Last weekend I was in Wyoming, exploring the town of Cody, a charming little community near the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It was here in Cody that I found out that Yellowstone was the first national park in the world, established in 1872. Today, over half of the world’s countries now have designated national parks, a fact that makes me smile – with our rush to build and consume, it is comforting to know that at least some territories have been protected as outdoor space. If you haven’t been to a National Park, you should – there’s probably one within a day’s drive of you – Europe has almost 400 national parks. The basic premise is that a governmental agency, or in some countries a non-profit commission or board, looks after the park with the specific purpose of keeping it in as pristine condition as possible, while encouraging proper use – tourism being the most obvious draw, but in some parks hunting or green energy technologies are other issues to be dealt with.
Here are some national parks you might want to think about visiting on your next trip.
Why not start with the first, and perhaps most famous, of all the world’s national parks? Yellowstone is geyser country, and some say the entire park might blow some day. For now, though, it’s worth the trip to explore the many waterfalls, multi-colour ponds, jagged mountain peaks, and wonderfully lush forests. Most of Yellowstone is in the state of Wyoming, bordered by portions in Idaho and Montana as well.
You’ll want your warmest jumper for this trip, but the sights are well worth it – the Northeast Greenland National Park is the largest national park in the world. As the name implies, it is in the northeast section of Greenland, so it’s about as far north as you can get. Much of Greenland is countryside, but in this park expect to see massive fjords lined with snowdrifts higher than major cruiseliners, thousands of wild animals roaming free, and unspoilt landscapes for miles. It’s uninhabited by humans, so make sure you take a guide to get you home safe.
Kruger is a well known game preserve and one of the largest parks in South Africa. The park is home to some beautiful local vegetation, as well as many indigenous animals, such as lions, leopards, and elephants. There are several lodges in the park so you can spend a few days exploring.
If a staycation (*gasp*) is on the cards and you’re interested perhaps in a walking holiday here in the UK, then why not check out South Downs National Park, the newest national park in England? The highlight, shown above, is of the Seven Sisters, perhaps the prettiest chalk cliffs on the south shore. The park runs for nearly 90 miles and includes other beautiful stretches like Beachy Head,and runs fairly close to gateway towns such as Brighton, Winchester, and Seaford.
You might think of industrialism when you think of China (amongst other things), but did you know the country has over 200 national parks? Huangshan was one of the earlier ones designated, and is a huge tourist destination. The park is legendary in Chinese history – it’s inspired paintings, poems, stories, and photography. Because of the park’s amazing peaks, mountains, and ancient trees, it is an UNESCO world heritage site.
If you’ve been to Switzerland at all, or seen the pictures, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the entire country is one big National Park – as one of Europe’s most mountainous, land-locked countries, much of the landscape is difficult to traverse in the first place. But there is only one national park in the country, one of the first in Europe – it’s in the east of Switzerland, and the rules for leaving the road or disturbing anything in the park are very strict – dogs aren’t even allowed in the park. But pristine nature? Absolutely.
Sweden has a large concentration of national parks and was one of the first European countries to really get on board with the concept – and Söderåsen is perhaps one of the prettiest. It’s home to some of the richest and oldest forest on the continent, and the park is a hiking/biking/walking paradise. Because of a series of very steep ravines, you can also find some spectacular viewpoints.
As many of you know, New Zealand is one of my favourite countries in the world. While nearly all of the country is an outdoor playground for adults, there are a handful of national park systems, which interconnect with trail networks all run by the brilliant Department of Conservation. It’s hard to choose a fave, but I’ll cast my vote for the Able Tasman National Park, which offers the wonderful coastal trail, which even light walkers can manage to do in sections with the water taxis and kayaking options to help you get around in the otherwise road-less park.
Last but not least is a shout out to our South American friends and the gorgeous Torres del Paine National Park. This park is located in the Chile section of Patagonia, the tip of the world as far as the South American continent is concerned. It’s home to some of the most photographed glaciers, lakes, and jagged peaks in the world – it might be a long way to get to this park, but it’s certainly going to feel worth it when you get here.
Posted : Friday, February 25th, 2011 at 11:00
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.