Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i
Located in the State of Hawai’i i on the paradise island of Hawai’i sits the Volcano National Park. Volcanoes are tremendous land builders and are responsible for creating the Hawaiian Island chain. Today visitors flock to visit Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s most active volcanoes that are still adding to the island of Hawai’i. The current summit of Mauna Loa stands about 56,000 feet (17,000 m) above the depressed sea floor. This is more than 27,000 feet (8,230 m) higher than Mount Everest. In contrast to the explosive continental volcanoes, the more fluid and less gaseous eruptions of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa produce fiery fountains and rivers of molten lava. These flows, added layer upon layer and produced a barren volcanic landscape that has served as a fountain for life. For visitors, the park offers dramatic volcanic landscapes as well as glimpses of rare flora and fauna. Beauty and unpredictable danger go hand in hand when it comes to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
H&L Recommend… the Crater Rim Drive Tour.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park is a vast protected area in southern California. Covering 800,000 acres of arid desert land it’s characterized by rugged rock formations and the region’s twisted, bristled human-like Joshua trees. It can seem unwelcoming, even brutal during the heat of summer when, in fact, it is delicate and extremely fragile. This is a land shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. The park straddles the cactus covered Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is much higher and cooler in temperature. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert), occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the plentiful creosote bush. Adding interest to this arid land are small spidery ocotillo and cholla cactus. The higher, slightly cooler, and wetter Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the unruly Joshua tree. When viewed from the roadside, the desert only hints at its hidden life. To the close observer, a tiny flower bud or a lizard’s frantic dash reveals a place of beauty and vitality.
H&L Recommend…Hiking, Horseback riding, Nature Walks and Stargazing.
Katmai National Park, Alaska
Alaska has so much to offer when it comes to National Parks; breathtaking scenery, an abundance of wildlife and an ever changing landscape, so we couldn’t help but include Katmai on our list of the most beautiful National Parks. Katmai National Park and Preserve is a United States National Park in southern Alaska, notable for the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and for its Alaskan brown bears. It remains an active volcanic landscape, but provides an important habitat for salmon which in turn feed the thousands of brown bears that inhabit the park.
H&L Recommend…Visiting Brooks Camp where you can partake in a combination of bear viewing, sport fishing, scenery, history, and unequalled facilities.
Bear Watching is another popular pastime in Katmai. It is one of the premier brown bear viewing areas in the world. About 2,200 brown bears are estimated to inhabit the park, and more bears than people are estimated to live on Alaska Peninsula.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park is not only a National Park but a World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado. It offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years. Unlike other National Parks that focus on nature, Mesa Verde delves into the past lives of humans and their ingenuity. The dwellings were a magnificent feat and protecting and preserving them today will provide future generations with an insight into the lives of Pueblo people. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.
H&L Recommend… Booking onto a guided tour. Many of the cliff dwellings can only be visited by taking a ranger-guided tour. These tours are incredibly interesting but can be strenuous.
Redwood National Park, California
Most people know Redwood National Park as home to the tallest trees on Earth and although true, It has so much more to offer. The parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild riverways, and nearly 40 miles of rugged coastline. There are many things to do in the park from guided ranger kayaking, horseback riding, to hiking and wildlife viewing. If you are just passing through, the scenic drives through ancient forests, rugged coastline, upland prairies, and oak woodlands will have you planning a return visit in no time. Consistently mild temperatures year round make it the ideal park to hike in. Ramble amongst natures redwood giants and stand in awe at the monumental natural wonder.
H&L Recommend…Hiking. No matter your comfort level and experience, there are plenty of walking and hiking options. We particularly like the coastal trail sections.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Most people, if not everyone has heard of the Rocky Mountains. Why? Because it is one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the USA. Covering 415 square miles the Rocky Mountain National Park is located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, in the state of Colorado. It features majestic mountain views, magnificent mountain lakes, a variety of wildlife as well as extreme climates and environments from wooded forests to mountain tundra. Visitors can enjoy Trail Ridge Road which crests over 12,000 feet including many overlooks to experience the subalpine and alpine worlds. Along with over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers, wildlife and starry nights the Rocky Mountain National Park is one of America’s iconic natural beauties.
H&L Recommend…Camping. Stargaze before bed and wake up to the sound of whispering trees- it is not everyone’s ide of romance but it sounds good to us!
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
For those of you who regularly follow us here at H&L you will know that we have an inseparable love affair with Arizona and do also love cactus; so it will come as no surprise that the Saguaro National Park is on our list. Saguaro National Park is located in southern Arizona on the outskirts of Tucson, home to the largest native cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American west and in our opinion is probably one of the coolest plants alive. What makes them extra special is that these majestic plants can only be found only in a small portion of the United States. This Sonoran Desert native, is a large, tree-sized cactus with a relatively long lifespan – up to 250 years. Its beautiful white, waxy flower (which blooms late May-July) is the Arizona state flower and is a favourite treat for the diverse animal populations that call Saguaro National Park home. They are protected by Saguaro National Park where you have a chance to see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.
H&L Recommend…Wilderness Hiking. We suggest going in May-July to give yourself the opportunity of seeing the cacti in bloom.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Not only can Yellowstone boast the title of the very first National Park, it is also a competitor for the very best in our eyes. Yellowstone is a nearly 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot. Marvel at a volcano’s hidden power rising up in colourful hot springs, mudpots, and gushing geysers. Explore ice capped mountains, lush forests, and alpine lakes to watch wildlife. It’s also home to hundreds of animal species, including bears, wolves, bison, elk and antelope. Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. In addition to having a diversity of small animals, Yellowstone is notable for its predator–prey complex of large mammals, including eight ungulate species (bighorn sheep, bison, elk, moose, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer) and seven large predators (black bears, Canada lynx, coyotes, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolverines, and wolves). The National Park Service’s goal is to maintain the ecological processes that sustain these mammals and their habitats while monitoring the changes taking place in their populations. The protection and recovery of bison in Yellowstone is one of the great triumphs of American conservation. In 1902, after years of market hunting and poaching, there were only about two dozen bison left in Yellowstone. The next hundred years chronicled the slow, but determined efforts of dedicated people to bring this species back from the brink of extinction. The wolf is another animal that disappeared from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for decades until its restoration in 1995. The animals are part of what makes Yellowstone so successful and in turn, popular. Please remember that these are wild animals and can be dangerous. They should not be approached.
H&L Recommend…Horseback riding and llama packing. We love horse-riding and think there is no better way to explore Yellowstone. Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers horse rides of one and two hours in length which are available at Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon. Advance reservations are recommended.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is tucked within California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more. Tunnel View is another big attraction at Yosemite, the iconic vista of towering Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome draw in visitors from around the globe. Surrounding by swaying pines, Yosemite is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Californian cities and provides visitors with the chance of reconnecting with nature.
H&L Recommend…Rock climbing. Adrenaline junkies can try their hand at climbing in Yosemite or for the less brave, hike the many trails around the National Park.
Zion National Park, Utah
Slightly more off the radar and definitely underrated is Zion National Park. Located in Southwestern Utah, Zion National Park encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States. The park impresses with high plateaus, the Virgin River and a maze of deep, narrow, sandstone canyons. As if that wasn’t enough to keep you occupied Zion also has 2,000-foot Navajo Sandstone cliffs, pine and juniper clad slopes and waterfalls supporting vibrant verdant hanging gardens. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar up towards the cerulean sky and take in one of Mother Nature’s greatest creations.
H&L Recommend…Hike The Narrows. The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. This gorge, with walls a thousand feet tall and the river sometimes just twenty to thirty feet wide, is one of the most popular areas in Zion National Park.
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