Get Out & Explore: National Parks You Must See

From sea to shining sea, the United States has some of the most beautifully diverse landscapes on the planet. Whether you enjoy the coastal deserts of California, the rushing waterfalls of the Northeast, the rugged mountains of Appalachia, or the forests of the Pacific Northwest, now is the time to get outdoors and bask in the beauty of America's national parks!

These precious lands haven’t always been protected, so it’s crucial that we never take them for granted. Respect the animals, follow the paved pathways, pick up trash when you spot it, and help keep our country’s national parks pristine, ensuring people from all over the planet can enjoy the grandeur of these natural escapes.

It’s officially National Parks Week, and what better time to get outdoors and explore? Find a National Park near your home or plan a trip to some of the exquisite sites below. These are just a handful of my favorite spots. What parks top your list?

Glacier National Park

The stunning scenery at Glacier National Park is immeasurable, and no matter what you’re looking for, I’m certain you’ll find it here. With over one million acres, 130 lakes, and 700 miles of trails, you can take your time hiking, trekking, swimming, and resting in what most nature enthusiasts consider the “crown” of our continent.

This national park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 due to its early adoption of wildlife protection. Since Lewis and Clark first roamed this area, the animal diversity in this region has nearly remained untouched. In our ever-growing and changing world, that’s incredible.

While the name might suggest something different, this isn’t the park to go to if you’re only interested in snapping stunning shots of glaciers. Because of our warming climate, most of the remaining glaciers at the park will be gone by 2030.

*Images credit: National Park Service

*Images credit: National Park Service

Sequoia National Park

Head to Southern California’s Sierra Nevada desert and walk amongst giants. The Sequoia National Park is home to some of the largest and tallest trees in the world. Humbling is the first word that comes to mind when walking underneath these skyscraper trees with leaves that seem to brush the sky.

This was the first national park created to protect a living organism, and once you have the opportunity to gaze at the majesty of these trees, it’s easy to see why the giant sequoias would need protection.

After you’ve taken in just how amazing a 3,000 ft tree looks up close, you can enjoy over 315 different species of animals including falcons, bluebirds, and black bears. Incredible geology and a vast amount of wilderness solidify Sequoia National Park’s spot as one of the most incredible parks in the country.

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Grand Canyon National Park

There’s a reason some destinations have a reputation that precedes it. The Grand Canyon needs no introduction. It’s a jewel in the high desert, a treasure of the Southwest region, and as one of the seven wonders of the natural world, it’s a place you should cross off your bucket list.

The Colorado River began carving out the Grand Canyon millions of years ago (scientists estimate anywhere between 6-70 million years!), and when you gaze out over the lookout deck, you can almost imagine the water blasting through the canyon—carving out peaks & valleys in its wake.

Whether you want to check out the hidden oasis at Havasupai Falls (one of the most remote communities in the United States) or need to step back and have a moment of gratitude while you look at billions of years of rock strata, the possibilities are there for you.

*Images credit: National Park Service

*Images credit: National Park Service

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park was already a star long before the Oscar-winning National Geographic film Free Solo. I have fond memories going there on family vacations during the summers, and I’ve also climbed Half Dome three times. Every time has been unique, but to fully grasp the beauty of this national park, you simply have to visit yourself. There’s nothing like it.

Take note: if you are planning on hiking Half Dome, you will need to get a permit on the National Park Service site.  Plan early for your trip, or you can try your luck at the weekly lottery, but you will have to have some flexibility. I was lucky and won the permit lottery when I hiked it in 2017. It’s about a 14-16 hour day hike, but it’s well worth it! But even if outdoor adventures aren’t your thing, you’ll find that the beauty of Yosemite’s granite peaks and valleys will captivate you.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree has become an Instagram paradise and a pop culture phenomenon with distinct landscapes and funky trees that can’t be found anywhere else. While the area may seem bleak, the Mojave and Colorado deserts collide to create a quirky scene that’s defined by the sun, blasting winds, and diverse wildlife.

Rock climbers, animal enthusiasts, and nature buffs will find more than enough activities to stay busy, but if you’re looking for more, you can head right over to Death Valley—the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the country. With summer temperatures that can climb past 140 degrees F, this will be a trip you’ll want to reserve for the spring and autumn seasons.

*Images credit: National Park Service

*Images credit: National Park Service

Utah Big 5

When it comes to health, adventure, and the great outdoors, no one’s more obsessed with a good sweat session under the sun than residents of the Southwest. And when you consider the fact that Southern Utah has five incredible national parks to choose from, you’ll want to start planning your next adventure today!

  1. Zion National Park: How do you choose where to start your journey? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. Hike the vermilion cliffs and valleys of Zion or take a trek through the hued walls of the canyon by following the path of the “Narrows.” The Virgin River rolls through the desert, creating a peaceful oasis along its banks. An afternoon here simply isn’t enough. You’ll want to plan a trip where you can enjoy all this park has to offer.

  2. Canyonlands National Park: Want the opportunity to capture one of the most photographed natural landforms? Canyonlands National Park offers deep canyons, cliffs, and spires that stretch out for over 527 square miles. Take the scenic drive, hike, or cycle through this magical land that feels like Mars here on Earth.

  3. Bryce Canyon National Park: A unique landscape of Hoodoos and fins, like the shapes you’ll find at Bryce Canyon National Park, can only be formed when rain freezes between the thin gaps in the rocks. Once the water is frozen it expands, stretching out the rock in the process. The result is incredible formations you have to see to believe. The best way to enjoy this natural wonder is to hike through the park, making sure to notice all of the tiny details of nature’s work.

  4. Arches National Park: There’s nothing quite like the sun setting against the sandstone rocks of Arches National Park, especially when you can see the snow capped mountains in the distance. With the largest proliferation of arches in the world, this park is one of the most visited in the United States. The scarce precipitation and high elevation of this landscape will define your experience—and let me tell you, it’s one-of-a-kind.

  5. Capitol Reef National Park: If you’re one for venturing off the beaten path, you’ll enjoy Capitol Reef National Park. It includes bits and pieces of some of the more popular national parks listed above but with fewer tourists. This gives you the chance to look around and imagine what Earth looked like before people got here.

We live in such a magical place. Let’s help protect it! No matter where you go, make sure to enjoy the magnificent natural retreats that are in your backyard.