While I love the hustle and bustle of cities, there is nothing like escaping from it all and getting close to nature. National Parks are always high on my list of places to visit on my travels – from stunning geological formations to dense forests to rare wildlife, national parks have it all. Here are my 5 favourites that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
1. Yosemite National Park, California, USA
The stunning rock formations, green valleys and countless waterfalls in this part of the Sierra Nevada mountains are a sight to behold. While the majority of the park’s 4 million annual visitors stick around Yosemite Valley, there is no shortage of things to do and see. Cruising around the Park’s 12 miles of bike paths, climbing up to Yosemite Falls or scaling the iconic Half Dome provide challenges for all. Or if you’re the really adventurous type, El Capitan is legendary among mountain climbers. I absolutely loved the views of the valley from Yosemite Point, almost 7,000ft above sea level. The keen-eyed among you may have noticed that I owe the Travel Lexx banner photo to Yosemite!
2. Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Utah’s oldest National Park doesn’t disappoint. The huge sandstone cliffs towering above the road that snakes through Zion Canyon are breathtaking. The free shuttle that takes visitors to the main trailheads of the canyon is the only way to get around in peak months, as cars are not allowed. Angels Landing is a spectacular lookout point, rewarding those that make the steep and sometimes dangerous climb to the top. I opted for the challenging Observation Point hike. Well it was a hike until I decided to engage in a spot of trail running on the way back – it was absolutely brilliant but I did come close to flying off into the canyon a few times!
3. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
The enchanting cascading lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice NP make this park a must-see for anyone visiting Croatia. The crystal-clear water of the 16 lakes is mesmerising and exploring the area via the wooden boardwalk paths is a special experience. Listening to the sound of the water running down mountain streams while spotting wildlife in the surrounding forest is soothing. I was lucky enough to witness Plitvice blanketed in white, with the season’s first snow falling just as we arrived at the park. While I was completely unprepared for the weather, it meant that the we had the place to ourselves and it was nothing short of magical.
4. Whitsunday Islands National Park, Queensland, Australia
Not many places in the world have as much jaw-dropping beauty as the Whitsundays. The collection of islands just off the Queensland coast boast some of the most stunning scenery in the world, with sailing being the best way to experience the national park. The pristine white sand of Whitehaven Beach makes pretty much any photo taken here postcard-worthy and the views from nearby Tongue Point lookout on Whitsunday Island are unlike anywhere else. Swimming and snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters is also a highlight with tropical fish and turtles making frequent appearances. Airlie Beach is the hub from which most sailing trips to the Whitsundays depart. I will never forget the early morning swims, relaxing hours sunbathing on the boat and walking on the finest sand I’ve ever seen, while an army of blue soldier crabs created elaborate formations just a few steps away.
5. Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia.
This beautiful corner of Malaysian Borneo is only reachable by boat yet accessible enough to be a popular daytrip destination from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Bako is full of hiking trails through its diverse ecosystems and is home to endangered proboscis monkeys that are endemic to Borneo. Walk through the mangrove forest, spotting crabs and fish in the shallows and look out for birds nesting on sides of sheer cliffs. I would recommend staying the night and starting early to explore the trails, beaches and streams of this national park before the daytrippers descend. Accommodation is quite basic but cheap and the communal area allows you to meet other travellers and grab traditional Malaysian food.
What do you think? Have you been to any of these National Parks? What are your favourites? Drop me a line!