My favourite USA National Parks

I’ve long been fascinated by US National Parks. At the top of my list are Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon National Parks. 

Here’s why I these are my favourite USA National Parks.

grand canyon

The Grand Canyon. Picture: Shutterstock

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona 

John Wesley Powell, an early explorer of the American West credited with leading the first group of Europeans down the Colorado River through the Canyon, wrote: “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.”

After cycling for hours down a dusty track to reach a remote viewpoint over the Grand Canyon’s North Rim called Toroweap Overlook I have to agree.

The stupendous view leaves me speechless. And to have this jumble of volcanic cinder cones and lava flows on the edge of one of the world’s great natural wonders virtually to myself is especially wonderful.

The Grand Canyon USA
The Grand Canyon USA

Stratum upon stratum of multi-hued rock lies stacked beneath me. Dating back over two billion years, they reveal more dramatically than anywhere else on Earth how our world was formed, while two miles below, the Colorado River snakes through the gorge, carving ever deeper into this iconic symbol of the American Southwest.

Zion National Park, Utah 

World famous for its massive rock walls of red and white Navajo sandstone that rise over 610 metres from the desert floor, Zion National Park is a canyon oasis of astounding natural beauty.

The Narrows Zion National Park USA
The Narrows Zion National Park USA

Meaning ‘heavenly city’ in the vernacular of Utah’s predominant Mormons, Zion is a breathtaking blend of high plateaus, sheer canyons, and monolithic cliffs.

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

These sheer walls were carved by decades of wind, rain, ice and the waters of the Virgin River.

Once there, I soon discover that getting my feet wet is the best way to explore Zion’s most popular backcountry. In an area called the Narrows, you can explore a slot canyon which is significantly deeper than it is wide.

Here, the North Fork Virgin River runs beneath thousand-foot walls of Navajo sandstone sculpted by thousands of years of erosion into some of the most beautiful rock formations in all of the American Southwest.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah 

This park’s spectacular natural amphitheatres contain the world’s largest collection of hoodoos — thin, flame-coloured limestone spires protruding from arid badlands that can rise as high as a ten-storey building.

Bryce Canyon National Park at Navajo Loop Trail, Utah, USA
Bryce Canyon National Park at Navajo Loop Trail, Utah, USA

Spread over many miles, they resemble a ‘silent city’ of stone.

I discover that the best way to experience Bryce’s natural wonders is on foot. More than sixty miles of trails weave through the canyon’s maze of sunburnt stone hoodoos.

As I amble along the popular Navajo Loop Trail, I encounter famous hoodoos with names like Three Wise Men, Indian Princess, The Rabbit and even ET.

Bryce Canyon National Park Utah, USA
Bryce Canyon National Park Utah, USA

The Palute Indians who once hunted here were the first to describe Bryce’s Hoodoos in anthropomorphic terms. Bringing fairy chimneys and goblins to mind, they still fire the imagination.

Other popular US National Parks

Olympic National Park, Washington 

From its wild beaches to its lush, mossy rainforest and rugged, glacier-capped mountains, the park’s diverse habitats are ideal for adventurous travellers looking for a little bit of everything.

It’s really three parks in one. Lofty mountains offer plenty of snow and glaciers. It’s lush, verdant Hoh Rainforest is home to Roosevelt elk, black bears and other distinctive wildlife. And its rugged coastline has miles of wild, deserted beaches sprinkled with sea stacks and tide pools.

Nowhere else in America will you find three such entirely different worlds to be experienced within one park.

Glacier National Park, Montana 

Nicknamed the Crown of the Continent because the water flows from it all the way to the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and to Hudson’s Bay, Glacier National Park straddles the Canada–United States border.

Glacier National Park USA
Glacier National Park USA

An untouched wilderness of ancient forests, deep valleys and spectacular alpine scenery, the park is a paradise for hikers and trekkers.

It also contains more than 130 pristine lakes and hundreds of species of animals, including Grizzly bears, mountain goats and moose, mountain goats, wolverines and Canadian lynxes. Popular activities include backpacking, cycling and camping.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming  

Named for the tallest mountain in the Teton Range, this national park is famous for its distinctive jagged granite pinnacles, numerous lakes, abundant wildlife, and historic barns and homesteads.

Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park

A popular destination for mountaineering and hiking, Grand Teton is also a world-renowned trout-fishing destination and is one of the few places where anglers can catch Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout.

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

America’s largest national park, Denali is named after America’s tallest mountain, 6,190 metre-high Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley).

It’s six million acres of wilderness includes tundra, spruce forest and glaciers. Denali is home to grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.

Denali National Park
Denali National Park USA

In spring, summer and fall you can bike, hike and mountaineer. In winter try snowshoeing, snowmobiling and skiing in the park’s rugged mountains and high Alpine tundra.

Denali’s remoteness and strict protection of its wildlife habitat and ecosystems ensure that this arctic gem remains pristine.

By Mark Sissons

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