I haven’t been to all of them, but I have been to a lot of our nation’s national parks. So I figured that, on the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, I’d provide my recommendations for the top 8 parks you should visit. And there’s still a little bit of summer left, right?
8. Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona
If I didn’t put this one on the list, people would revolt, right? The Grand Canyon is definitely one of those sights that you’ve heard about your whole life that actually lives up to the description. It really does take your breath away as you walk up to the guardrail and get your first full view of the expansive canyon. It’s incredible!!
To celebrate the Grand Canyon, here’s a video of magician David Copperfield levitating over it (to the tunes of Bonnie Tyler)!
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7. Bryce Canyon National Park — Utah
Once you’ve done the Grand Canyon, you might want to get away from the huge crowds of tourists. For my money, Bryce Canyon is every bit as grand as the one in Arizona (maybe even better), and far less visited. Check this one out too!
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6. Big Bend National Park — Texas
This is another less-visited national park. It shares a border with Mexico and sits right on the Rio Grande (so hurry up and go before Trump blocks the view with a wall). This one is gigantic, with rivers, mountain ranges, and a unique desert. But don’t anger the javelinas (Spanish for wild boar)…. My mom can tell you a thing or two about being chased by a pack of ’em.
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5. Everglades National Park — Florida
Where else you can you almost get eaten by an alligator, a crocodile, and a jaguar? Ok, that makes it sound less than awesome, but trust me, it really is a great park. I think we’re preconditioned to believe swamps aren’t beautiful, but this one is scenic and intriguing.
Check out this video of an airboat ride to get your adrenaline ready for an Everglades trip (although, I’m told that you now have to technically leave the park to hop on your boat because of stupid federal regulations)!
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4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park — New Mexico
Ok, I’ll admit that it’s probably because I grew up watching Batman, but I have always thought that caves are cool. If you want to impress your family or friends, just remember that a stalactite is a formation that starts from the top and kind of looks like a rock icicle, and a stalagmite is an upward growing formation.
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3. Olympic National Park — Washington
Want to go to the rainforest without having to go to Brazil (and being worried about Zika)? There’s a real rainforest right here in the United States, within the Olympic National Park. This is one of those great parks that has several unique biospheres within it– ocean beachfront, forestation, snowcapped mountains, tidepools, and rivers. You’ll see elk, eagles, otters, beavers, and so much animal life!
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2. Yellowstone National Park — Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
How could I not include the first national park? Yellowstone attracts so many visitors each year because you can see geysers, waterfalls, and an awesome geothermal landscape. Some important tips — if you can stand the cold, go during the winter; it’s less touristy and the temperatures of the geysers and pools form such a stark contrast to the snow and ice. Also, don’t just go for Old Faithful; there are so many awesome geysers and colorful springs to explore. Either get a map and go check them out on your own, or take a guided tour around one of their walking trails. You can’t miss this park!
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1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park — Tennessee and North Carolina
I don’t care if this is the most visited national park in the country, it’s worth it. This park will make you take a moment to thank God for the majesty of the world we live in. The colors of the plant life, the foggy mountain tops, the changing of the seasons — it’s all so beautiful!! Getting lost in this park is a great way to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.
And, while you’re in the area, check out Dollywood. Because…it’s Dollywood:
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Honorable Mention: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park — Arizona and Utah
When you picture the old west, the picture in a lot of our heads is of Monument Valley. It’s on the Marlboro ads, it was featured in the John Ford western movies, and it still has an untamed vibe to it. I know it’s not technically a national park, but check it out anyway.