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The USA's best National Parks

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The USA's best National Parks

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Raise your glass to the USA's national parks. August 2016 marks 100 years of the National Park Service; a century of maintaining the nations finest landscapes, for communities past, present and future.

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
WHERE:
Mostly Wyoming but also Montana & Idaho
BEST TIME TO GO: March-May & September-October
KNOWN FOR ITS: Geothermal features & wildlife
Yellowstone is the national park that spoils its guests. So much so, by the time you’ve spotted your umpteenth bison, elk or antelope, you’ll be tempted to roll your eyes; the terrain is that abundant with nature. Of course, we exaggerate, Yellowstone is far from boring. As the world’s first national park, it’s like all great originals; an absolute treasure. Bursting at its 2,219,789 acre seams with canyons and alpine rivers, over 10,000 thermal wonderments and an astounding 300 geysers, the real issue is where to look first. There are bald eagles soaring above its high mountain plateau and yellow-green hillsides that swirl with gushing alpine rivers. Bison thud across a landscape that’s restless with volcanic activity and the dark rocks that (at first glance) look like bears, station themselves between lush forest and rippling mountainside. Yellowstone’s nature, whether it moves on four-paws or two wings provides endless jaw-dropping imagery. Only two per cent of Yellowstone is developed so you’d be wise to trundle across its terrain as slow and as laborious as the bison; admiring every spectacle, inhaling every scent and listening to the chorus of crickets; a chatter that seemingly rings out forever.

DENALI
WHERE:
Alaska
BEST TIME TO GO: June-August
KNOWN FOR ITS:
Glaciers, dramatic scenery & wildlife
In Alaska’s Denali National Park everything looks fluffy, from the mountain-nudging clouds to the spongy green grass, even the brown grizzly bears look cuddly. But don’t let the illusions deceive you, here lies 6 million acres of untamed wilderness; a land where the clouds turn to storms and the bears aren’t renowned for their cuddles. Inherently wild, Denali is still the most accessible of Alaska's national parks and home to North America’s highest peak, Denali Mountain (Mount McKinley), but you’ll probably want to use the 150km road to see it. With a single track, of which only the bus is allowed to travel, minimal traffic allows for uninterrupted views across a breath-taking panorama, a dense carpet of grass merges into thickets of brown and thorns of red, while ice-white glaciers carve a pathway through both. Towering granite spires melt into snow-topped peaks, their slopes reflected in startling glacial lakes. Look closely and you’ll spot caribou, moose, dall sheep, the odd fox and snowshoe hares bounding across sheets of untouched snow. And if that’s not enough to have your face flat-pressed against the window, the opportunity to see golden eagles, wolves and cinnamon-coloured grizzlies surely will.

THE MIGHTY 5®
WHERE:
Utah
BEST TIME TO GO: April-May & September-October
KNOWN FOR ITS: Surreal scenery & unforgettable activities
Star-gazing from Mars, now made possible in Utah. Or so it’ll seem if you lie across the sandstone plateau of The Mighty 5®’s craggy savannah-coloured stone. Bathing in sunshine that penetrates a desert soil, the five national parks that make up this other-worldly terrain include Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Collectively the five parks are an expansive, seemingly limitless mass of natural creation, an abstract panorama of domes, cliffs and arches, 300-foot towers and arid humidity; a sizzling desert of brilliant, barren orange. Arrive a little earlier and experience sunrise over red rocks and jutting formations that spike, twist and curve. Stay a little later and watch as shadows from the setting sun give way to a glowing night sky; the transformation of light and colour, pink through to navy seeping into every pocket and fold. Time your visit to witness the full moon cast a silvery glare over the deep canyons and towers, or arrive late autumn and you’ll be presented with the Milky Way, its streaks smeared across the sky like an extra-terrestrial firework display. Nothing short of spell-binding, there’s never a bad time to explore Utah’s aptly-named Mighty 5®.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
WHERE:
Tennessee & North Carolina
BEST TIME TO GO: May-October
KNOWN FOR ITS: Diverse ecosystems & extensive species of wildlife As America’s most visited national park (and one of few that doesn’t charge an admission fee) you’d think the Great Smoky Mountains would be heaving with sightseers, but with 521,896 acres of wilderness and over 12,000km of back-country trails, you needn’t venture too far to find solitude. Trek eight kilometres off-grid and you’ll be in the thick of the world’s oldest mountain range, the Southern Appalachians. From afar they bathe in a milky blue haze, the colour of plant’s breath, it’s literally the result of respiration. Once inside the dense canopy, you’ll bear witness to an entire kaleidoscope of colour. From hammering woodpeckers to waterfalls where mist and rainbows hang suspended in the air, thanks to heavy annual rainfall the entire park is replete with lush greenery and a beguiling luminosity. You’ll be grateful for backpacks jammed with energy-boosting snacks and water refreshments but keep your tasty treats to yourself, the park’s also home to 2000 black bears. Avoid leaving your pack unattended and always utilise the bear-proof rubbish bins. Instead of bears, seek out the synchronous fireflies, a phenomenon that occurs in late May or early June (reservations required), they’re the only US species to blink in synchrony as part of their mating ritual.

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