This land was made for you and me, so said Woody Guthrie. In his words, that meant from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters. And he made a good point — the real riches of the US are found in its national parks. Anywhere you go in this hugely diverse country, you’re sure to hit the jackpot. From the gaping canyons of Arizona to the snow-clad peaks of Washington, it’s got it all. Luckily, while many of us have been traveling vicariously from home, these gems have also gone nowhere. So, time to brush off those hiking boots and hit the road. Here are eight of the best American natural wonders. Happy trails!
Rocky Mountain, Colorado
Snow-blanketed mountain ranges, forests roamed by elk — it’s the stuff of fantasy novels. Yet for the huge variety of species in Rocky Mountain National Park, this is just home. From the big-hitters like herds of moose to the colorful undergrowth of Alpine sunflowers, this is nature’s playground. From the tops, gaze over 415 miles of tundra. You might just see Wyoming on a clear day.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
To turn up the heat on your trip, head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s the only place in the US where you can see active lava. As well as those steaming craters and vents, you’ll also enjoy some scorching-hot views. Along the crater rim to the summit of Kīlauea, you’ll be surrounded by lush plant life. And after a long day of hiking, you can unwind at Punalu’u Beach, where the sand is — wait for it — black.
From colossal granite karsts to giant sequoias, Yosemite is nature blown up on a grand scale. Since becoming a national park in 1890, visitors have been bowled over by its beauty. As the explorer John Muir said ‘Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees’. When you see that sun bouncing off El Capitan onto those verdant meadows, you’ll understand what he meant.
Big Bend, Texas
‘Big’ is a bit of an understatement, given it weighs in at a whopping 801,163 acres. Still, you get the idea. Sprawling across the Chisos mountain range and Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend is a giant. Texas’ largest national park is home to everything from the mountain lion to the black bear. But you might be kayaking too fast down the Rio Grande river to spot them.
Mount Rainier, Washington
You’ll need a decent hiking pole for this one. At 14410 feet, climbing Mount Rainier ain’t light work. But boy, is it worth the effort. Along its trails, you’ll encounter subalpine meadows, lakes, and even glaciers. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as marmots, black bears, and coyotes along the way. In the serenity of those dense forests and wildflowers, it’s easy to forget one thing — you’re trekking on an active volcano.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
No list of America’s great beauty spots would be complete without it. Yet this heavyweight lives up to the hype. The Grand Canyon’s sheer walls — sliced open by the Colorado River — are breathtaking in any light. A tapestry of millions of years of geological formation, it’s also a haven for wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might catch the once-endangered California Condor swooping overhead. One thing’s for sure; you’ll feel your own heart soar when the sun goes down.
As the largest tropical wilderness in the US, the Everglades is an ecological melting pot. Scoring cards at the ready; see how many of the 36 endangered species you can spot! On a leisurely boat ride through its swamps, chances are you’ll see all kinds of critters. Dolphins, manatees, great blue herons, you name it, they’re around. Just don’t dangle that camera too close to the water — there are also American crocodiles.
Its Old Faithful geyser has erupted every two hours since 2000. And alongside its incredible geothermal activity, Yellowstone also oozes history from every pore. As the home of native Americans for at least 11000 years, it’s a pretty special place. Hiking this dormant volcano, it’s not unusual to come eye-to-eye with bison, coyotes, and just maybe, a grizzly. Though it’s probably best to maintain eye contact through your binoculars.