Travel

Top 30 Must-See National Parks to See at Least Once in Your Life

By Jennifer Simpson - July 21, 2020

Parks are some of the best places to enjoy nature’s beauty. Every national park is unique and has a rare offering. Some offer you the chance to see animals in their natural element. Others house magnificent landscapes, like the Grand Canyon.

What gives parks their pulling power is that they offer people a break away from their busy, technology-infused lives. Visiting a park allows you to zone out of everyday life and reconnect with the simple pleasures nature has to offer.

In this article, we’ll be going through the 30 most amazing national parks from around the world. So, get out your holiday planning books and start taking notes!

Yosemite National Park, United States

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Located in California, Yosemite is a natural wonder filled with stunning landscapes. Towering waterfalls, glaciers, and thousand-year-old sequoia trees are just some of the sights you can see at the park.

It’s a fan favorite for hikers all around the country who troop in by their numbers every year. Hiking the Yosemite’s Half Dome is regarded by many as a life-changing experience. When visiting, however, make sure to start your hike very early as the park gets pretty crowded during the day.

Yellowstone National Park, United States

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An interesting fact about Yellowstone is that it cuts across three different states: Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. It was the first national park in the U.S and is widely believed to be the first in the world too. 

The park is home to around 50% of the world’s geothermal features, with active volcanoes and geysers. Although a lot of tourists visit during the year, the park is so big that you can still have a quiet, enjoyable getaway there.

The Grand Canyon, United States

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Many people will recognize the Grand Canyon from pop culture references. It is perhaps the most recognizable of all parks on this list. Located deep in Northern Arizona, this extraordinary natural marvel runs for 227 miles, is 18 miles wide and a mile deep.

With the Colorado River flowing down the middle of the canyon, it is the perfect place for a myriad of activities. Hiking, camping, sky diving, rafting, and helicopter tours are just some of the things you can do while there.

Kruger National Park, South Africa

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One of the most popular game reserves in Africa, Kruger National Park, highlights everything there is to love about the African Savannah. It is South Africa’s first national park and attracts over 850,000 people yearly.

It is home to Africa’s famous big 5 – lions, leopards, rhinoceroses, elephants, and Cape buffaloes – and has more species of land mammals than every other reserve on the continent. It is also a designated UNESCO site for wildlife conservation.

Serengeti, Tanzania

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You might have seen pictures from the Serengeti in movies and thought it was beautiful. Well, it’s even more impressive in real life. Located in Northern Tanzania and spanning over 30,000 kilometers, it has been widely hailed as one of Africa’s seven natural wonders.

The Serengeti’s claim to fame is hidden in its wildlife. It is the site of the second biggest mammal migration on the planet – the circular wildebeest migration. The park is also home to around 70 mammal and 500 bird species.

Maasai Mara, Kenya

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Another of Africa’s seven wonders, the Maasai Mara, is named after its local population – the Maasai people. If you’ve ever seen “Big Cat Diary,” this is where it was shot.

Masai Mara is a vast expanse of flat grassland that offers visitors an easy opportunity to spot a wide range of wildlife. It is also a beautiful place to experience the second half of the great wildebeest migration, which typically happens around late August.

Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Occupying over 50,000 square kilometres and approximately 10% of Botswana, the Kalahari Game Reserve is the second biggest game reserve in the world. It occupies part of the Kalahari desert in Botswana and is home to beautiful landscapes and a surprisingly massive array of wildlife.

Although planning for a visit can be challenging due to the logistics, it is definitely worth it. While there, be sure to check out Deception Valley, which is one of the world’s biggest natural mirages.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

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Did you know that you could find flamingoes in Kenya? At the Lake Nakuru National Park, depending on the time of the year, you may see up to 2 million flamingos.

Apart from flamingos, you can also see white rhinos, which can only be found in 5 other countries. Unlike other African parks here, the lake is surrounded by lush green grasslands and is excellent for picnics and hikes. It’s also easy to get to as it’s not very far from the city.

Jiuzhai Valley National Park, China

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Best known for blue and green lakes, gorgeous waterfalls, stunning landforms, and unique wildlife, Jiuzhai Valley is China’s premier national park. Among the different life forms in the park, the most popular is the giant panda.

It is home to nine small Tibetan villages with a population of just around 1000. The park is located on the edge of the Himalayas in Sichuan, Southwest China, and is accessible via a flight from major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. 

Ranthambore National Park, India

In the heart of Northern India, Bengal tigers are the primary source of attraction for visitors to Ranthambore. These big cats are considered to be endangered but can easily be spotted on this reservation. Despite tigers being nocturnal animals, they are frequently seen during the day here.

Other animals like the Indian leopard, wild boar, striped hyena, sloth bear, rhesus macaque, and mugger crocodile, are also familiar sights in the park. Bird watching is also another popular activity by tourists as there’s a wide array of birds at the park.

Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, Japan

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Unlike other parks, which are single reserved spots, the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park is a collection of several fairly dispersed but historical Japanese sites. The most famous part of the park is Mount Fuji, which is Japan’s tallest peak.

The Fuji volcanic range, Hakone biological gardens, and Izu peninsula and islands are some of the other notable parts of the trip. It takes just about 60 minutes to get to the park from Tokyo, Japan’s capital city.

Ang Thong National Marine Park, Thailand

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A marine national park is not something you come across often. The Ang Thong Park comprises of 42 islands on the Gulf of Thailand. The most common way for visitors to arrive is through a boat trip from Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. 

The park features limestone mountains, lakes, caves, thick jungles, and white beaches that create an enjoyable exploratory experience for visitors. There’s also massive biodiversity in the region. Common tourist activities include snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and diving.

Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

In the dry lowlands of northwest Sri Lanka, a natural oddity becomes the backdrop to one of the world’s most impressive animal conservatories. Wilpattu has a unique system of about 50 shallow lakes that are surrounded by grasslands. 

The park is home to a large variety of animals. Owls, egrets, eagles, pythons, cobras, sloth bears, deers, elephants, and leopards are the main attraction. There’s also a vast butterfly population that catches the attention of visitors.

Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia

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Want to see endangered orangutans? Gunung Leuser may offer you the opportunity to see some of these majestic creatures. It is one of the most diverse rainforests in southeast Asia and is the only place where orangutans live in the wild.

The park is also home to other animals like macaques, gibbons, tigers, elephants, siamangs, and rhinos, which are believed to be endangered. A visit to Gunung Leuser typically involves lessons in nature and ecology.

Iguazu National Park, Brazil

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The Iguazu National Park exists on the border between Argentina and Brazil. The larger Brazillian side has 185,262 hectares, while the Argentinian side has 67,720 hectares. The waterfalls are the main attraction here.

If you thought Niagara Falls was beautiful, the Iguazu Falls would sweep you off your feet. It contains a whopping 275 falls as opposed to Niagara’s four. Bird watching is common with tourists due to the tremendous diversity of birds in the area.

Sajama National Park, Bolivia

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If you’re looking to do some ecotourism, Bolivia might be an excellent place to start. The Aymara people are native to the region, which is the park today, and are part of the system that manages it. 

The park has an abundance of volcanoes and thermal springs, alpacas, and unique biodiversity. You will also get the chance to see ancient burial grounds and cave art. The Sajama Lines are also another sight to look out for.

Rapa Nui National Park, Chile

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Also known as the Easter Island, Rapa Nui is a prime example of past civilizations that would have been erased if not for art. A thousand miles from the nearest island to it, the park is virtually in the middle of nowhere. It is, however, accessible via flights from mainland Chile or even Tahiti.

The island’s biggest attraction is the Moai – ancient stone sculptures made by the Rapa Nui people who inhabited the island. There are about 900 of these giant sculptures on the ‘island, and they’re a humbling sight to behold.

Galapagos National Park, Ecuador

After Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos, he got ideas for his groundbreaking evolution theory. That goes to show just how powerful the sights of the place are. Made up of 127 islands formed from volcanic land, the area is home to a unique array of wildlife.

The islands are located right around the earth’s equator at a point in the Pacific Ocean where three ocean currents meet. It’s a place to observe several unique animals like the Galapagos giant tortoise, sea lions, and iguanas.

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

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Tayrona is Colombia’s little version of paradise. This small expanse of land covering just around 150 square kilometers of land hosts multiple climates and geography. From arid sea levels to heights 900m above sea level, there are many experiences to be had here.

The region is best known for its beaches, of which the most popular are Piscina, Cabo San Juan, and Playa Crista. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain in the world, is another remarkable feature of the park.

Kakadu National Park, Australia

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Extending for about 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu has the reputation of being Australia’s largest national park. For context on just how huge it is, it’s the same size as Wales. 

Kakadu has everything we love about Australia’s natural and cultural heritage. Aboriginal rock art, exotic birds, giant crocodiles, shimmering lakes, and stunning waterfalls, whatever you’ve heard of, it has it. The park is managed mainly by aboriginal descendants of those who occupied the area before.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

The Uluru, one of Australias’s most important natural icons, is found in this park. It stands at around 348 meters high, with most of it under the ground and is a fitting place for people looking just to enjoy the serenity of nature.

Aside from the natural spectacles of the Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the park offers a cultural experience for its visitors. It is managed by the indigenous Anangu people who often tell visitors stories about their ancestors who walked those grounds many years ago.

Nambung National Park, Australia

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About 200 kilometres from Perth, the world opens up into this park with a desert and a couple of beaches within only a few square kilometres. The most famous part of the Nambung park is the Pinnacles Desert, which has thousands of limestone formations known as pinnacles.

The park is blessed with excellent weather all year, but peak season is typically around November-December. Popular activities on-site include surfing, swimming, snorkelling, and fishing. The native Yued people are recognized as the custodians of the land.

Saxon Switzerland, Germany

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Despite the name, the park is nowhere close to Switzerland. It actually starts in Germany and ends in the Czech Republic or vice versa, depending on where you’re starting. The part of the park in the Czech Republic is known as the Bohemian Switzerland National Park.

It has one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, with over 700 summits for rock climbers who seek adventure. The park has a wild, romantic appeal to it, and best of all, it is totally free to access.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

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If you want to see gorgeous lakes, Plitvice is the place to go. Although the lakes only make up about 1% of the reserved site, they are the most prominent tourist attraction. There are a total of sixteen lakes in the region with twelve in the Upper Lakes group and the rest in the Lower Lakes area.

The park also has a remarkable interlocking of cave systems and waterfalls. Boat cruises and scenic train rides are typically a part of the Plitvice experience.

Vatnajokull, Iceland

Popularly known as the place where fire meets ice, Vatnajokull is not only beautiful but also massive. It occupies as much as 13% of Iceland, and it contains the largest ice cap in Europe. 

Many people looking to climb the country’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur, start from Skaftafell, which is located within the park. Parts of the park are only accessible during certain summer months, so you have to time your visit if you want the full experience.

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Very few places venerate the outdoorsy like the Fiordland in New Zealand. The park contains majestic waterfalls, ancient rainforests, beautiful, and massive fiords caused by sea flooding – making it one of the most ideal places to take a hike.

It’s a recognized UN World Heritage Centre and has vibrant local wildlife that includes dolphins, seals, and penguins. Apart from hiking, other common activities include sea kayaking and diving. You can also get a scenic view of the fiords via a coach or air cruise.

Glacier National Park, United States

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Sited on about 4,101 square kilometers of land, this Montana-based park lies right on the American-Canadian border. On the other side of it lies Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park.

The park has so much to offer in terms of charm. It has around 700 lakes in it and is home to some famous historic landmarks such as Logan Pass, Lake McDonald Lodge, Granite Park Chalet, and the Two Medicine Store.

Jasper National Park, Canada

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Of all the parks in Canada, Jasper stands out for being the most enamouring. It has everything – mountains, rivers, and glaciers. It’s also the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve.

Regardless of what time of the year you decide to take a trip, there’s always something for you to do. During summer, activities like biking and boating are commonplace. In winter, the park turns into a winter wonderland where skiing, ice climbing, and snow-shoeing are the order of the day.

Kluane National Park and Reserve, Canada

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Located in the Yukon region of Canada, the Kluane National Park is one of Canada’s biggest and most popular sites. It is home to Mount Logan, the highest point in Canada, and 16 of the other 19 highest peaks in the country. It also has the country’s largest ice field. 

Activities you can do at the park include hiking and rafting next to glaciers on the Alsek River that runs through it. You can also take a flightseeing adventure over the ice-fields.

Zion National Park, United States

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The state of Utah hosts one of the most beautiful sceneries on the planet.  The park is named after a Hebrew word that means “refuge.” For many visitors, that is precisely what it is.

One of the favorite things for visitors to do is hike through the Narrows – the slimmest section of the Zion Canyon. The Virgin River that runs through the canyon is also a popular tourist hotspot, with some preferring to observe the beauty of the park from there.