9 Best Parks for the Outdoor Lover


For most people, the closest you get to the outdoors on a day-to-day basis is your backyard patio or the grass where you let your dog do his business. You might wander to the city park every once in a while, but for the most part, we lead indoor lives. For nature lovers, however, these small glimpses of the wilderness just aren't enough when the whole earth is waiting to be discovered. If you want to get away and escape city living, these are the nine best parks in the world for exploring, roughing it, and pretending you were raised by wolves.

  1. Denali National Park, Alaska

    The fact that there's an Old Spice deodorant scent named after Denali speaks volumes. Denali National Park in the middle of Alaska sees 400,000 visitors each year, most drawn by the gorgeous views and the highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley. The park includes forest at the lower levels and glaciers and snow as you get higher, and you'll find glassy reflections of the peaks in the lakes and streams that have formed as ice melts and runs down the mountains. If you plan a trip in the summer, you'll have 20 hours of sunlight to explore the land; during the winter, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are greater. Take flight seeing tours, backpack, or go dog sledding for big adventures.

  2. Iguazu National Park, Argentina and Brazil

    The spectacular waterfalls at Iguazu National Park (or Iguaçu National Park on the Brazil side of the river) are the kind of drops that haunt the nightmares of kayakers and rafters. Almost 2 miles wide and 262 feet high (about 100 feet taller than Niagara Falls), Iguazu Falls make up part of the border between Brazil and Argentina, and both countries claim the falls as part of their national parks, allowing guests access from either nation. The surrounding rainforests provide excellent hiking, with a train on the Argentina side that takes visitors to different trails and a bus system and a trail along the canyon in Brazil.

  3. Galapagos National Park, Galapagos Islands

    The giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands aren't the only beautiful and unique sight to see. Over 90% of the islands were dedicated in 1959 to become a national park and have since been preserved for research and some tourism. Though you won't be allowed to explore the islands on your own for fear that too much human interference will deplete the natural resources, you can walk trails and take boat tours with a park guide. You won't find Galapagos wildlife anywhere else in the world, including many kinds of reptiles and birds, and the marine life is a favorite of divers. Don't expect the animals to be scared of you, though; one of the draws of the island is the way the creatures interact freely with humans.

  4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

    This famous landscape was the first national park in the world, paving the way (not literally, since paving over a national park kind of defeats the point) for about 100,000 nationally preserved parks to pop up around the world. It's located mostly in Wyoming, but also reaches into Idaho and Montana. Everyone has undoubtedly heard of Old Faithful, the geyser that erupts about every 90 minutes, but there are many other gushers to be seen since Yellowstone is home to 60% of the world's geysers. The forests provide great opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing, and the perfect habitat to spot large animals. Herds of bison and elk, packs of wolves, and grizzly bears roam the terrain, so keep an eye on your picnics.

  5. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

    Khao Sok National Park has it all: vertical limestone cliffs, glistening lakes, and the oldest evergreen rainforest on the planet. Whether you choose to trek through the jungle by foot or drift down the rivers in a canoe, you'll see animals unlike those you'd see on any other continent. You could even find wildlife as exotic as leopards, tapirs, and tigers. The park also offers the chance to feed and groom some of Thailand's domestic elephants and stay in floating huts for the night — just don't be surprised if your alarm clock in the morning is the sound of one of the endangered gibbon monkeys.

  6. Banff National Park, Canada

    Canada is known for its abundance of pristine, stretching land, so it's no surprise that the country's first national park is a beautiful expanse of forests and mountains. Banff National Park is situated in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and offers staggering views of icy peaks and dense forests. Drive along the Icefields Parkway and you have the chance to hike around and touch a prehistoric icefield. With a guide, you can walk on the glacier; without a guide, you can fall through thin ice and die from the fall or freezing temperatures. Depending on the time of year, you can hike, bike, ski, or canoe in the park, all with the stunning Rockies in the background.

  7. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

    The steep fjords of Fiordland National Park, carved by glaciers 100,000 years ago, have made this area of New Zealand difficult to settle, leaving it unspoiled by development. To grasp the enormity of the cliffs, you can take a helicopter tour of the park, or you can hike one of the three popular trails. Milford Track, the most famous, allows visitors to travel 33 miles among lakes, mountains, and waterfalls, not to mention native plants and animals. For the serious hiker and camper (or trampers, as they call them in New Zealand), this park offers challenging landscape because there are few trails and many who like to really rough it choose to follow deer trails. The park is also a favorite among alpine climbers.

  8. Kruger National Park, South Africa

    This park isn't ideal if you're an outdoor lover who wants to face the wilderness on your own or move about as you please because the wilderness here will probably try to eat you. Kruger National Park is one of the biggest game reserves on the African continent and allows visitors to see local beasts ranging from lions to elephants to crocodiles all in their natural habitat. In fact, the viral YouTube video where a herd of African buffalo squares off against a group of lions and a couple of crocodiles was shot by guests at Kruger. There are walking and self-drive safaris for those who prefer a little independence in the bush, but visitors staying overnight in the park stay at a rest camp or private lodging that's protected from the animals.

  9. Yosemite National Park, California

    This California park has a little bit of everything. You can meander across meadows, marvel at giant Sequoias, and hike to various rock formations, waterfalls, and lakes. There are activities for every kind of outdoor lover, whether you want to enjoy the scenery from a bus or get out there to rock climb, bike, or backpack. Even the most energetic sportsmen will find plenty to do and see since the climate and geography changes as you get farther into the park. Make sure to give yourself enough time to see everything. And if you feel like being productive with your visit, you can volunteer a couple hours of your time to help restore habitats for endangered plant and wildlife so you can leave a positive mark on the park.

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