America is rich in history and filled with beautiful scenic parks. To be exact, the Department of the Interior explains that the U.S. has 560 national wildlife refuges and over 400 national parks. There are also approximately 250 million acres of additional Interior-managed public lands, so chances are there’s one close to you.
While it’s hard to whittle the list of 400 parks down to a few must-see natural landscapes, there are some parks that you must visit in your lifetime. These national parks were designated as such to protect valuable historical and natural land features. So, come along as we journey through some of the best national parks in the United States.
Located in Montana, this park is also known as “The Backbone of the World” or the “Crown of the Continent.” Others know it as America’s Switzerland because of its immaculate alpine scenery. The Department of the Interior established it as a national park in 1910. The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated it as part of the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in 1932. The other part of the park, Waterton Lakes National Park, is located in Alberta, Canada.
As if that wasn’t enough, Glacier National Park is heaven to hikers, with over 700 hiking trails. Its beautiful lakes and rugged wilderness are perfect for adventure seekers who want peace and solitude. Relive the golden days through the park’s historic lodges and chalets as well as the legendary Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The park includes over one million Montana wilderness acres, two mountains, and over 130 lakes. Glacier National Park has plenty of places to stay, with 13 campgrounds and seven lodges, but plan your trip ahead of time because reservations fill up fast. As if the natural aspects weren’t enough, there are also plenty of amenities, activities, and facilities.
Yosemite first came under protection in 1864. It encompasses about 1,200 square miles of majestic meadows, deep valleys, and giant primitive sequoia trees in California.
This park is famous for its waterfalls and represents the strength and power of glaciers and granite mountains. Yosemite is also infamous for the Yosemite Grant Act that allowed the government for the first time ever to allocate specific parkland for the public use and preservation of resources.
The park service made sure that Yosemite was easily accessible to many, and there are plenty of accommodations for your stay. For over 150 years, Yosemite has continued to awe and influence thousands of poets, environmentalists, outdoor adventurers, climbers, hikers, and artists. There are almost 750,000 acres of natural beauty and wilderness to inspire even the most adventurous soul.
Yosemite is as busy as Glacier National Park, with over four million visitors every year. Still, you may be able to carve out your own peaceful spot at least temporarily.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This beautiful park runs along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Learn about the mountain culture of Southern Appalachia and soak in the natural beauty of the varied plant and animal life. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the country.
The richly historic Cades Cove is an 11-mile driving loop that lets you leisurely enjoy seeing a working grist mill and other lovingly restored 17th and 18th-century houses and buildings. Europeans were the first settlers in this area, and they arrived sometime between 1818 and 1821. The area boasted 271 people by 1830.
You can get out on foot and explore the buildings up close. The cove is also great for biking when it’s closed to vehicles until 10:00 a.m. every Wednesday and Saturday from the beginning of May until late in September. Hike many trails, such as the five-mile round-trip hike between the Cades Cove Nature Trail and Abrams Falls. The longer hiking trails, Rocky Top and Thunderhead Mountain, also begin in Cades Cove.
Follow the same paths that the Cherokee Indians hunted on for centuries. Enjoy the same wildlife they did, such as coyotes, deer, turkeys, and other wild animals. Wild black bears roam the park, and you can observe them from a safe distance with no fences between you.
What to Bring
You can’t just wander into the national parks unprepared. For all their natural beauty, these parks represent the full spectrum of wilderness in all of its glory. There’s rough terrain, harsh temperatures, bad weather, and other elements to factor in when preparing for your adventure.
Hiking or Tactical Boots
While there will likely be many paths to follow in the park, you’re bound to encounter rugged terrain. Hiking boots or sturdy tactical boots will provide you with the comfort and durability that you need to traverse rough trails.
Hydration Gear or Water Bottles
It’s critical to stay hydrated when hiking or touring the park. Always prepare for the inevitable. Refillable hydration systems or bottles allow you to carry water with you on your adventure and refill your containers along the way in a crisp, fresh stream.
Hydration systems, also known as camel packs, are packs that you carry on your back, so they are convenient to use compared to water bottles. They keep your hands free to deal with other obstacles that you may come upon.
Whether it’s snowing or the sun is shining, sunglasses are vital for your visit to a national park. The white snow can be as bright as the hot glaring sun, and a great pair of polarized sunglasses reduce glare by obstructing horizontal rays of light. When the sun reflects off of light surfaces, such as water or sun, it becomes polarized horizontally. Sunglasses help block the direct light rays from all directions.
A tactical watch is another necessary item to bring on your national park trip. Well-made tactical watches are damage-resistant and anti-reflective. Digital or quartz-based watches are more accurate than mechanical watches and better for long adventures or coordinating your movements with others.
They should also be waterproof, as well as easily readable in the dark without hitting the backlight button. If you’re rappelling, fishing, or doing some other activity, you want to be able to read your watch by simply tilting your head.
This item speaks for itself. A Gore-Tex lightweight rain jacket is excellent to have when that sudden downpour that you weren’t expecting sets in. Wet clothes in the winter can lead to deadly hypothermia and, in the summer, they’re just plain uncomfortable.
Whether the sun is shining or it’s raining, you still need protection from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. Choose a sunscreen with a hydrating formula that moisturizes and protects your skin all day. Many people think that they can’t get sunburned when it’s cloudy outside, but this is not true. More people sunburn when it’s overcast because they choose not to wear sunscreen, believing that the clouds shield them from light rays.
A few other handy items to bring are insect repellent, extra socks and clothing, a camera, and bear spray. With the right equipment, you can enjoy your trip to the national park of your choice. You’ll be prepared for anything and worry less if anything unexpected comes up. No matter what the challenge, you’re sure to enjoy the natural splendor and historical features of these national parks.