Hi everyone! Yellowstone, Death Valley, Everglades, Rocky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite. Names that make you dream; those of the 63 national parks of the United States. Managed by the National Park Service (NPS), a federal administration, they are present in 30 states and 2 American territories. I’m not going to introduce you to each national park, that would take way too long. I will devote more posts to it later. Today, I’m going to give you my 5 favorites that will remain forever etched in my memory. Among the many national parks I have visited, these are the 5 that have amazed me or left me speechless!
Be careful, when I say visit, it’s not just a photo stop of a few minutes! Know that you have to take the time to discover the beauty of each national park by staying there for a minimum of one day.
Here are my top 5!
Number 5: Capitol Reef, one of Utah’s 5 national parks (hike to Cassidy Arch)
Unknown and out of the way compared to other parks, Capitol Reef is often mistakenly neglected by travelers from the American West. And yet Capitol Reef is well worth the detour, because it offers sumptuous landscapes! In a green setting, it allows you to learn more about the history of the Mormon pioneers at the end of the 19th century.
We chose to hike to Cassidy Arch (5.6 km return) which promises incredible views of this particular arch.
Piste pour accéder au départ de la randonnée
From the beginning of the walk, a very steep and trying climb undermines my morale. Moreover, it is unbearably hot at 9 am and the children do not feel well. The landscapes are beautiful, but I don’t have the “wow” effect. Is it worth suffering? And yet, arrived at the top on large red slabs, the surprise is great! I scan the landscape, but no arch on the horizon, what? I feel immense disappointment, all that for that?
L’approche sur les grandes dalles rouges et ocres
I advance a little and discover a vertiginous precipice. Suddenly I realize that Cassidy’s ark is there. She appears below, looking down 300 m below!! A few thrill seekers cross the top of the arch… For my part, I prefer to savor this curiosity of nature without risking my life.
Vue sur Cassidy Arch
My advice: start very early with plenty of water, a cap and sunscreen!
Number 4: Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii (hiking the Kilauea Iki Crater trail)
We spent 2 days in this original and atypical National Park compared to most other American parks. The first day was devoted to the discovery of this surprising environment.
Sculpture en bois sur un ancien champ de lave
We went for a 7 km hike in the Kilauea Iki crater. This crater is next to the main caldera of Kīlauea’s summit. Surprisingly, the ride begins with a descent through lush rainforest.
Forêt tropicale et lac de lave au fond du cratère de Kilauea Iki
As I approach the crater, I immediately feel the heat and ambient humidity. We easily reach the solidified lava lake at the bottom of Kīlauea Iki crater where the hike continues. Walking on the lava slabs is a unique experience. I feel the heat coming off the ground when the last eruption took place in 1959. It spat for 36 days, but it took 36 years for the lava to solidify!
It is truly an astonishing and extraordinary landscape. Contrary to what I imagined, the bottom of the crater is not bare. Diversified vegetation is slowly growing at the bottom of the crater and on the flanks.
Lac de lave et végétation dans le cratère
After crossing the lava lake, we slowly ascend and rejoin the soothing rainforest.
My advice: if you decide to go to Hawaii, this park is a must. It allows to realize the active volcanism of this archipelago. The hike is a short, easy loop that can be done in either direction. However, I recommend that you turn counterclockwise, which is easier.
Number 3: Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah (hike on the Fairyland loop trail)
Utah alone has 5 National Parks: Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonland. Bryce Canyon Park is characterized by its “hoodoos”, chimney-shaped rock formations. The “hoodoos”, called “capped damsels” in other countries, are the result of permanent erosion. They stand up everywhere in the park and make it its symbol.
Les hoodoos de Bryce Canyon
We choose to walk on the Fairyland trail loop despite its length (13 km, 525 m drop). Indeed, it offers a complete and representative panorama of the geology of the park. The trailhead overlooks the canyons of the park and offers a bird’s-eye view of the hoodoos. We gradually descend, meandering at the foot of these incredible formations. We are in April and the snow was still present. The white contrasts with the warm colors of the rock and gives an even more particular cachet to the landscapes.
Paysage féérique des hoodoos dans un canyon encore enneigé
Given the length of the trail, we meet few hikers and savor the calm and beauty of the place. We remain amazed by the sumptuous landscapes and the flamboyant colors of the hoodoos.
The return is more difficult, because you have to go up on the edge of the canyon. My children, then 11 and 7 years old, were brave, but came back delighted with the hike. This walk is aptly named, because the landscapes are truly magical and enchanting.
Face à l’immensité de Bryce Canyon
Number 2: Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska (Hike on the Harding Icefield Exit Glacier trail)
Alaska is the last frontier of the United States which extends over a territory 3 times larger than France. It is still a wild place that contrasts radically with the other 49 American states. Of Alaska’s 8 national parks, Kenai Fjord Park is probably the most accessible.
This park can be discovered by the sea, but also by hiking trails. We wanted to discover this ice paradise with the family: the park has more than 40 glaciers!
Without specific equipment, the Exit glacier and the Harding ice field remain accessible by a path. So we set off to discover these high mountain landscapes on the Harding Icefield-Exit Glacier trail. This 8 km return path and 750 m drop offers a sumptuous panorama over a glacier tongue.
La langue glaciaire du glacier Exit
The climb is tough, especially in its first part in the undergrowth where thousands of flies attack you relentlessly. But flies are not the only animals present. Suddenly, I come across a panicked hiker who tells me that he has seen brown bears on the way. Big fright and I then run to join my family who had kept the bear bomb with her! After a few minutes of break, we continue walking, stressed, all our senses on alert, ready to draw the bomb.
Randonnée vers le glacier Exit
Once out of the vegetation, the many panoramas on the glacier tongue are breathtaking and frankly worth all the effort. We take a break to enjoy these incredible views. The children take the opportunity to fill in their “Junior Ranger” notebooks
Pause bien méritée pour admirer le glacier Exit
Alaska is a beautiful state and this park is a real favorite. With this superb walk, we also see the sad retreat of the glaciers, particularly here in recent years.
And the winner is …
Number 1: Yosemite National Park in California (hiking the Mist trail)
Located in California in the Sierra Nevada range, Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks for Americans. This park is known for its gigantic granite cliffs, its must-see climbing spots (Half Dome and El Capitan) and its monumental waterfalls.
Parc National de Yosemite : à gauche El Capitan, à droite Half Dome vu de Glacier Point
There are so many things to see that the choice is difficult, even when you stay there for 3 days. For our first day, I booked the Mist trail hike. Indeed, it offers one of the best ways to discover the most beautiful falls in the park. This strenuous 10km return walk from the Curry Village parking lot is beautiful and well worth the effort.
The first part of the path is paved and poses no difficulty. Then the path turns into a succession of more or less regular steps along the river. I hear the waterfall roar, but don’t see it yet. At the bend of a bend, we find ourselves in front of the fall of Vernal Falls. 97 meters high, a rainbow takes shape at its feet: the view is sumptuous.
Montée et découverte de Vernal Falls
To reach the next waterfall, you must continue the ascent. We take stairs carved into the rock and climb along Vernal Falls. At the top, natural pools await hikers who want to take a break. Be careful, however, swimming is prohibited because it is dangerous. We continue to finally admire Nevada Falls, even more impressive. With 180 meters high, I take my breath away and want the reward of all my efforts.
Les majestueuses Nevada Falls
Yosemite is an amazing place. I marveled at each of its grandiose landscapes, as the national parks of the USA know how to offer. This hike is popular. I advise you to leave early, because the parking spaces are popular and the temperature can quickly become hot.
Out of category: Yellowstone, the most breathtaking national park!
This sumptuous American national park straddles three states (Wyoming 96% of its surface, Idaho and Montana). It is the oldest national park in the world, created on March 1, 1872 by President Ulysses Grant.
A park with significant geothermal activity, it alone concentrates an impressive number of geysers, hot springs and wild animals. I had discovered this kind of landscapes in Iceland and New Zealand, but Yellowstone far surpasses them. Although we stayed there for 5 days, we know that we only had a glimpse of this huge park. Yellowstone alone would deserve a trip of at least a week!
Rather than a long speech, here are some photos that will give you a good idea of the main sites to discover: Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Lamar Valley (for its bison), Mammoth Hot springs, …
My advice: do not neglect the northern part of the park with its surprising limestone formations at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Soak up the atmosphere of national parks
These six national parks are real favourites. But there are many others that are just as beautiful and also worth discovering. To take the pulse of a national park, one day is not enough. You have to take the time to walk there, discover its flora, fauna, geology and landscapes. The hiking trails are very numerous, always well indicated, and there is something for all levels. I have presented you with sometimes long or difficult hikes, but you will always find magnificent walks that are more accessible. For adventurers, there is also the possibility of leaving for several days in a bivouac in total autonomy. It is also another way to immerse yourself in the grandiose American nature.