Just 1½ hours’ drive north of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park’s claim to fame is its 72 named peaks which stand higher than 12,000 feet tall, the park justifiably tagged the ‘roof of the world.’
The gorgeous alpine scenery is the habitat for wildlife such as moose, bighorn sheep, and elk, any of which you may see as you travel through the park, and although you are far less likely to spot black bear, mountain lions, or bobcats, they also have their home in the magnificent Rocky Mountains.
The world’s first national park, Yellowstone flaunts more than 10,000 thermal features, these including mud pots, hot springs, fumaroles and, of course, geysers. Iconic Old Faithful is the most famous landmark, a cone geyser that doesn’t live up to its ‘faithful’ billing; spouting every 35 to 120 minutes.
The magnificent V-shaped Canyon of the Yellowstone; the grandiose peaks of the Rockies; Yellowstone Lake, and vast forests, including one of the world’s largest petrified forests, add up to Yellowstone’s singular majesty, all inhabited by the largest concentration of mammals in the continental USA.
Utah is a State rich in natural beauty, and offers five of the world’s most spectacular National Parks. Nowhere will you find a greater array of natural sandstone arches than in Arches National Park, where 2,000 geologic formations have formed the backdrop in many Hollywood movies. Zion, the State’s first national park, showcases orangey-red rock walls, slot canyons and hanging valleys towering more than 2,000 feet above the Zion Canyon. Bryce Canyon’s unique landscape is filled with hundreds of tall crimson-coloured hoodoos, shire-shaped rock formations caused by erosion. The Colorado and Green rivers are the culprits for the erosion caused to Canyonlands, leaving in their wake a stunning desert landscape. Then there’s Capitol Reef, containing the Waterpocket Fold, an alteration in the earth’s crust which took place 65 million years ago and left the largest exposed monocline in America.
If you love the cactus plant, Saguaro National Park is the place to visit. Dubbed the ‘Desert Monarch’, the saguaro cactus reaches great heights, some standing at 50-feet high, and many lasting up to 200 years. The park comprises two areas, the Tucson Mountain District, to the west of Tucson, being the hotter and drier, whilst 30 miles to the east, the Rincon Mountain District is higher and enjoys a slightly wetter environment and is where, if you’re lucky, you may spot a kudamundi, an elusive member of the raccoon family.
One of the first of its kind in the United States, Yosemite sparkles as a crown jewel of the national parks, showcasing not just stunning glacier carvings but also North America’s highest waterfall, Yosemite Falls, and the world’s tallest uninterrupted granite monolith of El Capitan. Tioga Pass Road takes you into Yosemite’s high country, including beautiful Tuolumne Meadows, where hiking is almost mandatory and a short walk to the top of Pothole Dome is highly recommended. Glacier Point Road leads to perhaps the most spectacular vista in any national park, looking down on Yosemite Valley from 3,200 feet, whilst out towards the southern entrance, Wawona provides the starting point for the famous Mariposa Grove of sky-scraping sequoias.
Arguably the world’s most famous national park, Grand Canyon gorge measures a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide, and presents a vast panorama as you stand on its edge, peering down to the mighty Colorado River as it carves its way through the rocks below. Most visitors tend to stay along the popular South Rim, but other options include hiking the flat, paved Rim Trail or the more challenging classic 9-mile Bright Angel Trail, spending time at the quieter pine-forested North Rim, or even hopping on board a raft to admire the canyon from the bottom up, where a night camping along the riverbank under the dark, starry skies will be an experience you will never forget.