In Photos: Amazing Experiences in North America’s National Parks

While the spirit of exploration spans the globe, being an intrepid traveler doesn’t have to mean summiting Mount Everest or surveying icebergs in Antarctica. Some of the planet’s wildest places—launchpads for all sorts of discoveries about the world and yourself—are in North America’s national parks.


© Photograph by Andrew Peacock, Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Sea Kayak, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Blue whales, manta rays, and whale sharks thrive in the plankton-rich environment of Loreto Bay National Marine Park in the Sea of Cortez. The water’s often rough, but the abundance of outsized marine creatures, combined with the stunning scenery—desert landscapes flanking turquoise water—make this park a top spot for sea kayaking tours.

 

© Photograph by Jack Fusco

Stargazing, Alberta, Canada

At some 4,200 square miles, Jasper National Park ranks as one of the largest dark-sky destinations. On a clear, moonless night, be mesmerized by billions of twinkling stars and, just maybe, the aurora borealis.

 

© Photograph by John & Lisa Merrill, Getty Images

White-Water Rafting, Idaho

Hold on tight for a six-day roller-coaster ride over Class III and IV white-water rapids. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River deepens and swells as it flows through the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness (the nation’s largest continuous wilderness area south of Alaska). During rare flat-water stretches, be sure to scan the shore for bighorn sheep and bubbling hot springs.

 

© Photograph by Alan Majchrowicz, Getty Images

Canyon Climb, Utah

Bagging Angels Landing peak in Zion National Park earns you bragging rights and breathtaking views. The five-mile trail is a test of courage with 21 steep switchbacks leading to a thousand-foot-high ridge.

 

© Photograph by Chico Sanchez, Alamy Stock Photo

Butterfly Bonanza, Estado de Mexico, Mexico

In the fir forests a few hours west of Mexico City, millions of migrating monarchs roost in the trees and swirl in the skies from November to March. Of the butterfly sanctuaries open to the public, Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary may be the hardest to reach, meaning you’ll see fewer people and earn more props for making the climb—a rocky and, sometimes, straight-uphill slog on horseback from the Sierra Madre valley to the monarch’s cloud-forest winter home.

 

© Photograph by Design Pics Inc, Alamy Stock Photo

Dogsledding, Alaska

The northernmost national park in the United States is one of the wildest of the planet’s remaining wild places. No roads lead into the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve’s 8.4 million pristine acres, all of which lie north of the Arctic Circle. Most visitors arrive in summer by bush plane, so a winter dogsled run across the snow-encrusted expanses is among the rarest of national park experiences. Beginning in March 2020, Arctic Winter Adventures will offer five three-day dogsledding trips (one person or couple per trip) inside the park.

 

© Photograph by Edmund Lowe, Alamy Stock Photo

Wilderness Trek, Washington

Take off-the-beaten-path hiking to the next level by tackling part of a true wilderness trail, the 25-mile Olympic Adventure Route in Olympic National Park. The isolated route ascends through cougar habitat and old-growth forests.

 

© Photograph by Frank Heuer, Laif/ Redux

Horseback Ride, Alberta, Canada

Saddle up for a pack trip into the hinterland of Banff National Park, Canada’s first. Traveling by horse allows you to go deep into the wild, climbing above glacier-fed lakes for top-of-the-Rockies tableaus and crossing valleys where bison roam. Day rides often retrace trails blazed by First Nations and European explorers.

 

© Photograph by Carlton Ward

Canoe Trip, Florida

Paddle the 1.5-million-acre Everglades National Park, a mazelike mix of prairie, mangroves, marsh, woods, and water, water everywhere that’s best explored December to April when fewer bugs are biting.

 

© Photograph by Gian Marco Giudici, Getty Images

Canyon Cycle, Arizona

The chasm of Grand Canyon National Park can seem too immense to comprehend, let alone explore. Cycling the rim allows you to cover lots of ground. For epic sunrise vistas, begin before dawn at Hopi Point.

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