The Most Astounding National Parks Around the Globe
You don’t need us to tell you that our planet is home to some truly astounding places. And yet, we do—again and again. We can’t help ourselves. From the historical and cultural sights to the straight-up eye candy, there are countless astounding travel destinations to see. Enter the world’s national parks. From a forest in China that inspired the mythical world of Avatar to alpine lakes the color of milky aquamarine, these destinations will have you itching to get out and see the world. Scroll on.
Belonging to the Canadian Rocky Mountain network of parks, and the oldest among them, Banff is pure scenic splendor. Glaciers, ice fields, dense forest, and gorgeous alpine landscape are on offer—not to mention Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, which boast incredible opaque turquoise waters thanks to glacial runoff.
As might be assumed from its name, numerous fjords—long, narrow, deep inlets of the sea between high cliffs—the most famous of which is Milford Sound, characterize Fiordland National Park. These landscapes create stunning panoramas of the earth rising and falling along the horizon. The mountains, valleys, and dense rainforest of the park have also led to relative isolation for its animal and plantlife—numerous species are known to exist here and nowhere else!
Home to the only (mysteriously) expanding glacier on the planet, Perito Moreno (its surface area is larger than Buenos Aires!), Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina’s Patagonian region is among the most singular sights in the world. Trekkers and alpine climbers pilgrimage to behold the milky-blue hue and jagged edges of the glaciers, and to witness their thunderous fall into the lake waters below.
One of the first natural locations to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage register, this network for 16 vibrant lakes and cascading waterfalls is surrounded dense foothills. Exploring the region, either by boat or by way of the wooden footbridges meandering throughout, promises to provide some serious Kodak moments.
Comprising a series of sights dotting the Yamanashi, Shizuoka, and Kanagawa Prefectures and western Tokyo Metropolis, this park includes Mount Fuji, Fuji Five Lakes, Hakone, and more—natural hot springs, coastlines, lakes, and volcanic islands. The Fuji Shibazakura Festival, pictured, which occurs from mid-April through June, attracts more than nine million visitors a year.
If abundant wildlife is your bag, Kruger is among the best places to visit. It wouldn’t be unordinary to spot the five big game—lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhinoceroses, and even leopards—plus lots more while exploring the vast network of roads (137 species of mammals and more than 500 varieties of bird call Kruger home).
A 50-mile boat trip along the Lijiang River from Guilin to Yangshuo will reveal this national park’s unique geology of karsts, sheer limestone peaks with names like Dragon Head and Five Fingers. Summer travel promises misty peak views, and should make clear why this region has been immortalized by countless classical Chinese ink paintings.
Portugal’s Peneda-Gerês Park has a long history of habitation—both human and otherwise! Home to a breed of ancient, now-endangered Garrano ponies, believed to have been roaming free since the Paleolithic period (yes, really!), the park—located in northern Portugal along the Spanish border—boasts third-century stone tombs, Celtic ramparts, and castles dating back to the 10th and 12th centuries.
Namibia’s largest nature reserve, the Namib-Naukluft National Park offers some of the most striking desert landscapes on the planet, plus great wildlife. Picture enormous apricot-hued dunes with sloping curves set against a cerulean-blue sky. The surreal Deadvlei region is home to the skeletons of trees more than 500 years old.
Darting almost a mile into the skies are the granite crests of Torres del Paine, which give this Chilean region of Patagonia its name. Known for dynamic microclimates and bodies of water the color of Day-Glo aqua, this national park is adored by travelers for its mix of rugged nature and domesticated comforts—the park has lodging and impressive amenities for days.
Spanning nearly 3500 square miles, Yellowstone—primarily situated in Wyoming but reaching into Montana and Idaho—is among America’s most beloved national parks. It’s easy to understand why! Situated atop an active volcanic hot spot, Yellowstone is bursting (erm, quite literally!) with natural wonders: geysers, hot springs, as well as mountain ranges, rivers, and roaming packs of elk, antelope, bison, and more.
There is arguably no region more symbolic of “classical” African wilderness than the more than three and a half million miles composing the Serengeti plains in Tanzania. You know the image: giraffes grazing beneath low-hanging acacia trees against a saffron-hued sunset. Host to the annual migrations of millions of wildebeest, gazelles, antelope, and zebra, Serengeti National Park is home to some of the most awe-inspiring animal kingdom events on the planet.
The otherworldly landscape of the Zhangjiajie National Forest’s vertically jutting, pillar-like formations of quartz sandstone is said to have inspired the mythical setting of Pandora in James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster, Avatar. Hiking trails, streams, and paved pathways make for easy exploration of the extraordinary land.
Have you been to any of these or other spectacular national parks? Tell us in the comments!