Originally created to help preserve some of America’s iconic wild spaces, national parks have been considered one of the country’s best innovations, not only for their environmental value but as top-notch tourist destinations, letting people see the pristine best that this country has to offer. As of this writing, there are 72 national parks around the United States, which can make it difficult to decide how you plan to enjoy the wilderness. To help you narrow things down a bit, we’re going to take a look at four of the top national parks around, and what about them draws people from across the world year after year.
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You may think that you’ve seen all that you need to of the Grand Canyon from the many pictures of it that just about every American has seen. However, to fully appreciate the glory of this canyon that is a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide, you need to see it in person, as 5.9 million did in 2016. Even at the best vantage point, you can only take in a small portion of it at once. Many people, on top of taking the chance to see this geological wonder, also use the national park for a variety of recreational activities including camping, river trips, and hiking. For something a little lower-octane, consider traveling on one of the many trails by foot or by mule.
Yosemite National Park is notable for not only being a national park, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This California favorite in the High Sierra Mountains is best known for its waterfalls, but this is only the start of the natural splendor it has to offer. Within the 1,200 square mile space, make sure to find time to see the many valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more. Camping is a favorite activity here, as it allows you to see many of these highlights at your own pace as opposed to trying to rush around. After all, if there was any place you wanted to stop and smell the roses, a national park is it.
Most people associate national parks with the Rocky Mountain region and offerings like Yellowstone, the first national park in the U.S. However, the East Coast is not to be missed, and Maine’s Acadia National Park is one of the standouts, the only national park in New England as a matter of fact. Many may think of Maine as just a spot to get some lobster, but Acadia shows a whole different side of the area. In its nearly 50,000 acres, this park has rocky isles, sheltered coves, and the massive Mount Desert. John D. Rockefeller, Jr himself built the nearly 57 miles of carriage roads around the park, great for hiking or biking to see the many different vistas around the area. If you hang out by the sea, you may even have a chance to see some of the seals or whales that call the area home certain times of year.
Great Smoky Mountains
Any of these locations, or even those not on the list, could make for a fantastic vacation destination. However, if you’re looking to follow the trends, the most popular national park by a wide margin is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This is due to many reasons, from the fact that it charges nothing for admission to the proximity of Appalachia to many major areas. However, the Great Smoky Mountains are more than just convenient, but also fun and diverse. Not only are plenty of outdoor activities, but some historical exhibits as well. Take a look at historical cabins, or driving tour opportunities like the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. This is also a great place to see some authentic fauna like deer or black bears.
If you plan on staying in the Great Smoky Mountains, one great home base is the town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. In town proper, Pigeon Forge is a hotbed of Southern culture and country music, but it is also only a few miles north of the national park as well. When it comes to accommodations, don’t expect a traditional hotel. Instead, a local and tourist favorite are renting a cabin, managing to be both cozy and charming. There are several different Pigeon Forge cabin rental companies available, with different sizes and accommodations to match anyone’s need.