North America – the third largest of the world’s continents – is home to some of the most staggeringly beautiful protected areas of natural wilderness in the world. From the geysers of Yellowstone to the mesmerizing fjords of Newfoundland, we’ve teamed up with luxury tour operators Insight Vacations to choose our collective favourite most beautiful National Parks in North America….
Banff National Park, Canada
A place which often tops the most beautiful places in the world lists is Banff National Park – Canada’s most popular and most cherished tourist attraction. It’s the most famous Canadian Rockies park and offers both sublime scenery and plenty of thrilling outdoor activities. It’s also home to some gorgeous lakes including the very special Peyto Lake and the bustling Lake Louise (where you can go canoeing). Other places that shouldn’t be missed are the Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls and Tangle Creek. Expect waterfalls, lakes, canyons, spectacular viewpoints and a seemingly unending procession of majestic mountains, rivers, glaciers and stunning forest scenery.
Jasper National Park, Canada
Jasper National Park – which neighbours Banff – also deserves a place on this list and at an incredible 11,000 square kilometres it’s the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies. There are also plenty of activities on offer including taking a Harley Davidson tour, mountain biking, trekking, renting a boat and even horse riding. Don’t leave without driving along the phenomenal Icefield Parkway – a scenic highway located between Jasper and Banff – which features bright emerald green lakes, cascading waterfalls which adorn towering rock spires and more than 100 ancient glaciers.
Yosemite National Park, California
This is one of our favourite national parks and one of those places that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime! Created by glaciers which gouge through the canyon of the Merced River, the Californian park is easily one of the most awe-inspiring geological spectacles on the planet. The park is brimming with 3000ft near-vertical cliffs adorned with tumbling waterfalls, magnificent rock domes, grassy meadows framed by towering oak, cedar and fir trees and wildlife galore – just watch out for the black bears!
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site this one is the largest one of the world’s largest international protected areas. Alaska is home to some spectacular unspoilt scenery and this park offers 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, wild coastlines, dewy rainforests and deep fjords. The highlights though are the sixteen glaciers which spill into the 65-mile-long Glacier Bay and the chance to spot humpback whales, porpoises and seals.
Yellowstone National Park
This is another one of America’s legendary US parks and this one is the oldest and the most famous national park, attracting a whopping three million visitors every year. The popular protected area is a melting pot of jaw-dropping mountain scenery, azure lakes, pretty meadows and varied wildlife (including large herds of heavy-bearded bison). Although its the park’s volcano – one of largest in the world – which really sets the place apart. Thankfully, it hasn’t exploded for 640,000 years but it still provides the incredible displays of thermal activity including geysers, thousands of fumaroles jetting plumes of steam, mud pots gurgling with acid-dissolved muds and clays, and plenty of hot springs!
Joshua Tree National Park
This is another of our favourites. The 1250 square mile park is known for its unearthly and unsettling beauty filled with incredible rock formations and grotesquely gnarled plants, which aren’t trees at all, but a type of yucca. We drove to the park’s highest point – an eerily silent vista overlooking Coachella Valley and Salton Sea (only slightly marred by the smoggy air pouring out from the Los Angeles Basin) and stayed until sunset. As dusk arrived the desert floor become bathed in red light and the spiky trees turned into ghost-like black silhouettes. A very unique National Park which is not to be missed!
Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
One of the few US National parks which you can explore without a car and easily one the most beautiful, Glacier National Park in Montana is home to around two thousand lakes, a thousand miles of rivers, breezy meadows, dense green forests, towering peaks and plenty of wildlife including bighorn sheep and mountain lions. Obviously, though the glaciers are the park’s biggest draw – it’s home to 25 small glaciers and also huge flows of ice which carved these immense valleys thousands of years ago.
Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Utah is a western state home to some seriously beautiful natural scenery and Zion National Park is one of the places to head to see some of the finest landscapes in the area. It’s known for its huge sandstone cliffs, narrow sheer-walled canyons, scenic drives, emerald lakes with cascading waterfalls and forest trails but most visitors head for Zion Canyon. Probably the most immediately spectacular of the many geological wonders in Utah it’s where sheer red and white sandstone cliffs tower up to 2,500 feet above the North Fork of the Virgin River.
Grand Canyon National Park
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, The Grand Canyon appears on many a traveller’s bucket list. It’s so vast and so hypnotically beautiful you can’t quite believe you share the same planet and can often leave visitors (like us) feeling like they’re visiting a surreal movie set. It’s an endless expanse and inconceivable abyss – more than one mile deep and at its widest is eighteen miles across. For a little bit of extra excitement take a helicopter tour, swim in the waterfalls or raft through the park’s whitewater rapids.
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland
Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949 but it offers some stunning unspoilt scenery, with its most mesmerizing scenery is contained within Gros Morne National Park. Filled with beautiful bays, scrawny beaches, straggling villages and wizened sea stacks with a gorgeous backdrop of fjord-cut mountains, this protected wilderness definitely deserves a place on this list. The park’s forested lower slopes are home to thousands of moose, snowshoe hares and woodland caribou and minke whales regularly feed in Bonne Bay.