To plan our road trip across the USA, we pinpointed on a map all the places we wanted to go to and linked them together, including cities, historical sites and national parks, which are very renowned in America. In the end, we managed to see seven national parks across the USA which were all very different and beautiful in their own way. To celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, we thought we would write a little something about them.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

National Parks: What To Know – What To Do

No matter which State the national parks are in, they are all part of the same organisation and if you are thinking of visiting more than two in one year, then you should definitely buy the Annual National Park Pass, which will save you money. It costs approximately $30 to enter each park, whereas the pass is $80. You can buy these passes at any national park’s entrance. Unfortunately we didn’t do that and ended up paying more!

Park rangers are present in all the parks, they are here to ensure your safety whilst in the park and to inform/guide you. At each park, there is an information center where you can gather details about the park, talk to the rangers and schedule a guided tour if you do not wish to do it by yourself. Keep in mind that park rangers work from 9am until 5pm (this can vary slightly depending on the season and the park) and in case you should have any problems afterwards you’d have to call 911 for emergencies.

Facilities are often close to the information centers where you can buy food, drinks, clothes, etc. These shops tend to be quite expensive so I would advise you to come prepared and do your shopping before hand.

Camp grounds and additional overnight facilities (i.e: chalets), in some parks, are available but there is an extra fee to stay inside the park overnight and they are often booked in advance so don’t expect a free space on the day of, especially in the summer. Personally, we used www.freecampsites.com and found places to stay nearby free of charge!

Most national parks have trails for you to hike and bike on but make sure you are safe and prepared! In many cases, you will see a sign telling you approximately how long the trail will take, how far it is and the difficulty level, but unfortunately many people still get caught unprepared. Make sure you pack plenty of water (anticipate that it will take you longer just in case), some food and/or cereal bars to keep your energy levels up, any medication that you might need, sunscreen, band-aids, sensible clothing including hats and rain coat, a map and do not hike somewhere for the first time alone if you are not experienced. We have encountered a few people in distress on our hikes and it can be easily avoided if you prepare well!

Now, let’s look at some national park highlights.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

1) Yellowstone: The Super Volcano

The first park we visited in the U.S. was Yellowstone National Park, mostly in Wyoming although it also flows into Idaho and Montana. Yellowstone was the first American National Park, established in 1872, and one of the largest, it is actually larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Yellowstone is well known for its vast array of wildlife with 50 mammal species, 311 bird species, 18 fish species, 6 reptile species, 4 amphibian species, and 5 endangered or threatened species. It’s also known for its active geysers and thermal features. The Old Faithful is Yellowstone biggest and most powerful geyser which erupts on average every 91 minutes! It is worth seeing as it can reach heights in excess of 56 meters!

We walked around the thermal features, the geysers and hiked up to have a better view of these natural beauties before jumping back in our van to explore the rest of the park.

On our way we saw a mother bear with her 3 cubs, many bison, deer, stags, etc. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to see the wolves! We stopped to look at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the waterfalls, which were a real treat for the eye before making our way to the mountains to admire the scenery.

Yellowstone is accessible and enjoyable for all ages with different choices for exploring. For example, there are many hiking trails but you can also discover the territory in the comfort of your car. This is definitely something to add to your bucket list if you enjoy nature and wildlife.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

2) Great Smoky Mountains

Next on our list were the Great Smoky Mountains at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, which is a National Park as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great Smoky Mountains, unlike most of the others, was free of charge letting us admire the big forest with trails, rivers, waterfalls, the mountain chains and abundant meadows at no cost. This National Park is the most visited one in the USA – maybe due to the fact that it is free to access and stay in overnight? You can hike or bike along the trails (bikes can be rented out at the facilities near the entrance), fish under strict regulations, or go horseback riding.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

3) Marble Canyon – Grand Canyon

On our way back west we went to Marble Canyon, the beginning of the Grand Canyon. The scenery there was breathtaking! We had never been to a place like this before and we were absolutely amazed by its beauty. We drove around the national park and stopped when we deemed fit, hiking on the highest rocks we could find to finally stay put and take it all in from a distance. Again there is an entrance fee to enter the close – by Grand Canyon National Park but Marble Canyon is free.  You can sometimes see Californian Condors, the largest bird of prey, but we weren’t that lucky unfortunately. The area was beautiful and peaceful, a great place to recompose yourself and gain some perspective. I could have stayed on this one rock for hours.

In Arizona, there were other sites similar such as the Canyon de Chelly and Navarro National Monument which are worth visiting but not considered national parks.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

4) Yosemite

Next on our National park to-do list was Yosemite National Park in California – one of my personal favourite parks in the USA. Yosemite’s main features are the granite cliffs, especially El Capitan and Half Dome; waterfalls such as Bridalveil Fall or North America’s tallest waterfall called Yosemite Falls which has a 2,425 foot drop; clear streams, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains and glaciers. The National Park is one of the most popular in the USA offering many rock climbing spaces for experienced climbers, trails which can be explored hiking or biking (bikes can be rented out at the information centre/facilities) and a rich variety of wildlife: 90 species of mammals in the park, including black bears, coyotes, gophers and chipmunks. Most of the park is still untouched by human activity (95%) with only a small portion being visited by tourists (roughly 3.5 million per year) preserving its wildlife and landscape. We drove around the park but there is the possibility to rent bikes at the information centre which I highly recommend.

We did a few hikes around the park but our favourite was the one which brought us to the top of the Yosemite upper falls. One of the most popular hikes is the trek up to Half Dome which is the longest and one of the most difficult, but the view from up there is worth the effort if you are physically fit.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

5) Lassen Volcanic

Also located in California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is known particularly for Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world and one of the volcanos of the Cascade Range. In the surrounding areas, you can still find some boiling mud pots, smelly fumaroles and hot springs as well as many clear water lakes.

Lassen Park is also one of the only places in the world which has 4 different types of volcano: plug dome, shield, cinder cone and strato, another feature giving this National Park its uniqueness.

In the summer, the landscapes look like a scene out of Heidi with all the wildflowers, the bright green mountains and the variety of birds, mammals and butterflies flying around. In the winter, the scene is very different, covered with snow but just as magical looking. As with many other national parks, there are trails for you to hike or bike on if you do not wish to stay in the car and there are facilities that are located on the south-west entrance (keep in mind that this park has 5 vehicle entrances).

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

6) Crater Lake

Another national park on our route was Crater Lake in Oregon. Smaller than other national parks but stunning! We drove to the top of the crater to have the best view over its outline – it was absolutely beautiful. Crater Lake was formed 150 years ago when the Volcano Mount Mazama collapsed. The lake has no river flowing in or out, which makes the water very pure with a deep blue colour to it. Evaporation, rain and snow are the only factor of its water turnover. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the USA with a depth of 594 metres! Many marine species live in the lake and the surroundings are covered in snow during the winter and wildflowers in the spring and summer.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

7) Olympic National Park

The Olympic National Park, situated in Washington is composed of 4 regions which include the Pacific Coast Line, the Alpine Areas, a rainforest and another (much dryer) forest. This park has breathtaking scenery due to its many different ecosystems.

In some places you will find all the characteristics of a rain forest with trees that are hundreds of years old and bigger than anything you will have seen before. It almost looks like a scene from a fairy tale: big trees with their roots above the surface and branches crossing one another, while all the vegetation is bright green and alive.

Further on, you will be faced with a landscape filled with wildflower meadows, a sub-alpine forest with all its charm and a Pacific Shore as seen on the pictures. The main characteristic of this National Park is the picturesque scenery which varies so much from one side to the other with breath-taking landscapes in between. Plus, not far from this park is Forks, where the Twilight Saga was filmed and it is now a very touristy little village for the Twihard fan.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the US American National Park Service, we thought we would round up our favourite national parks for you.

I could write a whole book about our road-trip in Canada and the USA which was absolutely amazing with each state and location offering  something unique and unforgettable. One of the reasons I like the USA, is because you have both extremes: from super busy and fast cities like New York to a quiet and magical looking national park.

National parks were a big part of our  journey and I wish I would have gotten to see them all. If you are planning a trip in the USA, I highly recommend visiting these protected areas where you get to see wildlife, beautiful scenery and be in a place which gives you some perspective and peace.

Have you been to any of these (or other) national parks? What was your favourite part? Let us know in the comments below.


This is a guest post by Agnes Icher.

Getting Ready for an Epic American Roadtrip - Agnes Icher,Travelettes 7

Agnès and her husband Henry have been travelling for almost 2 years with no return in sight. Agnès turned her dream into a plan when she left Europe to travel the world with her husband who clicks the shutter while she puts pen to paper. So far, they have lived, worked and travelled across Canada, the USA, Australia and are now making their way across Asia. You can follow their adventures on their blog www.thebgstrip.com.