National Parks to Explore, Part 1

The varying landscapes of the United States never cease to amaze me; within 48 hours of driving, the scenery changes from rocky coastline to sandy beaches, lush forests to barren deserts and expansive fields to towering mountains. I’ve been very fortunate to explore many of these regions on our annual family vacations, and recently, we’ve focused on hitting as many National Parks as we can on each trip. While I’d argue that every National Park is worth visiting, there are a few that really stand out to me. There’s plenty of National Parks I still want to see, but here are three of my favorites so far.

 

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park lies on the Atlantic coastline and has just about everything - mountains, forests and ocean. The rocky cliffs standing over the water make for a one-of-a-kind view (and a slightly terrifying hike), and climbing up any of the various mountains, such as Cadillac Mountain, is an excellent way to see the expanse of the park. Acadia contains many lakes and ponds, like Jordan Pond, that visitors can hike around and see the mountains from a different perspective at each turn. The beaches at Acadia are surrounded by cliffs and forests, and on a clear night, visitors can see literally thousands of stars and part of the Milky Way over the horizon. Bar Harbor, the town near Acadia, can only be described as charming. With dozens of restaurants and gift shops, it’s the perfect place to stay while visiting Acadia.

 

2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Everyone has seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but it can’t compare to seeing the Grand Canyon in person. When I first caught sight of the Grand Canyon, I couldn’t help but just stop and marvel for a few seconds. It is by far the most breath-taking wonder I’ve ever seen. For starters, it’s huge. Photographs aren’t able to show the true depth and angles of the canyon, but in person, you can really see its enormity. There are several trails set up, ranging from beginner to experienced hiker. The Rim Trail provides easy access along the South Rim, and Bright Angel Trail lets hikers trek down the canyon walls. The Desert View Watchtower provides visitors a place to observe the Colorado River, which appears small and calm but is actually the powerful, swift force that helped shape the canyon. Many people recommend watching the sunset from the area for a perfect ending to your day.

 

3. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The Rocky Mountains span over a wide range of 1,900 miles, and even more incredible, over 10,000 feet. This difference in elevation creates a variety of landscapes, wildlife and scenery, all of which are accessible to visitors either through trails or even paved roads. Only accessible a few months of the year, Trail Ridge Road lets visitors drive up the mountainside to the tundra. Up at the top of the mountain range, the peaks are completely covered in snow and ice. Most of the other trails are nestled in the valleys, with several trails looping around crystal-clear ponds surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Furthermore, the Rocky Mountains have the most abundant wildlife I’ve ever seen. From elk to wild sheep to rare species of birds, we saw at least a dozen type of animals we’d never seen in nature before. Though we were only there two days, they were full of new experiences and gorgeous views.

 

These three National Parks are in no way the best ones; in fact, I don’t think I could pick a “best” National Park. Each one is special in its own way, and no two are alike. As I travel more, I hope to cross more parks off my list, and I plan to write about more of my travels soon.