While most of us have spent the last few months largely staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic that has touched just about everyone across the globe, at least one light at the end of this months-long tunnel is that things have taken a turn for the best. While every country is at a different stage of their pandemic journey, and it may still be awhile before all border restrictions are loosened, the first signs of the return of travelling is finally here.
CN Traveller recently posted about the return of road trips as national and state parks and beaches are reopening and being in the midst of summer, I think the timing couldn’t have been better. I’ve been following updates on national parks pretty closely and most of them have started to reopen in June, with increased safety precautions in mind, since we are still in a pandemic, after all.
National park trips are great for social distancing, and it’s a great way to rejuvenate, to awe at the beauty of nature, and to stay active thanks to the countless hikes you can do in any given park. Just as much as I love big cities like NYC, Berlin and Sydney, I love adventures in nature.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that there’s nothing better than the sight of a waterfall after countless hours of hiking. With that said, for those in need of some safe travel ideas this summer (or year for that matter!), here’s a list of my favourite U.S. National Parks!
You’ll never guess which National Park takes the #1 spot!
6. Redwood National Park
Coming in at #6 is the Redwood National Park, home to the tallest trees on earth. Located in Northern California, it is a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve with nearly half of the world’s old growth redwoods. Some of these redwoods are over 113 meters in height — that translates to about about five stories taller than the Statue of Liberty, or in simpler terms, so tall, it’s impossible to capture its entirety on an iPhone camera.
As one of the lesser popular parks in California (in fact, it’s listed as the 21st least visited national park), it’s a great place get away from the crowds, while surrounded by a diverse variety of animals such as the Roosevelt Elk, whales, seals and a variety of seasonal wildflowers.
While there’s definitely no Alex Honnold (of Free Solo) style of adventures to be had here, with over 200 miles of trails, the Redwoods is a great national park for beginners, as the trails are relatively flat but the sights are still nothing short of amazing.
5. Yosemite National Park
Speaking of Alex Honnold, Yosemite National Park takes 5th place on my list. Undoubtedly one of the most famous national parks in the world (with countless movies and a Travis Scott song to its name), Yosemite is probably the national parks of national parks.
Located in central California in Mariposa County, it boosts an average annual amount of four million visitors (and a record breaking five million in 2016). I can’t help but feel like I’m in some sort of national park “Disneyworld” when I was there due to the huge crowds and endless rows of cars (who would’ve thought that national parks could have traffic jams!) At the same time, perhaps now is the best time to go to Yosemite (if you’re one of the lucky few to snag a reservation online!)
Craziness aside, Yosemite is a pretty magical place and a must for any nature enthusiast. It’s the best of so many worlds — with the Valley, a 7 mile wide canyon with incredible rock formations, such as the famous El Capitan (the world’s tallest granite monolith), to Yosemite Falls (the largest waterfall in North America), to the Giant Sequoia trees that are over 3,000 years old, to even vineyards and historical Gold Rush landmarks.
One thing’s for sure, Yosemite will quickly make you feel minuscule in a seemingly infinite world of nature.
4. Lassen Volcanic National Park
As another California national park on the list, Lassen National Park is definitely the most underrated park I’ve been to. Located at the very northern end of California, it’s a park that not many people, even local Californians have been to or even heard of. For those who love to take the path less travelled, this is the park for you, my friend.
Filled with steaming sulphur vents, splattering mud pots, boiling springs, and its signature volcanco — Lassen Peak, the park landscape itself is pretty surreal. With trails with names like “Bumpass Hell,” a fun but easy hour-long hike to Lassen’s largest hydrothermal area, you know you’re in for an exciting adventure.
One of my favourite hikes of all time is the Cinder Cone and the Fantastic Lava Beds trail, which also happens to sound like the name of a Harry Potter book. At the top rim of the cinder cone, you’ll be greeted with views so insane, you’ll feel like you’re in Mars.
3. Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a bucket list worthy destination for just about everyone. Located in Arizona, it’s one of the most distinguishing landmarks in the world, so I don’t really have to go into detail about what makes it so great.
While it’s a path walked by countless people, the edge to edge rim hikes gives an amazing glimpse into the earth’s history. There’s no better way to feel insignificant than to look down and see the earth fall away into an expanse of endless peaks, plateaus and gorges. It’s dreamy and it knows it. At the bottom of the canyon, is the Colorado River, which sharply contrasts the otherwise desert landscape.
While Yosemite is immensely popular, the Grand Canyon is even more so with more than 6.25 million visitors in 2017 alone. At the same time, thanks to its vastness, there’s the option of getting there by the South Rim or the North Rim. While the South Rim is more popular due to the El Tovar, I would suggest checking out the North Rim if you can — it gets bonus points for the lack of crowds and the same insane views!
Did you know that in 2019, the Grand Canyon celebrated its 100th birthday?
2. Joshua Tree National Park
Thanks to Coachella and its close proximity to LA, Joshua Tree National Park is probably Instagram’s favourite national park. Located between two deserts — the Mojave and the Colorado, the park is known for its two distinctive desert ecosystems as well as the famous Joshua trees.
Speaking of the trees, did you know that Joshua trees got their name from Mormon settlers, who upon seeing them, were reminded of a story from the Bible of Joshua reaching his hands into the sky? The scientific name for these trees is the Yucca brevifolia, which doesn’t sound as catchy.
While it’s an easy drive from LA and a popular spot for many, it so deservingly takes the second spot on my list! If you love desert adventures, Joshua Tree has everything you can dream of — from boulders and rugged mountains to gold mine ruins and pretty desert flora.
With countless trails, it’s easy to get lost in this dream world, especially during its vibrant sunsets, as the sky glows in a soft pink to purple gradient. The night sky is something to experience as well, with a view of more glistening stars than you ever thought was possible. It’s the ultimate backdrop for all your stargazing adventures.
1.Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Number 1 on my list is none other than Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, located near the town of Hilo on the Big Island. Encompassing 523 square miles from the summit of Mauna Loa to the sea, it’s home to two volcanoes, including Kilauea — one of the world’s most active volcanoes! In fact, the last time Kilauea erupted was recently in 2018!
For the spiritual, it’s the ultimate place to witness the creation and destruction of earth.
The hiking trails here are out-of-this-world, going through volcanic craters, deserts, rainforests and petroglyphs. UNESCO named it a World Biosphere Site in 1980 due to its rich, rare biodiversity and it was officially named a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Hiking around the park has been one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Every part of the park felt like extraterrestrial land — from the vastness, the emptiness, the fog, the sometimes sudden rain, the destruction, the rebirth and everything in between, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a living testament of just how cool Mother Nature really is.
I love travelling to hot places for its nature, and with that means wearing hiking gear that’s suitable for hot climates. I get a lot of questions about what I wear when I’m hiking, so I thought I’ll end this post with a glimpse into my hiking gear!
For clothes, it’s activewear all the way. Hikes can be tough, and often under intense heat, or extreme humidity, so I need clothes that will absorb all the sweat. My go to are Nike bras and Lululemon tanks and shorts. A little bag (like the Lululemon belt bag) is great to have around my waist to keep myself hands-free.
Since I’m usually out in the heat, I love hiking sandals from Teva (I recommend the Hurricane Drift sandals for water-heavy hikes, or the Hurricane XLT 2 for rugged trails). For water bottles, I love my Hydro Flask. I also always make sure to wear a hat and sunscreen!
And there you have it! What are some of your favourite national parks?
Remember that when travelling during a pandemic, it’s important to take special precaution to protect yourself and others. Wash your hands often (and bring hand sanitizer), bring a mask if you’ll be in areas surrounded by people, and try to social distance whenever possible.
Wow! This list is extremely limited in breadth. Even for someone living in Asia, there are many more national parks that I’ve been to that are definitely better than listed in the short list…
These are just a list of US National Parks that I love that I’ve personally been to. I’m not claiming that I’ve been to all 63 🙂