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United States National Parks

Travel Guide United States United States National Parks

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Introduction

Landscape of Yellowstone

Landscape of Yellowstone

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The United States are one of the role models of how to create and maintain national parks. It has 130 years of experience since the first national park in the world opened here in 1872: Yellowstone National Park. The Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks followed in 1890 and nowadays, there are 58 official national parks in the USA. The newest national park is Great Sand Dunes, established in 2004. National parks must be established by an act of the United States Congress and are maintained by the National Park Service. National parks usually have a variety of natural resources over large areas and many of them had been previously protected as National Monuments. Seven national parks are paired with a National Preserve, six of which are in Alaska. The largest can be found here: Wrange-St. Elias which covers around 32,000 square kilometres. The smallest is Hot Springs with just 24 square kilometres. The national parks are located in 27 states but there are also national parks in American Samoa and the United States Virgin Islands. Alaska and California have 8 national parks, followed by Utah with 5 and Colorado with 4. The most-visited national park is Great Smoky Mountains, with over 9 million visitors, followed by the Grand Canyon with over 4 million. 14 national parks are designated World Heritage Sites. Apart from the national parks, monuments and preserves there are also state parks, monuments and preserves as well many historical monuments, scenic byways and lots of other protected areas or heritage. Check the NPS website for more information.

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American Samoa National Park

The American Samoa National Park has a lot to offer for those travellers keen on the very best of nature in the world. The shorelines, reefs and rainforest are of outstanding beauty. The park actually is actually divided into three parks on four separate islands! Lata Mountain on Ta’u has wild and remote forests, free-flowing streams, and rugged coastline. It occupies 2,160 hectares of land with highlights including a spectacular escarpment along the southern side and cliffs up to 900 metres high. The the impressive Judds Crater tops things of. To add, the lowlands and rainforests are home to fruit bats and many native birds. Islands like Ofu and Olosega have are a bit different in that they have the most accessible coral reefs and also more and longer white-sanded beaches against a dramatic background. The fourth island, Tutuila even has forests accesible by car and also great wildlife and o course a scenic coastline. Basically, all four islands are actually extinct volcanoes heavily eroded to rugged peaks when the Pacific Plate moved and eruptions from within the earth together made this gift of nature.

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Arches National Park

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

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Arches National Park: the name says it all. This national park, located in southeastern Utah boasts the highest density of rock arches anywhere on this planet: over 2,500 in an area of just about 116 square miles. While some of them might be just a few feet, others like the Landscape Arch stretches over 300 feet (almost 100 metres). Combined with magnificent rock-desert landscape and snowcapped peaks (at least in winter) in the background, it doesn't come as a surprise that this is one of the most favorite parks in the southwest of the USA and also a favorite place for movie makers! Although there probably will be arches forever, arches do come and go under the constant process of erosion - the influence of water and wind, freezing temperatures at night and hot days.

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Big Bend National Park

Great sunset in Big Bend NP, Texas

Great sunset in Big Bend NP, Texas

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Big Bend National Park is one of the natural beauties of Texas. The park covers about 1,250 square miles and is located in the western part of the Lone Star State, bordering Mexico where the Rio Grande bends, hence its name. Most of the people visit the Chisos Mountains and Basin, where you will also find the only accommodation within the park proper.

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Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the natural highlights of any visit to the southwest of the USA. Located in the southwest of Utah, this park attracts many visitors inspired by the natural beauty of its famous hoodoos, spires created out of the bigger rocks they once were. The park is open all year round, with most of the crowds visiting during the warmer summer months from May to September.

The famous Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The famous Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

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For a more tranquil visit, come in winter, when the 'hoodoos' are sometimes covered with a thin layer of snow. The Rim Road Scenic Drive is 18 miles long with many turnouts and beautiful views. Most of them are on the east side of the road. The Bryce Amphitheater stretches from Bryce Point to Sunrise Point where hoodoos form a great landscape. Sunset and Inspiration point are other highlights. There are dozens of hikes to get closer to the hoodoos, down from the main road. The easiest one is the 0.5 to 5.5-mile-long Rim Trail. Others include the 1-mile Bristlecone Loop, Mossy Cave Trail, Navajo Loop Trail, Queen's Garden Trail, Fairyland Trail and Peekaboo Trail. Backcountry hikes include the 23-mile Under-the-Rim Trail, which can be broken into several day hikes.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, roughly a 300 miles (almost 500 kilometres) drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

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The Caverns date back 200 millions years and the limestone rocks that holds Carlsbad Cavern are full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs, when the southeastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys. One of Carlsbad Caverns main attraction is the “Big Room” where visitors can go down 900 feet (over 250 metres) in an elevator into the cave's main area and witness the wonderful rock formations. The Carlsbad Caverns are a must-see attraction that gets busy all-year around. Visitors are able to take a self-guided tour or a guided tour and tours can often be set up through hotels in the area and cities nearby. The Caverns are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Death Valley National Park

Death Valley Road, California

Death Valley Road, California

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Death Valley is located in the Mojave Desert of California in the United States. Although Death Valley basically refers to the valley floor itself, it's actually part of the much larger Death Valley National Park. It is a place of extremes with the driest, hottest, and lowest place in North America. Oddly enough, it is not that far from Mount Whitney, which is the highest point in the lower 48 states. It is a popular camping destination and features many great hiking trails and natural wonders. Though these activities surely are not recommended in the hot summer months unless you plan to hike early in the morning.

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Denali National Park

Mt. McKinley (Denali)

Mt. McKinley (Denali)

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Denali National Park and Preserve is a park located in the central part of Alaska. The park is named after the Denali mountain, the local name for Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in the United States and in fact of North America. The park and preserve together for almost 10,000 square miles of pure nature and wilderness, with loads of trekking opportunities and wildlife as well. Although the park is open year-round, most visitors come to Denali National Park from late May to mid-September. This is the time that all visitor services and activities are available. Mid-June to mid-August is the high season and this is also the time that almost all roads are open, buses operate and trekking is possible. In winter, dogsleds form the main mode of transport, but be prepared for extreme winter weather and most roads are not plowed and only driveable for a few miles into the park. Access into the park and services offered are limited between late September and late April, so be totally self-sufficient during those times.

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Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

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Dry Tortugas National Park is a national park about 110 kilometres west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park preserves Fort Jefferson and the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the westernmost and most isolated of the Florida Keys. The archipelago's coral reefs are the least disturbed of the Florida Keys reefs. Fort Jefferson and birdwatching are the highlights here, although there is good snorkelling as well. Visiting the park by private boat is difficult because of its distance, so most visitors come by boat or seaplane from Key West, Florida. Official ferry and transportation services to the Dry Tortugas includes the Yankee Freedom III catamaran and seaplane services. They offer daytrips for US$165 ($120 children), including breakfast, lunch, a tour of Fort Jefferson, snorkelling gear and a great boat trip (usually good weather). Key West Seaplan Charters offers half day and daytrips at (much) higher prices. You can camp at the island for $3 a night but you have to reserve space beforehand, also making sure you book the boatride back.

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Everglades National Park

Everglades Gatorade

Everglades Gatorade

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The Everglades encompasses an area of marshland taking up most of the south of Florida. It is a popular tourist destination and the park plays a unique part in local folklore, with legends of moon shiners, smugglers and alligators. The Everglades National Park takes up much of the region. It protects the southern 20% of the original Everglades. In the United States, it is the largest subtropical wilderness, the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River, and is visited on average by one million people each year. It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists. There are many things to do, including a tram tour at Shark Valley, boat trips from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center (10,000 islands reserve) and Flamingo and beautiful hikes, including the Anhinga Trail.

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Glacier National Park

Perhaps one of the better known attractions in Montana, Glacier National Park, together with Waterton Lakes National Park (across the border in Canada) is a World Heritage Sight in northwestern Montana.

Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park

Chief Mountain, Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park is a nature lover's paradise, and apart from a handful of lodges and private inns, you won't find any towns, hotel chains or shops and stores. While the visitor's centers can get crowded at times, there are over a million acres of wilderness (not including Waterton Lakes, adjacent to Glacier on the Canadian side) to get lost in (but please don't get lost).

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Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist sights in the world with over 5 million visitors a year. The Colorado River and its tributaries created the Grand Canyon by moving through the sandy soil of the desert. Most of the Grand Canyon is located within the Grand Canyon National Park within Arizona, although parts of the canyon are in Utah and in several Indian Reservations.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

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The canyon is believed to be over 17 million years old and cutting through 2 billion of years of history. The Grand Canyon is 443 kilometres long and ranges in width of 6.4 to 9.6. At its deepest point the Grand Canyon is more than a mile (1.6 kilometres) deep! Hiking, ruins and beauty are the main sights of the Grand Canyon. Some tourists only spend 45 minutes at the Grand Canyon and that is a shame. You can spend days and weeks just hiking the few trails near the South or North Rim. For the more hardcore person with the proper gear, backcountry permits are easy to get. People have spent weeks trekking along the Grand Canyon enjoying its beauty and solitude. Another popular activity is to white water raft the Grand Canyon. This takes lots of planning and fair amount of money. It takes over a year to plan and it is possible to do the whole river or just the sections north or south of Phantom Ranch, which is roughly in the middle of the Grand Canyon. It is a trip of a lifetime and worth every penny. The trip allows you to see the more remote sections of the canyon and experience a part of it that most people in the world will never get to see.

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Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Mountain range

Grand Teton Mountain range

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Grand Teton National Park is located in the northwest of Wyoming, south of worldfamous Yellowstone National Park, its big neighbour. The park was established much later though compared to Yellowstone, only in 1929. Although Grand Teton can be visit as a daytrip from Yellowstone if you are short on time, spending a week alone is possible as well, especially if you go on one of the beautiful backcountry hikes.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2009. Over 9 million people visit the park each year, making it the most visited park in the United States. There are 78 historic buildings in the Park, which is open year round. Spanning the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, the Park is a popular destination for hikers. The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a lot to do and see in the park. The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometres) long hiking trail with a section in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park is home to 1,500 black bears who can often been seen in open areas such as Catalooche Valley and Cades Cove. Deer, wild turkeys and foxes are found at Cades Cove. Over 10,000 species have been identified as living in the Park, with the expectation that another 90,000 remain to be found.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado

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The Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in southern Colorado and is one of the latest national parks created, in 2004. Before that it was a National Monument. Compared to many other national parks in the country, including the most famous two in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park and Mesa Verde National Park, the park is not visited that often. Still, it's a popular place to hang out for half a day or more if you are keen on taking longer hikes. Most of the sand originated in the San Juan Mountains, about 65 miles to the west. Wind and water are the primary movers of the sand. Streams, creeks, melting snows and flash floods brought bits of rock out of the mountains to the valley floor. Southwesterly winds then began the slow process of bouncing the sand toward the low curve of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. There they pilled up at the base of the mountains or dropped into creeks to be washed back out toward the valley floor. Although research is still continuing, most researchers agree that the situation is like this at least for 12,000 years but probably much longer.

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in the west of Texas and contains the highest peak of the state: Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet (2,667 metres).

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

2 of the 14 Observatories on Mauna Kea

2 of the 14 Observatories on Mauna Kea

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In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can see the only active volcano in North America. Here are steaming vents and gleaming black rocks, the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution - processes that thrust a bare land from the sea and clothed it with unique, exotic, tropical ecosystems and a distinct human culture. The park highlights two of the world's most active volcanoes, and offers insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands as well as world-famous views of dramatic volcanic landscapes. An experience visiting the volcano on the Big Island has two parts. There is the steaming Kilauea crater at nearly 4,000 metres high as well as the long slope near Kalapana where the molten lava goes into the ocean. Watching earth being created is an experience you will never forget and is best done near sunset. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is only one of several astounding natural features on the Big Island of Hawai'i. You can also find Mauna Kea, the world's tallest peak as measured from base to summit, sacred Waipi'o Valley with its lush flora and black sand beach, and eleven of the world's thirteen climate zones in one area of the island or another.

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Joshua Tree National Park

Located deep in the southern Californian desert is Joshua Tree National Park. Designated as a National Park in 1994 this area is one of the best preserved desert areas in the country. The park covers two different deserts that have their own ecosystem that are determined by different elevations. The area below 3,000 feet (900 metres), is in the Colorado Desert and the plant life is creosote bush, ocotillo and cholla cactus. The Little San Bernardino Mountains cut through the southern park of the park.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

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The higher, and therefore moister, part of the park is in the cooler Mojave Desert. This part of the park is home to the namesake of the park the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), which is related to the yucca plant. There are also several bird species to watch for in the park, with the best place to watch being Barker Dam. The dam is a also a good spot to watch for Big Horn sheep. The Mojave Desert part of the park, in the western part, is also home to amazing geologic formations. These bare rocks are broken up into loose boulders that are home to the parks most popular activity of rock climbing. Many people descend upon the park during the fall and spring, which is the high season, in order to take part in some of the best rock climbing in the world.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

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Lassen Volcanic National Park is a United States National Park in northeastern California. The dominant feature of the park is Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the southern-most volcano in the Cascade Range. Lassen Volcanic National Park started as two separate national monuments designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907: Cinder Cone National Monument and Lassen Peak National Monument.

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Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde

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Ever see the picture of Cliff Palace in the American Southwest and wonder, where in the world is that? Mesa Verde National Park is where the majority of easy to access cliff dwellings are located and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These stunning homes were built in cliff alcoves, which were dug out by natural springs, in the sides of canyons of Mesa Verde near present day Cortez (Colorado). The builders of these amazing towns are the ancestors of the current day Pueblo People that live further south in current day New Mexico and Arizona. The ruins at Mesa Verde are considered to part of the Ancestral Pueblo People heritage. In the past, the term Anasazi was used to describe the inhabitants of these ruins. This is no longer a proper term because Anasazi is actually a Navajo word that means “ancient enemies.” Current day Pueblo peoples find the term Anasazi offensive.

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Mount Rainier National Park

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. Because of its large amount of glacial ice, Mount Rainier could potentially produce massive lahars that would threaten the whole Puyallup River valley.

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Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park, Washington State, USA

Olympic National Park, Washington State, USA

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Olympic National Park is a national park located in the state of Washington, USA. The park has four basic regions: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the west side temperate rainforest and the forests of the drier east side. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt originally created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909. It was designated a national park by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 29, 1938. In 1976, Olympic National Park became an International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1981 it was designated a World Heritage Site. In 1988, Congress designated 95% of the park as the Olympic Wilderness.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Frozen Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado

Frozen Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain NP, Colorado

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Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado was USA's tenth national park, a status it achieved in 1905. The park is approximately 25 miles (40 kilometres) from north to south and 20 miles (32 kilometres) east to west and covers a particularly wild and scenic part of the Colorado Rockies. Much of the area is over 12,000 feet (over 3,600 metres) above sea level and here the landscape resembles the arctic tundra. Main access is via Estes Park on the eastern side and the smaller Grand Lake on the west. These are the only towns bordering the region and both offer a good choice of accommodation. As its name suggests, the main feature of the park are the Rocky Mountains themselves with the continental divide ridge passing more or less through the middle of the park. The rivers on the eastern side flow eventually to the Atlantic while for those on the west, the Pacific is a final destination. The only road in the park to cross the divide is Trail Ridge which does so at Milner Pass. The altitude varies from just over 7,000 feet (over 2,100 metres) around Estes Park to over 14,000 feet (over 4,200 metres) at the summit of Longs Peak.

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Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

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The Saguaro National Park was created to preserve the Giant Saguaro cacti, which only grows in the Sonoran Desert. The park consists of two districts: the Tucson Mountain District, about 15 miles (24 kilometres) west of Tucson, and the Rincon Mountain District, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) east of Tucson.There are over 165 miles (over 250 kilometres) of hiking trails throughout the park, but you can just as easily just make a nice early morning or late afternoon drive along well maintained roads. The Rincon Mountain District is the most popular and includes the land protected in the original National Monument. Plant communities at the lower elevations in the park are typical of the Sonoran Desert, while the Rincon Mountains support a temperate coniferous forest. The highest peak in this range is Mica Mountain, at an elevation of 8,664 feet (2,641 metres). While this side of the park has fewer saguaro than its counterpart they are larger in size, due to higher amounts of rainfall and run off from the Rincon Mountains. The key feature of this district is its 8.3-mile (13.4 kilometres) loop road, which provides access to the two picnic areas and the central trails.

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Virgin Islands National Park

vergini americane

vergini americane

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The Virgin Islands National Park is a well maintained park with kilometres of beautiful shorelines, pristine reefs, hiking trails and tropical birdlife on Saint John. Over 30 species of birds have been recorde within the park's boundaries, including some species like the bananaquit, hummingbirds and smooth-billed ani. This is also an example of an area that was logged during the 18th century but has regained the tropical nature it used to have including a mix of introduced species and native plants.

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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most famous natural parks in the world. With over 2 million visitors each year and covering more then 8,983 square kilometres (3,468 square miles) this wilderness area is amazing. The park is mainly in the state of Wyoming (96%), although parts cross into Montana (3%) and Idaho (1%).

Yellowstone colours

Yellowstone colours

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The park has a diversity of land formations such as lakes, canyons, mountains and rivers. There are also countless animal and plant species within the park including several endangered species like grizzlies, wolves and bison. Other animals include black bears, elk, beavers, squirrels and numerous species of birds and birds of prey. What draws most people to the park is more then its stunning beauty and animals. The park is the center of amazing geothermal activity. Over half the world's geothermal features are located within Yellowstone and are still fueled by massive volcanic powers. Some of these geysers, or small volcanoes, have become very popular. If looking for an intense back country experience or just driving the parks roads in a RV there is something for any group of travelers in Yellowstone National Park.

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Yosemite National Park

Spectactular view from Glacier Point Road, Yosemite NP

Spectactular view from Glacier Point Road, Yosemite NP

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Yosemite National Park is a massive national park, with 95% designated as a wilderness area, covering over 761,266 acres in several counties in east central California. Over 3.5 million people visit this park every year to see its stunning beauty. Its main attractions are its amazing granite cliffs, waterfalls, pristine streams, Giant Sequoia groves and stunning biological diversity. Resting across the Sierra Nevada Mountains the elevation ranges from 600 to 4,000 metres (2,000 feet to 13,114 feet), which covers 5 distinct major vegetation zones. If looking for the drive by experience, car camping fun or the intense back country hiking and rock climbing Yosemite National Park has something for any outdoorsy junkie. Remember to watch out for black bears. The park consists of 5 areas: the Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Road/Area, Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona and Hetch Hetchy (the least visited).

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Zion National Park

The view down Zion canyon

The view down Zion canyon

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Zion National Park is one of the highlights of any visit to Utah. It's located in the southwestern corner of the state, not far from the states of Arizona and Nevada. Bryce Canyon National Park is just about 130 kilometres to the east. Together with many other national parks in Utah and northern Arizona, it forms part of a great road trip across the sparsely populated southwest of the United States. Although many say it's less spectacular compared to Bryce Canyon, it's a park with fantastic natural features, including the 24-kilometre-long Zion Canyon, dropping up to half a mile down from its rim. The red and white cliffs tower high above the Virgin River. Other features include rocks, grottoes, hanging gardens, waterfalls, lush riverbanks and meadows. Combined with lower elevation, which means warmer days (and nights), it's totally different from many other parks in the drier east.

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This is version 19. Last edited at 13:34 on Nov 19, 13 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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