National Park in Yosemite Valley, Ca, United States
By merely standing in Yosemite Valley and turning in a circle, you can see more natural wonders in a minute than you could in a full day pretty much anywhere else. Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, Sentinel Dome, the Merced River, white-flowering dogwood trees, maybe even bears ripping into the bark of fallen trees or sticking their snouts into beehives—it's all there.
The Channel Islands are home to 145 species of terrestrial plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. With no cars, phones, or services, these undeveloped islands provide a glimpse of what California was like hundreds of years ago, away from hectic modern life.
Ruggedly beautiful desert scenery attracts more than a million visitors each year to Joshua Tree National Park, one of the last great wildernesses in the continental United States. Its mountains support mounds of enormous boulders and jagged rock; natural cactus gardens and lush oases shaded by tall fan palms mark the meeting place of the Mojave (high) and Sonora (low) deserts.
A rain forest in the Pacific Northwest? Indeed, Olympic National Park is one of the few places in the world with this unique temperate landscape. A dip in Sol Duc’s natural geothermal mineral pools offers a secluded spa experience in the wooded heart of the park.
Anyone who delights in alpine lakes, dense forests, and abundant wildlife—not to mention dizzying heights—should consider Rocky Mountain National Park. Peer out over more than 100 lakes, gaze up at majestic mountain peaks, and soak in the splendor of lush wetlands, pine-scented woods, forests of spruce and fir, and alpine tundra in the park’s four distinct ecosystems.
It’s one of the country's largest national parks and is recognized by the world community as a Wetland of International Importance, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a World Heritage Site. Come here if you want to spend the day biking, hiking, or boating in deep, raw wilderness with lots of wildlife.
Steep, wooded ridges with rocky slopes stand out in the foreground of vistas taking in the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont to the east. Skyline Drive traverses the park end to end, from Waynesboro to Front Royal, and is the most common way to see the park.
Standing sentinel in the desert, the towering saguaro is perhaps the most familiar emblem of the Southwest. Known for their height (often 50 feet) and arms reaching out in weird configurations, these slow-growing giants can take 15 years to grow a foot high and up to 75 years to grow their first arm.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the great wild areas of the eastern United States and the most visited national park in the United States. Some of the tallest mountains in the East are here, including 16 peaks over 6,000 feet. The highest in the park, Clingmans Dome, was reputedly the original inspiration for the folk song "On Top of Old Smoky." It rises 6,643 feet above sea level and 4,503 feet above the valley floor.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park sprawls over 520 square miles and encompasses Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the five volcanoes that formed the Big Island nearly half a million years ago. Even if lava-viewing conditions aren't ideal, you can hike and camp amid wide expanses of aa (rough) and pahoehoe (smooth) lava, a fascinating experience. (Be sure to obtain a backcountry pass.)
Spanning a distance of more than 400 miles, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world, and the best place to experience a little stretch of this massive system is Mammoth Cave National Park. As Cave City's biggest attraction, it draws hoardes of tourists, and summertime cave tours can get crowded.