March 1, 1871—President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, making Yellowstone the first national park in the United States. Preserving a beautiful landscape of geysers, hot springs, meadows, and streams, the environmental movement transformed how nature could be enjoyed by the average citizen. Now, anyone could admire geological wonders and watch wild animals as they ate a picnic, camped, or hiked on nationally protected land. As a result of the initiative to preserve countryside wonders from private ownership, generations of Americans could now enjoy a truly unique and awe-inspiring location.
Since the first national park opened about 150 years ago, America has since opened 62 more nationally protected parks, 154 national forests, and 424 national park sites that span over 84 million acres in an effort to preserve the natural beauty of the country. Each destination offers not only environmental protection for wildlife, geological features, and anthropological history, but also a great vacation location! Down below are four wonderful national parks perfect for camping, hiking, swimming, and enjoying the outdoors that I have personally visited and loved!
- Yellowstone National Park
Possibly one of the most famous national parks in the states, its Reputation is well deserved. Though a little stinky, Yellowstone National Park offers scenic hikes that showcase huge geysers, vibrant hot springs, grand mountainscapes, and incredible wildlife. Spanning 2.2 million acres, the park is massive enough for a long vacation. You could definitely hike or drive in Yellowstone for a week and still have natural wonders to visit. Tourists have the opportunity to spot bears, moose, wolves, bisson, elks, and a large variety of rodents and birds alongside some of the brightest, naturally occurring colors. I would recommend hiking by the Lower Geyser Basin, Roaring Mountain, and Grand Prismatic Spring. If there’s a national park to visit, this would be the one.
- Grand Teton National Park
Just ten miles away from Yellowstone, this national park located in the northern sections of Jackson Hole is just as breathtaking as its neighbor. With over 200 miles of hiking trails and 1,000 drive-in campsites, Grand Teton offers tourists the opportunity to completely immerse themselves in Wyonming’s natural beauty. Accompanying the view of the Teton Mountain Range that spans over 40 miles, the landscape is a perfect opportunity for backcountry camping, hiking, and fishing—the most popular activities done here. Though geared toward the outdoorsy folks, Grand Teton is a park I recommend visiting if also traveling to Yellowstone for its extraordinary views and the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful landscape.
- Badlands National Park
Have you ever wondered what America looked like 100 million years ago? How about 400 million years? Well, in Badlands National Park tourists have the ability to view prehistoric history on an easy hike through breathtaking landscapes of eroded buttes and pinnacles. Surrounded by countless layers of tan, reds, and yellows, fossils are accompanied by signs that are both interesting and informative. Additionally, Badlands National Park also protects the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie. When visiting, you are sure to spot cute prairie dogs and admire the natural beauty of the midwest.
- Dinosaur National Monument
On the border of Colorado and Utah snuggled between the Green and Yampa rivers, Dinosaur National Monument serves as a great pitstop or overnight camping stay. Protected by a large, air-conditioned building, the main attraction of this monument is a massive wall of well preserved dinosaur fossils! Visitors can ask the on-sight expert for dinosaur facts as well as touch bones that are millions of years old. Even if you are not a dino-enthusiast, it is a destination worth stopping for as the monument also protects ancient petroglyphs that are easily accessible even for the beginner hiker. If you decide to stay for more than a couple hours, visitors can additionally enjoy river rafting and camping by the riverbed. Though not a national park, this national monument protects 210,000 acres of beautiful, historical land. Definitely worth the drive!