Have You Been To All Of These North American National Parks?

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Since the very first national park, Yellowstone, established in 1872 by President Ulysses S Grant, the protection of the world’s natural lands and formations has grown in leaps and bounds. In the United States there are now 59 national parks, and Canada has more than 40 national parks and reserves.

The criteria for a national park to be designated are that it must consist of unusual ecosystems, geological features and natural beauty… naturally! In North America, these combinations are not too hard to find as the preservation and conservation of these great lands and natural wonders is paramount.

Feel like it’s too many to choose from? This list will help you break it down. Mountain ranges and glaciers, waterfalls and lakes, caves and monoliths, deserts and cacti, this list has it all.

Yosemite National Park, California

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One of the most well-known national parks in the world is the 1,200 square miles of Yosemite National Park. Here you’ll find North America’s highest waterfall, Yosemite Falls and stunning natural rock formations.

Tioga Pass Road leads you directly into the high country of Yosemite. There are wonderful opportunities for hiking along designated trails by the Tuolumne Meadows. As well as hiking, there are plenty of perfect spots for fishing, rafting and rock climbing. Stay in designated camping areas or tuck yourself in at the lovely Ahwahnee Hotel, either way, your time in California’s Yosemite National Park will be one to remember.

Appointed a World Heritage Site in 1984, 95% of the park is designated wilderness and supports biological diversity of plants and animals.
Without doubt, the most spectacular prospect, is looking down on Yosemite Valley. Make your way up Glacier Point Road and you’ll be gazing on this wonderment from 3,200 ft.

Acadia, Maine

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On the east side of the Mississippi River, is America’s oldest National Park. Over 2 million people visit Acadia every year, and many of them arrive before sunrise, just to find a perfect spot on Cadillac Mountain. This is a prime location along the Atlantic seaboard for watching one of the most impressive sunrises in the world, as this is the first place the sun kisses in the entire United States.

Over 50,000 acres are home to woodlands, lakes and ocean shoreline, plus parts of the Schoodic Peninsula, Baker Island, Isle au Haut, and Mount Desert Island. Not to mention up to 40 different species of wildlife.

There’s 57 miles of carriage roads where you can bike or hike, but take a trip along the Park Loop Road to see it all. For the more adventurous of you, climb the Precipice Trail up Champlain Mountain for the most breathtaking views.

Channel Islands, California

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11 miles off the Californian coast is a spectacular and secluded collection of islands, called the Channel Islands. Of the 8 islands, 5 of them make up the national park. San Miguel, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara and Anacapa, were made into a national park in 1980 and now are home to one of the richest and most beautiful marine ecosystems in the world.

What else is so special about these islands? Apart from the impressive flora and fauna on the land, San Miguel Islands Point Bennett is known for entertaining around 50,000 northern elephant seals and up to 70,00 Californian sea lions.

With so much to do on the Channel Islands, you can choose between whale watching, snorkeling, hiking and kayaking. There are camping facilities on selected islands and Santa Catalina Island, one of the 8, has permanent civilian occupants.

Pinnacles, California

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Driving into the Pinnacles National Park, just outside of San Francisco, is like entering a different world. America’s newest national park is scraggy dirt and wildflower ground with a jagged skyline of monoliths spread out over 26,606 acres of land. With no through roads that connect the east side of the park to the west, this is the perfect place for rock climbers and hikers, but be wary of the warmer months, heat gets extreme out here and you have to be prepared. Which is why the most popular months to visit are March – May, especially when there’s over 50 species of wildflowers in bloom.

Walk the High Peaks Trail and you’ll marvel at the unique formations in the rocks and cliffs. The pinnacles are left over’s from the Neenach Volcano, which last erupted 23million years ago, and 195 miles away. Moved to this location by the movement of the Pacific Plate and the San Andreas Fault, these beasts are extremely old.

This is a wonderful national park and not too crowded. Pinnacles only received its national park status in 2013, and it’s taking some time for the tourists to catch on.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

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Arizona’s most famous gorge and seen on postcards and movie screens around the world, is the Grand Canyon. One mile deep, 18 miles wide and 227 miles long, it is a sure fire tourist attraction purely for the selfies alone. Its vast, deep, drop and view all the way to the Colorado River is an impressive as the color palate within the cliff face that seems to change throughout the day. The lake that still runs through it naturally carved out the canyon, and the oldest granite at the very bottom is said to be 1.8 billion years old.
Listed as a national monument in 1908 it was then named a national park in 1919. Today it attracts more than 5 million visitors per year; so naturally most lookout points will be packed. For a slightly quieter view, hike along one of the marked trails by foot, or even mule and you’ll get the chance to look up, when everyone else is looking down, you can even raft down the river for a completely different perspective.

Kenai Fjords, Alaska

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Alaska’s smallest national park, but by no means minimal, is the Kenai Fjords. Established in 1980, this impressive part of the world is where ice and ocean meet the mountain ranges. Nearly 40 massive glaciers have arranged themselves in perfect harmony with the rocky peaks that cradle them.

Naturally you can take a boat cruise around Resurrection Bay and get as close as possible to the glaciers, but you can also get a bit closer to water level by kayaking yourself around.  Look up and you’ll see bald Eagles, Puffins and other sea birds, below you are sea otters, sea lions, orcas and even humpback whales. For those without sea legs there is also an 8.2 mile round trip for hikers, and you can stay overnight in one of the three public use cabins. Alternatively, Kenai Fjords Lodge is in the heart of Pederson Lagoon, a great place after a four-hour boat tour to relax, or take further hiking or canoeing tours.

Olympic, Washington

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Making your way through the vast array of scenery in this nearly one million acres of land, is like walking through an eternal wilderness. Olympic National Park encompasses three very different ecosystems, all in a pristine condition.  Designated in 1909, the area is, for the most part, untouched by human development and remains as it has been growing, for over 100 years.

The Pacific Shore is 73 miles of natural coastline, sandy wild beaches and views of seals and sea lions. The temperate forest is a dripping wet and very green rain forest with trees that are over 20 feet high and over 500 years old. The sub alpine forest is home to lakes and rivers, waterfalls, flower-strewn meadows and 70,000ft high snow capped mountains.

The best outlook possible would be from Hurricane Ridge in the Strait Juan de Fuca and the Olympic National Park. At 5,200 ft, be prepared for some awe-inspiring views.

Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia

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The Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia covers around 948 kilometers and has five main saltwater beaches and two freshwater lakes. This is a perfect national park for water lovers just for the swimming options alone. Fishing, kayaking, surfing as well as hiking, cycling, picnicking and even geocaching, are all the activities on offer here. Plus of course camping, and….golfing! On the east side of the park, in Ingonish, is an 18-hole golf course called the Highland Links, which has been open since 1941. Touted as one of the best golf courses in Canada, it also aims at preserving the land’s flora and wildlife habitat, as opposed to ruining it with a sporting activity.

Naturally, hiking is encouraged here, and there are 26 different trials to choose from. But don’t forget the nighttime tours, lantern walks and skyline sunset hikes, which is a wonderful opportunity to be in the heart of the park after dark.

Saguaro Arizona

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On the outskirts of Tucson in southern Arizona are the two districts that make up Saguaro National Park. Lying 20 miles east and 15 miles west of Tucson city, the amount of the 91,442 acres that was designated national wilderness area, is 70, 905 acres. Even though the two areas aren’t directly connected to each other, it’s very easy to get to both from the city. There is a visitor centre in each, and both have a rather impressive set of mountains to show off. Tucson Mountains in the west, and Rincon Mountain is the east.

The Saguaro is famous for, named after, and is now protecting, the giant Saguaro Cactus tree. A famous cactus for being one big, prickly beast that can have up to 40 arms and get up to 50 feet tall. These guys live forever; some have been around 200 years! There’s of course plenty of other species of cactus in this desert land too, although it really is all about the big guy.

Arches, Utah

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Why Arches? This national park in eastern Utah is famous for having over 2,000 naturally formed sandstone arches. Spread over 76,679 acres, the park sits atop a salt bed, which is the reason for the emergence of spires, arches, monoliths, huge sandstone fins and balancing rocks. After much to and fro between national monument designations, proclamations and such, it was finally named a national park in 1969.

Walk one mile on Park Avenue, through giant rock monoliths and hanging rocks, and it is a site to behold, but don’t strap your safety belt on just yet. There is no climbing allowed on the rock formations, but it’s easy to see why. In regards to the history and the nice and natural way these rocks came about, why wreck them with human traipsing? However, there are many tours available and you are able to hike, camp and bike the area.

Mingan Archipelago, Quebec

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A collection of around 1000 islands and islets make up this national park reserve in Quebec, Canada. Running along around 150 Kilometers along the north shore of St. Lawrence, you’ll find some amazing limestone monoliths to wonder at. These have been created over thousands of years by changing sea levels, wind, waves, freezing and thawing. The result is a spectacular sight and the largest group of monoliths in Canada.

There are two reception and interpretation centers, one located near the marina, on Havre-Saint-Pierre, the other on Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan. You can stay on the island either camping, hiring a tent cabin or even within the lighthouse station. If you are there for the day, take in an island hoping adventure!

There is plenty of diverse marine life and birds on the ground of the Mingan Archipelago, not to mention all the land based animals, keep your eye out and you‘ll be able to see them in their natural habitat, as it is you who is in theirs.

Theodore Roosevelt

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Named after the 26th president and renowned conservationist, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, is his own badlands in North Dakota.  The North Unit, the South Unit and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit make up the three sections of the 70,446 acres of land.

Popular for horse riders and hikers, there are also plenty of wild animals, like bison, elk, mountain lion, prairie dogs and big horn sheep. So proceed with caution and animal watch from a far.

It seams an isolated area at first glance, but full of wildlife and a landscape of dramatically changing colors. There are three developed camping grounds and 100 miles of horse trails. Take the Castle trail for the best views and a wonderful sunrise.

Yellowstone

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In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was officially designated, making it the very first national park to exist! It is most famous for the cone shaped geyser called Old Faithful. This volcanic wonder spouts once every 35-120 minutes, but it’s not the only thermal feature in the area. Yellowstone is full of geysers, fumaroles, mud pots and hot springs. Yellowstone is also home to North America’s highest altitude lake, Yellowstone Lake and has one amazing petrified forest, known as the worlds largest.

The entire park is over 3,468 square miles….that is a lot of ground to cover! Primarily residing in Wyoming, it also reaches to covers parts of Montana and Idaho. With a park this size it’s no wonder there are hundreds of species of mammals, fish, birds and reptiles living there. If you are curious, in Gardiner, near the north entrance to the park, is a wonderful heritage and research centre to visit.

Yellowstone is the most popular national park in the United States, so it gets very busy around peak time, the busiest month being July.

Kluane, Canada

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The highest mountain in Canada sits within Kluane National Park. Mount Logan rises to 19,551 ft and is just one of the many mountains and glaciers that cover 83% of the land designed to the park. The park sits in the southwest corner of Yukon in Canada and was first established in 1972.

Where to go? Kathleen Lake has a designated camping ground, and there are many great hiking trails to explore, or you can bike or horse ride if you are so inclined! Fish in the lakes for many different kinds of fish, or spot a bird or two with up to 120 species of birds that fly freely in the area.

Great Smoky Mountains

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The border between North Caroline and Tennessee runs directly through the Smokey Mountains National Park and you can get a great view just by driving through the park on the highway. But take a turn into the park and there are 584 miles of inland road to explore.

As well as biking and horseback riding, Smokey Mountains is a big calling card for hikers as it has 850 miles of perfect hiking trails. If you are just taking a stroll, Climb Clingman’s Dome and take a look at the grounds from 6,643 ft. This is the highest point in the park and the most spectacular.

The United State’s most visited park is also popular for fly-fishing, It’s lakes have a great reputation for lots of healthy trout.

Denali, Alaska

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There’s one way to get through Denali National Park and that’s by shuttle bus, and good thing too, as the 92 mile strip road through this six million acre land is unpaved and windy. You can spot sheep, moose, caribou, wolf and Toklat grizzlies, plus North Americas’ tallest mountain, Mount McKinley.

Waterton –Glacier International Peace Park, Montana

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With only 25 remaining glaciers within this park, you best get your skates on if you want to see them.  Along with the glaciers are the most beautiful lakes and waterfalls, wildflowers and wild life you will see in your lifetime. Drive the only road that goes into the center of the park yourself, or hop on a fun and old-fashioned tour bus from the 1930’s.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

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Beneath Kentucky’s rolling hills and valleys is a labyrinth of caves and chambers with frozen waterfalls, clear ponds, and columns and pinnacles galore. This space is so huge the largest room, known as Chief City, is two acres long. All this is underground, and fascinating.

Banff, Alberta

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Say hello to Canada’s oldest national park! 6,641 square kilometers of glaciers, ice fields, coniferous forest, and mountain terrain. Banff is a town located in the centre of the park, in the Bow River valley and the park is surrounded by many other national parks in the area.

Zion, Utah

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Utah’s very first national park is also the most popular, especially for the thrill seeking rock climber or hiker. Wonderful trails, steep drops, red rock walls and breathtaking views, You can also take shorter tracks to the Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock or drive along Highway 9 and relax.

Rocky Mountain, Colorado

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Known as ‘the roof of the world”, the Rocky Mountains get pretty high! All 72 peaks in the ranges are higher than 12,000 ft. Trail Ridge Road is the best way to get through it all. This 48-mile road is windy and adventurous, straight across the Continental Divide. Along the way you can stretch your legs at the many lakes or hiking trails.

Hot Springs, Arkansas

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Feel like a dip? Step into the rejuvenating waters of ‘Bathhouse Row” in Arkansas’ Hot Springs National Park, and you’ll revel in the natural healing qualities of the water and surrounds. Nearly 1.5 million visitors a year come to do just the same, and walk out better for it.

Everglades, Florida

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Protecting the southern 20% of the Florida Everglades is the designated area of the Everglades National Park, and the largest tropical wilderness in the United States. Home to 36 protected and threatened species of animal and bird, it is now and International Biosphere Reserve and Wetland of International Importance.

Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio

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Would you like to see 33,000 acres of waterfalls, hiking trails and horse riding paths, caves and part of the historic Ohio canal and Erie Canal? Then Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the place for you.

Yoho, British Columbia

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Within the Canadian Rocky Mountains, sits Yoho national Park. Yoho was first created in 1886 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The park has mountains with names like The President, and The Vice President. The Takakkaw and Wapta Waterfalls, and the Emerald Lake, are also sites to see.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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The Badlands National Park is one of America’s most amazing archeological sites. Why? Dinosaur bones!!!! Well, fossils at least, up to 37 millions years old, so the experts say. Stand on these rocks and embrace what has come before and wonder at the awesomeness of the world!

Mt. Rainier, Washington

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80 miles south of Seattle lay the city’s best skyline: Mt Rainer National Park. These snow-capped mountain ranges are comprised of a dormant volcano, waterfalls and glaciers, old growth forests and fields. An impressive mountain climb for those with the know how.

Isle Royale, Michigan

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Talk about seclusion! The Isle Royal national park is made up of one 45-mile long island and a collection of 450 smaller islands in Lake Superior. The only way to get there is by ferryboat or seaplane, and all you are allowed is your backpack and camping gear, unless you are staying at the one accommodation location on the isle, Rock Harbor Lodge.

Grand Teton, Wyoming

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2.7 million visitors a year visit Grand Teton National Park. The Teton Ranges have enormous stone peaks, which are synonymous to this area. One particular mountain, the parks’ namesake, sits at a whopping 13,775 ft!

Joshua Tree, California

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Possibly the best collection of rock faces in the country for climbing and such, lay in the Joshua Tree National Park. Coming in at almost 8000,00 acres, there is a lot to get through. History lovers will also enjoy over 500 archeological sites within the grounds too.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

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Bryce Canyon National Park is comprised entirely of naturally formed geological amphitheatres, and when these rocks sit a mile high, it’s an impressive place to be, either at the top, or the bottom. Great for stargazers, the park evens hosts its own astronomy festival!

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