10 of the World's Most Stunning National Parks
Some of the world's most beautiful places are in national parks you've probably never heard of. Here are 10 of the most stunning from around the globe.
Photo By: Haukur Sigurdsson | Visit Westfjords
Photo By: William Yu Photography
Photo By: Linde Waidhofer ©Tompkins Conservation
Photo By: Peter Zelei Images
Photo By: Visit Wales ©© Crown copyright 2018 (Visit Wales)
Photo By: Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey
Photo By: Travel Alberta
Photo By: Kanenori
Photo By: Kelly Cheng
Photo By: NPS
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, Iceland
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is one of Iceland's best-kept secrets. Ring Road travelers typically don’t venture up to the country's Westfjords, so you’ll find far more solitude here than you would at any of the more-frequented Golden Circle spots. Keep an eye out for arctic foxes, which dart along the trail in front of you, and bring a rain jacket, as there's a reason it's so green here.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park was China’s first, established in the early 80s. If something about this otherworldly place seems familiar, it’s probably because these jagged stone pillars were the inspiration for the floating mountains in Avatar. Zhangjiajie has three glass skywalks—including the longest and highest glass bridge in the world—so steel your nerves for a dizzying yet spectacular view down into the forest.
Patagonia National Park, Chile
Parque Nacional Patagonia in Chile is one of the world’s newest national parks. Previously, it was private land held by Tompkins Conservation, an organization started by the late Doug Tompkins, founder of The North Face, and his wife, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, former CEO of the apparel company Patagonia. In late January, the organization signed a declaration with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to sign over 1 million acres of private land and 9 million acres of public land to create five new national parks and expand three others.
Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Triglav National Park, in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, was designated in 1924 and is one of Europe’s oldest and largest national parks. It’s also Slovenia’s only one. It’s named for Mt. Triglav, which at 9,300 feet tall is the highest mountain in Slovenia. Be sure to visit the nearby Lake Bled, too, iconic for the Gothic church that covers the lake’s small island.
Snowdonia National Park, Wales
The jagged cliffs of Snowdonia are exceptionally green and so are the forests, with enchanting tree canopies and moss-covered rocks that give you the feeling you might see Robin Hood pop around the corner at any minute. For epic views of the surrounding mountains, hike Cwm Idwal. For a real challenge, hike among the clouds by climbing Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales and England at nearly 12,000 feet.
Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, Turkey
Incredible rock formations dot the Goreme National Park and Rock Sites of Cappadocia in Turkey, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cave dwellings, underground cities, and more than 200 stone churches. Here, you’ll find evidence of inhabitants dating back to at least the fourth century. Take it in from the sky by hopping in a colorful hot air balloon at sunrise.
Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada
You’ve no doubt heard of Banff, perhaps Canada’s most famous national park. Waterton Lakes National Park, to the south, was established just a few years later, in 1895, making it one of the world's oldest. It's next-door neighbors with Glacier National Park in Montana, and together, the two parks formed Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in 1932, the first such park in the world. The park suffered damage from a wildfire in late 2017 but is now starting to reopen to the public. Keep an eye out for wildlife; you might spot black bears, bison, bighorn sheep, elk and deer here.
Chubu Sangaku National Park, Japan
At Chubu Sangaku National Park, in central Japan, you’ll find vivid autumn colors and hot springs in the shadow of the Northern Japan Alps, the country’s tallest mountain range. You can’t drive into the park on your own, but you can take public transportation right to Kamikochi, the park’s hiking resort, and ogle the mountains the whole way. Even better, you can gawk at the scenery from the hot springs at Okuhida.
Taroko National Park, Taiwan
Taroko National Park is named for the 12-mile Taroko Gorge, which is 1,000 feet tall and barely 30 to 40 feet wide at some of its narrowest sections. If heights thrill you, hike the Zhuilu Old Trail, which winds around a cliff hundreds of feet above the valley floor, with no guardrail. Plan ahead, as you need a permit to tackle this trail. Throughout the park, keep your eyes peeled for Formosan Macaques, small monkeys native to Taiwan.
National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa
Yes, this island paradise is part of our own National Park Service. And you can have it nearly to yourself: Only about 5,000 people visit each year. If you go, consider planning a homestay through the Park Service, which connects visitors with Samoan families who will welcome you into their homes and teach you about their history and culture.