grinnell Point & Swiftcurrent Falls, Glacier National Park, Montana

Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Lake Josephine & Mt. Gould, Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana

Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA

In the southwestern part of Utah in the United States lies a wondrous work of erosion – Bryce Canyon. Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is an eroded natural amphitheater rather than a canyon. The most notable features of Bryce Canyon are its “hoodoos”, or geological structures formed by harsh weather erosion caused by wind, ice and water. One of the hoodoos is called Thor’s Hammer because its shape resembles that of a hammer. Visitors to Bryce Canyon can enjoy a scenic drive to 13 viewpoints overlooking the canyon. Tourists can also enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Bryce Canyon is close to both Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, as well as the town of Kanab, Utah, where many visitors to the area choose to find accommodation. Lodging can also be found in Bryce Canyon National Park’s two campgrounds or its lodge.

Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA

Credit: 5348 Franco

Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA

Credit: Ashwin Rao

Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA

Credit: Dene' Miles

Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA

Credit: 5348 Franco

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Credit: Jack Brauer

The stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park lies in the Lika region of Croatia. The park is surrounded by the mountains Plješevica, Mala Kapela, and Medveđak, which are part of the Dinaric Alps. The 16 blue-green Plitvice Lakes, which are separated by natural dams of travertine, are situated on the Plitvice plateau. Waterfalls connect the lakes, and the tallest waterfall is Veliki Slap at 70 meters (230 feet) tall. The Plitvice lakes area boasts a large variety of interesting and colorful flora and fauna. Visitors can enjoy walking and hiking the many pathways and trails, or exploring the lakes by boat. The park itself has 3 hotels and a campsite, otherwise visitors can find accommodation at any of the number of villages and cities nearby.

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Credit: Jack Brauer

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Lake, Croatia

Plitvice Falls, Croatia

Credit: Jack Brauer

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: Greg Willis

The towering red sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert are one of the most spectacular sights to be seen in Namibia. Sossusvlei itself is a clay pan fed by the Tsauchab River. In addition to the sea of red sand dunes, Sossusvlei is also home to the Dead Vlei, meaning “dead marsh”, an eerie white clay pan filled with dead Camelthorn trees. This area is contained within the Namib-Naukluft Park which is in turn a part of the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world. The best time to visit Sossusvlei is at sunrise or sunset when the colors are the most vivid and the sun is not too hot. Accommodation near the area ranges from luxury resorts, to mid-range lodges, to numerous campgrounds.

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: asco

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: asco

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: Greg Willis

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: asco

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: Greg Willis

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: Luca Galuzzi

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Sossusvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Credit: asco