8 breathtaking national parks for wilderness lovers
If you want to swap the urban jungle for the real jungle… these eight national parks are a great place to start.
Everglades National Park, Florida USA
Area: 1.5 million acres
Average annual visitors: 997,903
The Everglades is considered South Florida’s natural treasure – it is home to 36 protected species, including the American crocodile, Florida panther and West Indian manatee – as well as a range of diverse plantlife. If you love a good hike, the Anhinga Trail is one of the park’s most popular trails, and a great area to spot wildlife. There’s also the Gumbo Limbo Trail, a self-guided walk through tranquil forest of primarily gumbo limbo trees. If you prefer cycling, you can bring your own bike or hire one at Shark Valley, not all trails allow bicycles but you can take a ranger-led tour to see the best of the park.
Best hiking trails: Anhinga Trail, Gumbo Limbo Trail
Other activities: Four-wheel driving, canoeing and kayaking
Don’t miss: Pa-hay-okee Overlook for stunning views
Haleakala National Park, Hawaii USA
Area: 33,265 acres
Average annual visitors: 1.2 million
Haleakala means “House of the Sun,” so it’s no secret that the sunrise and sunset on the island are impressive sights to behold. It’s definitely worth getting up early for a trek to Haleakala Crater – the highest peak on the island, where you can view the spectacular sunrise, and stop for breakfast on the way back.
You can also check out the two active volcanoes Mauna Loa and Kilauea, marvelling at their sheer otherworldly-ness, or go bird watching at the Kilauea Crater lookout. Haleakala is a dormant volcano, and the valley below it makes for a relatively easy hike, with some fascinating plantlife surrounding its peak.
Best hiking trails: Pipiwai Trail, Leleiwi Overlook Trail, Halemau’u Haleakala Overlook Trail
Other activities: Cycling to the summit for the more experienced
Don’t miss: Seven Sacred Pools, Bamboo Forest
Iguazu Falls National Park, South America
Area: 166,055 acres
Average annual visitors: 1 million
There’s something equally peaceful and exhilarating about watching a cascading waterfall, and with over 275 of them, Iguazu Falls is the perfect place to go on a waterfall expedition. You can get close to the falls with some points even allowing you to become completed surrounded.
If you don’t mind getting wet, the best location for trekking is the Argentinian side where there are a number of trails throughout the national park. The Brazilian side offers a scenic alternative, allowing you to witness the sheer scale of these magnificent waterfalls from a distance.
The rainforest surrounding the falls is home to a whopping 2,000 diverse plant species.
Best hiking trails: Upper Circuit, Lower Circuit
Other Activities: Horse riding, zip lining
Don’t miss: Devil’s Throat
Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Area: 73,340 acres
Average annual visitors: 1.1 million
Tales of fairies, mountain giants and forest creatures make up a great deal of this park’s history, at a time when people viewed its dense woodlands and dramatic cliffs with both fear and awe. It’s not hard to see how the region inspired this folklore, since there’s something truly magical about standing atop Medveđak Peak in complete silence, taking in its incredible views. This is a great spot to soak in the atmosphere and escape from the hectic city.
Best hiking trails: Medvedak Trail, Čorkova Bay Trail, Plitvice Trail
Other activities: cycling, zip lining, camping
Don’t miss: Medveđak peaks
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska USA
Area: 3.2 million acres
Average annual visitors: 2.2 million
If you’re looking for remote wilderness and solitude, look no further than Glacier Bay. This winter wonderland is almost like stepping back in time into an ice age, when glaciers carved the earth and few animals roamed. The park is, of course home to a range of wildlife including bears, seals and humpback whales. If you want to have a great view of the fjords, a cruise is the best way to experience it, or you can take a boat tour up to the glaciers, which offer great opportunities for photographs.
Best hiking trails: Forest Loop Trail, Bartlett River Trail
Other activities: Cruising, rafting, mountaineering, bird watching
Don’t miss: The Huna Tribal House
Kootenay National Park, West Canada
Area: 347,430 acres
Average annual visitors: 499,000
The Canadian Rockies are one of North America’s most spectacular mountain ranges, and Kootenay National Park offers some incredible scenery for those who love the great outdoors. The park is located to the west of the Continental Divide and borders the well-known Banff National Park. There are four campgrounds with over 300 campsites which can be reserved. Humans are believed to have inhabited this area for more than 10,000 years, and there are plenty of fascinating archaeological sites to explore in the park. If you have the time, you can also check out its heritage buildings and other cultural artifacts.
Due to its rich diverse ecology, grizzlies, black bears, badgers, and the Canadian lynx all call the park home.
Best hiking trails: Rockwall Trail, Stanley Glacier, Juniper Trail
Other activities: Camping under the stars
Don’t miss: Radium Hot Springs, Numa Falls, Marble Canyon
Redwood National Park, West Coast USA
Area: 139,000 acres
Average annual visitors: 527,143
Walking under the shade of the magnificent Californian Giant Redwoods should be on every avid hiker’s list. The trees here are among the oldest living organisms in the world, and the experience of being in their presence can be very humbling. The mild climate means you can enjoy the park at any time of the year, but make sure you bring a raincoat during the wet season!
Best hiking trails: James Irvine Miners Ridge Loop, The Damnation Creek Trail, Coastal Trail
Other activities: Coastal drive, camping
Don’t miss: Battery Point Lighthouse, Fern Canyon, Crescent Beach Overlook
Death Valley National Park, West Coast USA
Area: 3,367,552 acres
Average annual visitors: 1.1 million
Death Valley as the name implies, is one of the most dry and desolate areas in the United States. Despite this aridness, the park is home to over 1,000 species of plants, including 23 species that do not grow anywhere else. The sheer starkness makes it the perfect escape from the city crowds. Death Valley offers no shortage of breath-taking scenery including the Panamint Mountains, and the views at Zabriskie Point. You can also visit the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch, the oldest structure in the Valley.
The best time to hike is from November to March when the weather is cooler. In the summer, the heat can make hiking almost impossible.
Best hiking trails: Badwater Basin, Badlands Loop, Gower Gulch Loop
Other activities: Mountain biking, horse riding, camping
Don’t miss: Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, Artist’s Palette, Twenty Mule Team Canyon