The joys of national parks go well beyond hiking and camping. Find volcanoes, glaciers, stalagmites, and more in these amazing destinations.
America’s national parks are as diverse as the country itself. The ones that will truly “wow” you have unique features such as glaciers, volcanoes, massive canyons, underground caverns, and thriving coral reefs. With apologies to iconic destinations such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, these are the six national parks that really have the cool factor going for them.
1. Denali National Park & Preserve in Alaska
Of Alaska’s eight national parks, the one that has it all is Denali, the third-largest national park in America. Besides offering numerous glaciers and Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in the U.S., Denali has excellent backcountry camping opportunities and provides an opportunity to see grizzly bears, caribou, moose, gray wolves, and both bald and golden eagles.
2. Death Valley National Park in California
Death Valley is not just rocks, dry riverbeds, and scorching heat. The park boasts a snowy, 11,000-foot summit called Telescope Peak, which is a popular hiking and climbing destination that supports herds of bighorn sheep. Other can’t-miss spots include Badwater Basin—the lowest spot in North America at 282 feet below sea level—and the Mesquite Sand Dunes, one of at least six locations in the park where famous scenes from Star Wars IV: A New Hope were filmed. Best time to visit is between late March and early April.
3. Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida
Everglades is the most popular national park in southern Florida, famous for its marshy swampland and alligators, but Dry Tortugas is actually much more interesting. Comprised of seven islands located 68 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas can be reached only by plane or boat, but once there, tourists can snorkel around thriving coral reefs or explore the military fortress Fort Jefferson, built in the mid-1800s to protect the southern coast of the U.S.
4. Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
To experience the impressiveness of the Grand Canyon, go beyond just peering into the mile-deep gorge from the rim. Grab your backpack and take a day hike into the Canyon to fully appreciate its immensity. In addition to possibly seeing California condors, bighorn sheep, deer, and various lizards, visitors can camp deep in the heart of the Canyon or take a rafting trip down the Colorado River.
5. Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns might be the national park that is least like the others. Visitors can take an elevator or hike on a paved path down to a depth of 754 feet below ground, where the temperature constantly hovers around 56 degrees. This “Big Room” is one of the largest underground chambers in the world and features imposing stalactites and stalagmites formed from mineral deposits over hundreds of thousands of years.
6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands were built by volcanoes, many of which are still active. The idea of potentially witnessing active lava flows or volcanic gas expulsions brings thousands of annual visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is located on Hawaii, the largest of the state’s islands. Depending on conditions, the Jaggar Museum and Kilauea Overlook both provide opportunities to see volcanic activity.
Scott Shetler is a freelance journalist and frequent traveler who enjoys national parks, urban nightlife, and everything in between. He blogs about his adventures at http://quirkytravelguy.com.