Sweeping majesty, untouched wilderness, astounding isolation: phrases like these don’t do justice to the amazing variety of U.S. National Parks. And there’s plenty more to do at these destinations than getting away from it all. So we highlighted four fantastic parks that are beautiful year-round, offer plenty of activities beyond “hiking until sore,” and don’t require a plane ride from the nearest major city. One visit to these natural treasures is all a city slicker needs to become a glamping convert.
This legendary park is home to deservedly famous valleys, 1,500-year-old sequoia trees, and the highest waterfall in the North American continent, Yosemite Falls. There are guided hikes, bird-watching tours, and even photography workshops for those newer to exploring National Parks. The nearest cities are San Francisco and Sacramento, but and if you don’t have wheels, Yosemite is easily reachable by train, and the park’s free shuttle system makes it easy to get around the South Rim.
Coming in at nearly one million acres, the beauty of Olympic National Park is that it contains three distinct ecosystems: subalpine forest and its wildflower meadows, lush temperate forest, and stunning beaches. Almost all of it is untouched by man; in fact, the park is so pristine it’s considered a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. There are plenty of ranger-led programs and events for park first timers, and it’s reachable from nearby Seattle.
Five million people visit this park each year, and it’s easy to see why. Almost any vantage point offers an astonishing view of the Grand Canyon, which plunges through layer after layer of kaleidoscopic rock, exposing nearly two billion years of prehistory. Reachable from Phoenix, Flagstaff, or even Las Vegas, the park has plenty of accommodation options, and activities range from guided hikes and mule rides to white water rafting. Believe the hype.
This isn’t your typical national park. Less than a two-hour boat ride from Los Angeles, the Channel Islands lie just 11 miles off the southern California coast, where five beautifully preserved islands await. Bird watching, whale watching, fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling comprise just a small slice of the all-terrain activities available. Can’t bear to leave after just one day? There are plenty of great hotels in nearby Ventura. Why not stay awhile?