It could be breathtaking due to the epic scenery and biodiversity, or it could be more literally you out-of-breath panting after a hike up a hill. Hard for us to say…. But either way, it’s worth it. Out there in the world, national parks are huge expansive areas rich with trees, rapids, waterfalls and many have unique species. National parks have been created by governments worldwide to protect and preserve the largest, rarest and most stunning natural environments, their associated wildlife and biodiversity. They’re great for trekking, camping and water sports, but even a simple walk through a National Park abroad will give you an experience that’s rich and memorable.
What better places to add to your travel bucket list than these breathtaking national parks?
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Encompassing the three volcanic islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar in Indonesia, Komodo National Park is inhabited by dragons! Komodo Dragons are among the world’s largest reptiles, dating back over 100 million years. These egg-laying reptiles with their poisonous saliva reach three metres in length and weigh over 70 kilos. The inhospitable islands are subjected to eight months of drought followed by seasonal monsoon rains.
They support a few human settlements along with Timor deer, snakes, horses, water buffaloes, macaques and rats. Beneath the waves it’s a different story. These national park waters, where the Indian and Pacific Oceans merge, are home to one of the world’s richest marine environments.
Yosemite National Park, USA
Yosemite National Park is a land of high peaks, alpine ridges and steep valley meadows – not what most people imagine California is like. Despite the fact that 14,000 pack into Yosemite Village on a sunny summer’s day, solitary walkers enjoying the 800 miles of marked trails in this awe-inspiring 747,956-acre wilderness can still feel they are the only ones left on planet Earth.
Highlights of Yosemite include El Capitan, the largest exposed granite monolith in the world, and Yosemite Falls, which stops flowing in August at the end of the Sierra Nevada snowmelt.
Lake District, UK
The Lake District is home to some of England’s highest peaks, topped by Scafell Pike at 978 metres. Covering 2292 square kilometres, it’s the UK’s largest national park with over 150 peaks and 16 significant lakes. While the height of the mountains (known as fells) may be modest, the stunning natural beauty of these heather-clad peaks, tranquil lakes and chocolate-box villages is hard to surpass.
The area has long inspired artists, writers and poets such as William Wordsworth, but modern-day visitors wax lyrical about the hiking, scenery, boat trips and food.
Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
A worthy bucket-list contender, Sarawak‘s largest national park, Gunung Mulu, covers 544 square kilometres of pristine rainforest, rushing rivers, deep gorges and rugged mountains including Gunung Mulu, the highest at 2376 metres. Built on karst limestone, the national park also protects over 200 kilometres of record-breaking caves.
Deer Cave is the world’s largest cave passage, Sarawak Chamber is the largest cave chamber in the world and Clearwater Cave is the longest cave in Southeast Asia. This is the place for adventure caving, jungle treks and experiencing the world’s longest tree-based canopy walk (480 metres) – but there is a catch. The only access is by air.
Inside the Mulu caves, a likeness of Abraham Lincoln on the rockface
Grand Canyon, USA
Covering 1.2 million acres and stretching 446 fractured kilometres in length, the Grand Canyon is 1.6km deep and up to 29km across. At the bottom lies the deceptively benign Colorado River, a slender green thread which becomes brown and muddy in flood. Visited by five million people every year, there are many ways to experience the Grand Canyon: from the air, on foot, horseback (mule), bicycle, ATV, motor boat, river raft or from the acrophobia-inducing glass-floored Skywalk.
Stay in a hotel near the South Rim to maximise your visit.
Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
Thailand’s first national park, Khao Yai is in Nakhon Ratchasima Province, about three hours by road from Bangkok. The 2168-square-metre park is popular with tourists for daytime wildlife tours and night safaris. Elephants, bears, macaques, gibbons and barking deer are common sights, with the chance to see rare tigers and crocodiles.
Khao Yai is best known for its hornbills and migratory birds during March and April when barbets, woodpeckers, broadbills, Asian fairy-bluebirds, blue-winged leafbirds and pheasants can be seen. The 150-metre Haew Nerok Waterfall is one of the most impressive in Thailand and is reached along a 1km trail.
Border Ranges, Australia
CC 2.0 / Michael Dawes
Straddling the border between New South Wales and southeast Queensland, the Border Ranges National Park is a 78,400-acre protected area within the larger Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. Breathtaking views of the dramatic crater escarpment, Mount Warning, waterfalls and rainforest can be enjoyed from hiking trails and lookouts. Keep your eyes open for koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, possums, bandicoots and colourful parrots.
Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
Tongariro National Park on the North Island includes the snow-capped peaks of three volcanoes – Tongariro, Ruapehu and the still active Ngauruhoe. Easily recognised from the Lord of the Rings, Ruapehu represented Mordor and Ngauruhoe was Mount Doom. Close to Lake Taupo, this volcanic plateau is spiritually significant to the Maori people. Surrounded by alpine meadows, thermal lakes and hot springs, the park attracts around 70,000 hikers in summer who enjoy chairlift rides and hikes to Ruapehu’s crater lake. The ski season runs almost year round for downhill and cross-country skiing, tobogganing and tubing.
Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks, USA
Although created separately, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are now jointly managed, creating a dramatic 865,964-acre home of giants – redwoods that is. At its peak stands Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the US outside Alaska, at 4417 metres.
Giant Sequoias (one of three species of the coniferous redwoods) are found only on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and are estimated to be 2700 years old. Named after famous US heroes including General Sherman, General Grant and (President) Lincoln, these 82-metre-high trees have a massive 30-metre girth.
The best ways to see these bucket-list giants are by hiking, backpacking or driving the scenic byway (SR 180) through this ancient forest.
As you can appreciate, national parks are a great way to find off-the-beaten-path destinations and unique experiences to add to your bucket list. Now all you have to do is get out there and visit them!
Photo credits: Getty Images