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Into the wild

Celebrate the USA National Parks Service Centenary

Clive Wedderburn June 30, 2016

Pull on your hiking boots and hit the trail to celebrate the USA National Parks 100th Birthday.  This centennial anniversary is your invitation to explore epic mountain ranges, multi-coloured canyons and forests the size of small European countries. The National Parks will combine perfectly with a city break to Los Angeles, San Francisco or Las Vegas to create a multicentre holiday that’s the best of both worlds. All hail the great outdoors.

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee - THE GREAT SMOKIES

Tennessee, the state that has music in its soul in Nashville and Memphis has another ace up its sleeve; the Great Smoky Mountains - America’s most visited national park. With 84 miles of scenic roads winding through misty forests renowned for diversity of animal and plant life, expect to see white-tailed deer and black bear, coyotes, and raccoons.

Not only are the Great Smokies the ancient homeland of the Cherokee Indians, but you’ll also encounter Southern Appalachian mountain culture and historic clapboard homes and churches. Picnic in Deep Creek or Metcalf Bottom or get on your bike and peddle the 11 miles of Cades Cove Loop.  

Everglades, Florida - AMERICA’S SUBTROPICAL TREASURE

Spanning over 1.5 million acres of subtropical preserve, the Florida Everglades is a national treasure that is a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. The Everglades are home to rare animal species including the American alligator and the West Indian manatee, plus leatherback turtles and pink flamingos. Canoe through coastal mangroves to slow moving streams, rivers and lakes and discover a diverse array of habitats containing protected plant species such as bromeliads and orchids.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island - PLANET HEARTBEAT

Volcanoes are the heartbeat of the planet, ruptures in the Earth’s crust that eventually form landscapes of immense natural beauty and biodiversity. Perfect examples of this phenomenon can be seen at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on Big Island, where two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, are still busy creating these paradise islands.

Stand at the edge of Kilauea's Crater Rim and you’ll appreciate how the continuous lava flows are an essential building block of life for countless species of flora and fauna. After 70 million years of volcanism they show no signs of slowing down and will light up any holiday to Hawai’i.  

California National Parks - LAND OF THE GIANTS

If there was a competition to find an iconic image of the national parks in America, the giant redwood tree would be a serious contender. The sequoia trees and their prehistoric forest environments are endearing symbols of wilderness adventures in the USA. In California you can discover these ancient wonders, along with plus ancient oak and wild river ways, at the Redwood National Park.

Meanwhile, at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks you’ll also encounter miles of hiking trails through deep canyons revealing vast caverns. For luxury, stay at Tenaya Lodge when you visit Yosemite. The National Park, first protected in 1864 is also home to the sequoia; there are cascading waterfalls, sweeping meadows, glaciers and the wide vistas of the High Sierra to behold. To get around hop on one of Yosemite’s free shuttle buses.

Utah's Mighty 5 - ROCK BANDS OF UTAH

Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks is nature showing off, experimenting with form, colour, water and extremes of temperature. Rock strata has been carved into colour-coded bands by aeons of water flow, sculpted into natural masterpieces such as the crimson coloured hoodoo’s of Bryce Canyon or the spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone found in Canyonlands, or the 2,000 stone arches at Arches National Park that challenge the law of gravity. Just 15 miles from the park, stay at Red Cliffs Lodge for scenic views and traditional American cuisine.  

Zion National Park (‘The Heavenly City’) is Utah’s oldest, a crosshatch of striking topography and canyon-studded scenery. Visit the Emerald Pools or take part in a ranger led program to enhance your understanding of the environment. With evocative names for the landscape, such as Chimney Rock or Gooseneck, explore Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park, the result of 70 million years of shifting plates (local legend states that the Devil dragged his pitchfork on his way to Las Vegas). Utah’s National Parks are also full of Indian cave settlements and rock shelters dating back thousands of years.  

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park - THE OLD FAITHFUL

America’s first national park, Yellowstone was created in 1872, spanning Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. The easiest way to get around is by car but there are bus tours throughout the park’s 2.2 million acres, 80% of which is forest. It has four separate mountain ranges, 290 waterfalls and 60 species of mammal including gray wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, bison, and elk and over 300 species of birds. This pristine wilderness sits on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, a sleeping super volcano.

The world’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful, erupts every 90 minutes but is only one of 300 geysers to be discovered in this amazing wilderness, where you’ll also find the largest hot spring in North America - the Grand Prismatic Spring. Rent a rowboat or outboard and explore Lewis Lake or discover the park’s own Grand Canyon, 20 miles long and 500 metres deep or combine Yellowstone with Grand Teton National Park, also in Wyoming, for blue and white glaciers and rafting and swimming among valleys and sparkling mountain lakes. Join a ranger program for talks and night sky observation. 

Visit our USA pages for more inspiration on  the great outdoors of the USA