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20 Best National Parks in the World- The Famous, The uderrated and the Hidden Gems

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The concept of national parks isn’t exactly a new thing. The first, Yellowstone National Park,

was established 150 years ago. Since then numerous national parks have been established all

across the globe with the aim of varying degrees of protection. It is estimated that there are

more than 4,000 national parks in the world many of which are also listed as UNESCO World

Heritage Sites.Combining our first hand experiences as well as deep research and local connections we have

come up with the list of 20 best national parks in the world, spanning across 5 continents.

 

National Parks in North America

 

Yosemite National Park the birthplace of the idea of national parks

 

yosemite national park,

 

This is where the idea of national parks came to life. On June 30, 1864, then President

Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act which gave the jurisdiction of Yosemite

Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Groove to the state of California. At that time the news was

overshadowed by the American Civil War, but this act would go on to become the founding

base for the formation of the National Park Service. Hence, it is here in the Sierra Nevada,

thanks to the popular and passionate writings of American environmentalist John Muir, that the

concept of National Parks came to life.

Yosemite is neither the biggest national park in the US nor the first. However, these 1,187 sq.

miles of unparalleled beauty, wilderness, and sheer diversity in scenic landscapes have been

pulling millions (2.27 million in 2020 and 3.3 million in 2021) of people each year. Located in

California, the Sierra National Forest and the Stanislaus National Forest surround Yosemite and

form an important link in the Sierra Nevada ecosystem. Owing to its importance to the

ecosystem, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and is definitely one of the

best national parks in the US

 

horsetail waterfall,
Photo: In mid to late February, the Horsetail Waterfall in Yosemite National Park, is illuminated by the
sun’s slanting rays in such a way that the whole waterfall looks like a giant stream of fire giving it the
name: Yosemite Firefall.

 

The 8 sq. mile of Yosemite Valley includes two of the very famous landmarks: Half Dome and

El Capitan along with many other frequently trailed hiking paths. The Yosemite Falls Trail is a

wonderful way to explore one of the tallest waterfalls in the world: the Yosemite Fall which

stands staggeringly at 2,425 feet. One of the most famous national parks in the world among

climbers, Yosemite is also one of the few places in the US where you can see a moon-bow i.e

a rainbow at night.

 

Banff National Park – one of the most luxurious national parks in the world.

 

banff national park

 

Located in the Rocky Mountains in Southwestern Alberta, Banff National Park is the oldest

national park in Canada. One of the best national parks in the continent, it was also included in

our “ Seven Wonders of the World” list and is just more than your average national park. It is a

complete holiday destination for families and also for people looking for an unfiltered face-to-

face with jaw-dropping Canadian natural beauty.

Summer or winter, millions of tourists flock to the picturesque town of Banff which lies at the

southern end of the national park. A gondola ride to Sulphur Mountain will reward you with

several locations to get stunning views of the entire valley below. However, the most

photographed and most famous spot in the national park is Lake Louise whose turquoise

waters mirror the 3,469 meters of Mount Victoria.

There are several hike trails here with views that you will not get anywhere else in the world.

For people, especially with families, who don’t find long hiking into the woods feasible, the

Icefields Parkway provides with once in a lifetime road trip between the northern part of Banff

National Park and the southern end of Jasper National Park. The Chateau Lake Louise and

Banff Springs Hotel combine luxury with natural views that very few if any, five-star hotels canprovide anywhere across the globe making it one of the poshest national parks in the whole

world.

 

Basaseachic Falls National Park – one of the best off the beaten path national parks in North America.

 

casacada basaseachic national park,
Photo: Casacada Basaseachic after which the national park is named.

In the heart of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range in the state of Chihuahua lies one

of the most dramatic national parks in Mexico: the Basaseachic National Park. When I visited it

in 2017, as a student of geology, I was absolutely struck on the face by how violent the

topography was. Violent in a sense that the deep canyons which are four times the size of

Grand Canyon, is lined with incredibly unyielding rocky mountains, a result of some powerful

tectonic movements thousands of years ago.

The Cascada de Basaseachic or the Basaseachic waterfall is the focal point of and pulls

numerous tourists and hikers looking for something off the beaten path. Technically this

waterfall located in the Candemeña Canyon is Mexico’s second highest waterfall as Piedra

Viola is taller. However, the Piedra Viola doesn’t flow all year round making the Basaseachic

falls the center of attraction. Apart from the Basaseachic waterfall, it is a haven for hikers who are fed up with touristy spots in

the name of national parks. It is difficult to get to and the views from the summit of the rifts,

overlooking the thick pine-oak forests and sheer sided cliffs are sure to please the most

hardcore of hikers. Wildlife enthusiast can enjoy sights of cougar, white tailed deer, Mexican

fox squirrel, varieties of birds like jays, canyon towhee, mourning dove, along with the 162

varieties of flora.

 

Glacier National Park – visually one of the most stunning national parks in the US

 

national parks
Photo: The Going-to-the-sun road in Glacier National Park is one of the most scenic roadways in the
world.

 

The Glacier National Park is nick-named “Crown of the Continent” and it couldn’t have been

more aptly named. Situated in northwestern Montana, the Glacier, and Waterton Lakes

National Parks form the world’s first “peace national park”. In my personal opinion, this is one

of the most visually stunning national parks in the US.

The chief attractions include 50 miles of the Going-to-the-sun road which is one of the most

scenic roadways in the whole world. Old forests of hemlock and cedar in the Avalanche Creek,

the hairpin turn on the road called as the Loop, the Weeping Wall, and the Logan Pass aremajor attractions that are near the scenic roadway. Highline Trail as well as the Loop Trail are

also wildly popular among hiking enthusiasts.

National Parks in Europe

Jotunheimen National Parkone of the best national parks in Norway for hiking and mountaineering.

 

national parks
Photo: The Besseggen Ridge in the Jotunheimen National Park.

Thanks to the comic books, movies and video games like God of War, the word Jotunheimen

isn’t unheard among the general population. Referring to “the Home of Giants”, the

Jotunheimen covers an area of 444 sq miles and is one of the best national parks in Southern

Norway. Mountaineering, hiking and photography enthusiasts flock to here for it’s wide variety

and frankly, wide number of natural landmarks like glaciers, mountains, and hiking trails.There are 250 mountains taller than 2,000 meters in Jotunheimen National Park making it the

most densely concentrated mountainous area in Northern Europe. It is one of the most popular

national parks among hikers and mountaineering geeks and the Besseggen Ridge hike trail

with the unparalleled views of Gjende and Bessvath lakes is very popular. Apart from hiking,

this Norwegian national park has activities like cross-country and alpine skiing, climbing, horse

back riding, and rafting in the wild waves of the river Sjoa for adrenaline junkies.

Belluno Dolomites National Park– one of the most peaceful national parks in Italy

 

dolomites national park
Photo: The Schiara peak in the Belluno Dolomites National Park.

 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Italy’s massive tourism industry didn’t just add a lot of

money in the economy but also posed a huge risk to the natural ecosystem of this beautiful

nation. Keeping exactly that in mind, the Belluno Dolomites is one of those national parks that

were created to protect the rare flora, fauna, germ ecosystem of the region from the explosion

of winter sports infrastructures like ski lifts and hotels. In a region like Northern Italy that is

packed to the brim with tourists the untamed, vivid natural landscape is one of the best

national parks in the region to get away from the crowds.

The Belluno Dolomites contains 6 mountain ranges out of which the Schiara is the most

famous and the highest while Piz di Mezzodi is the most prominent. The Dolomites, which

outspan the borders of this national park are the chief attraction. However, a distinct lack of

resorts, hotels or ski resorts but abundance of streams running into deep gorges, springs,

picturesque pastures, meadows, many species of animals, more than 1,400 species of plants,

and picturesque hiking trails with all levels of difficulties make this one of the best national

parks for people wanting to be away from touristy places.

Rila National Park – one of the most underrated national parks in Europe

 

rila national park,
Photo: Crocus bloom at the Rila National Park

 

Barely a 90 minute drive south from the capital city of Sofia, lies Bulgaria’s biggest National

Park: Rila. Although not the top name in most peoples’ travel list, Bulgaria’s Rila National Park

offers a variety of activities and sights to see from the UNESCO World Heritage Site Rila

Monastery to the Seven Rila Lakes hike. After watching wild horses under the alpine trees, you

can spend the night in one of several huts inside the premises of the national park and soak in

one of the hottest mineral springs in Europe in Sapareva Banya. The Rila is undoubtedly one of

the most underrated national parks in Europe.

 

Peneda-Gerês National Park – one of those national parks that offer you everything.

 

peneda-geres

 

Known as simply Gerês, this is Portugal’s only national park. But unlike other national parks

included in this list until now, the Peneda-Gerês has deep, as deep as 6000 BC, roots tohistory of mankind and various empires. Around an hour drive from Porto, this national park is

a mixture of villages, rare animals, and incredible natural beauty.

I know my internal bias is working but the terraced farmlands here reminds me of national

parks in South East Asia and China. However there is a distinct presence of Roman empire

with the roads, bridges and milestone markers. There are even tombs that date as early as

6000 BC here.

There is no lack of beautiful flora and fauna here. The Serra do Gerês iris is found nowhere else

except in this national park while extremely rare animals like the Iberian wolf can be spotted by

lucky visitors making it one of the best national parks in the world to see rare wildlife. Hiking

trails around scenic lakes surrounded by gorse and heather grasslands feel like they came

straight out of a postcard.

 

National Parks in Asia

 

Chitwan National Park – one of the best national parks in the world to see the consequences of conservation efforts

 

national parks
Photo: The One Horned Asiatic rhino made a spectacular comeback from the brink of extinction thanks to the massive conservative efforts in Chitwan National Park

 

We have included Nepal’s Makalu Barun in our 7 must visit places in the world. However, for

this list of 20 best national parks, we travel to this Himalayan nation for its most famous one:the Chitwan National Park. It is home to a wide array of wildlife including the majestic Bengal

Tiger but the crown jewel is the Greater One Horned Asiatic rhino and the remarkable

conservation efforts that have brought back the species from the brink of extinction.

The tributaries of the rivers Narayani and Rapti separate this area from local human habitat and

also offer boat rides where you can catch large crocodiles, starred tortoise, white throated

Kingfisher and if you are lucky the now rare gharials. An estimated 656 One Horned Asiatic

Rhinos live here whose numbers were once dwindling due to poaching for their hide, hooves

and horn (37 rhinos were killed in 2002 alone). Chital stag, leopards, antelopes, Bengal Tiger

are the most famous among 68 mammal species here and it is also one of the prime national

parks in Nepal for bird watchers and conservationists.

 

Guilin Lijiang River National Park – one of China’s most famous national parks and diplomatic sites

guilin lijian river

 

Etched in the Chinese 20 Yuan Note, the scenery of the Guilin Lijiang is what I can only

describe as magical. The hills rise erratically from the ground as if they were scales on the back

of a giant dragon, the river Li Jiang, swerves around the fields, limestone karst hills, caves

making you feel like you are a mere visitor in some mystical land. Located between the bustling

cities of Yangshuo and Guilin, one of China’s most famous national parks has also been host

to several American Presidents on their visits to China.

 

Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks – Two of India’s most hidden national parks.

 

nanda devi national park

 

India is a storied land but much of the attractions are based around the cuisine, the culture, the

landmarks in North and South India. High up in Western mountainous region lie two of the

most underrated national parks in India: The Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks. I

know, it’s a bit of cheating including two national parks in one spot but they are so near to

each other that you couldn’t and wouldn’t want to visit just one.

These two national parks are a part of a larger biosphere reserve in the Chamoli district of

Uttarakhand in North Western India. As the name suggests the national parks are carpeted

with more than 498 species of flowering plants along with sub alpine forests of birch and

rhododendron which on a nice day with the sun shining down makes it feel like fragment of

what paradise would be like. During sunsets, the tip of India’s second tallest mountain, Nanda

Devi glows bright orange adding to the already scenic beauty of these national parks.

Apart from the mountain, forest covered hills, and the carpet of mesmerizing flowers, these

national parks offer you something that can be hard to find in India: a sense of being away

from the crowd as it hasn’t been heavily capitalized into a tourist attraction. Consequently

these are absolutely prime places to catch a glimpse of usually shy animals like the snow

leopard, bharal or the blue sheep, Asiatic Black bear, red fox and 114 species of birds. One

thing to be kept in mind is that these national parks open only during summer from June to

October as the winter makes it absolutely unvisitable.

 

Nikkō National Park – one of the best national parks in Japan to see the autumn colors.

 

national parks
Photo: The Toshogu Shrine is one of the most lavish shrines in Japan and lies in the Nikkō National Park.

 

In just a 3 hours 20 minutes drive from Tokyo, lies one of those Japanese national parks which

offers visitors absolutely everything they could have imagined and then some. Visitors can see

Japan’s highest swamp, the Kinu-numa swamp, hike on trails that start at the hot spring Nikkō

Yumoto Onsen, climb on trails on Mt. Nikkō-Shirane, visit hundreds of shrines including the

richly adorned Toshogu shrine, and the post card worthy Kirifuri plateau covered with day lilies.

However, my reason for why the Nikkō National Park is one of the best national parks in the

world is because it comes alive in autumn when the orange, yellow leaves, and bright red

leaves mixed with green leaves capturing the essence of what the Japanese call as Koyo and Momiji.

National Parks in Africa

 

Chobe National Park- one of the best national parks in Africa to see elephants.

 

national parks
Photo: Boat cruise on the river Chobe is the best way to see the wildlife in Chobe National Park.

 

Usually, national parks are quite separated and exclusive areas and you only feel the presence

when you are deep into the area. However, when you get to the town of Kasane near Africa’s

Four Corners, you can see the wildlife from the Chobe National Park spilling all over its borders.

Located in Northwestern Botswana, this 11,700 sq. km protected area is one of the most

diverse and exciting national parks in all of Africa.

The Northeastern border of the national park, is lined by the Chobe river which attracts large

numbers of animals including elephants, giraffe, African Buffalo, and a variety of birds. Luckily

for you, boat cruises provide the best views of these animals by the riverside. The unique and

curious Savuti Marsh in the west of the national park is where the white southern rhinos, prides

of lions, hyenas, zebras frequent during rainy season while Linyanti Marsh is home to rare

mammals like red lechwe, marshbuck, hippos, African wild dogs and Nile crocodiles. The

central attraction in the Chobe National Park, however, is the presence of around 50,000

African Elephants.

South Luangwa National Park – one of the best national parks for walking and night safaris.

 

south luangwa park
Photo: The concept of walking safari was first introduced in the South Luangwa National Park.

 

The South Luangwa National Park is one of three national parks in the valley of the Luangwa

River. But, as the river winds through the center of its area creating ox-bow lakes and lagoons,

the life in the form of animals, plants, birds, insects just explodes into every square inch of the

place. In fact, the South Luangwa National Park is one of the most densely populated as well

as diverse stretches of national parks in all of Africa when it comes to wildlife.

I cannot tell you about South Luangwa National Park and not talk about walking safaris. Many

national parks have now a days incorporated walking safari for the daring visitors but the

tradition was born here. These safaris (where the visitors are guarded by armed guards and

experienced guides) take you as close to the real wilderness as possible without you being theprey. If you don’t like the sound of it then, the next most adventurous thing to do would be to take a night safari.

Volcanoes National Park – one of the best national parks in Africa to see the majestic mountain gorilla.

 

national parks

 

We have seen elephants, giraffes, lions, and African buffaloes in this list of best national parks

in Africa. After all, these are stable features of the ecosystem here in Africa. However, the

Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is home to a different but equally majestic, terrifying, and

incredible animal: the mountain gorilla. One of the smallest national parks in the list, its name

comes from the presence of volcanoes inside its area.

As compared to other national parks, it’s quite small is size at 62 sq. miles. But the flora

consisting mostly of rain forest due to high altitudinal range is home to the massive mountain

gorilla, golden monkey, spotted hyenas, and 200 species of birds some of which are endemic

to this area. The national park lies in the Virunga mountains and also contains 5 out of 8 volcanoes in the mountain range, almost all of which are dormant.

Table Mountain National Park – one of the best national parks for people searching for adventure and laid-back vibes.

 

national parks

 

Look I get it, not everyone has to be a huge fan of wildlife and intricate ecosystems and forests

and what not. You can want to be away from the hustle and bustle of big cities and their

arduous daily lives, do something adventurous and exciting without poking your nose in the

lives of Africa’s wildlife. Table Mountain is one of the most exciting and activities focused

national parks in South Africa.

Table Mountain is The natural landmark in South Africa with the national park stretching from

Signal Hill to Cape Point. Although there are various granite mountains, beaches, and forests

the main attraction is of course the 1085 meter plateau. The views of Cape Town from the

famous cable car that goes to the top of this plateau are incredible.

Hikers will absolutely love this national park as there are several trails leading up the mountain

that vary in difficulty. The most famous among those is the hike up to Lions Head. A lovely stroll in the Kristenbosch Botanical Garden, watching African penguins in Boulders Beach, and whale watching in Cape Point are also must do things at the Table Mountain National Park.

National Parks in South America

Lençóis Maranhenses National Park – one of the most unusual yet stunningly beautiful national parks in the world.

 

national parks
Photo: The peculiar yet stunning sandunes of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park which captures water from rainfall to make lagoons.

Sometimes you visit certain places that are so unusual and beautiful that months later you

actually have a hard time deciphering whether it was reality or just a figment of some movie

that stuck into your sub consciousness. The Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is one of

such places. Situated in the Maranhão state of Brazil, this 594 sq. miles this feels like a modern

art painting by nature.

The physical geography of this place makes it feel like a desert however, it receives far more

rainfall than what a desert would. The Parnaíba and Preguiças rivers carry sand from inland to

the park and the wind blows back this accumulated sand giving rise to dunes. Since it receives

almost 1,200 mm rainfall between January and May the gap between the dunes are filled and

lagoons up to 100 meters in length are created.

 

Torres del Paine National Park – one of the best national parks for beautiful landscapes

 

national parks
Photo: A herd of guanacos in the Torres del Paine National Park

Huge mountains, icebergs, glaciers, and flatter lower lands covered in golden grass, the Torres

del Piane in the Southern Chilean Paragonia throws everything at you. It’s not merely a random

stretch of land with diverse kind of land, it’s a work of art, it is one of the most beautiful

national parks in South America. A heaven for outdoor enthusiasts it demands you have your

camera ready all the time.

The French Valley hike will be one of the most beautiful hikes of your lives as the views of the

mountains, the guanacos, the glaciers is spell binding. As if no amount of attention was

enough, the center piece of the national park has these granite rock towers that shoot up from

the earth reaching thousands of feet into the sky. Visitors can also hike or kayak across the Grey Glacier

Tayrona National Park – one of the best national parks for beaches

 

tyrona park

Located in Northern Carribean region of Colombia, it allows only limited number of people that

at a time in order to protect the fragile ecosystem of the area. However, if you are lucky enough

to get inside, the lush green tropical forests descending gently down into beautiful beaches

lined with clear water will welcome you to one of the most scenic national parks in South

America. The beaches aren’t connected with roads so hiking between the beaches adds to the

fulfillment of reaching the beaches. Apart from that, it is also home to Howler Monkeys,

Capuchin Monkeys and the endemic and rare Cotton-top Tamarin.

Tierra del Fuego National Park – one of the best national parks in the world to see the mix of mountain ranges and the ocean

 

national parks

Imagine jagged mountains of the of the Andes and windswept valleys covered in subantarctic

forest abruptly coming to an end in the chilly part of the ocean where Pacific and Atlantic

Oceans meet. Imagine moody, dramatic, hauntingly beautiful landscapes. Imagine the End of

the World.

A 30 minute drive from the Southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia in Argentina, takes you to

Tierra del Fuego, one of the most moody, dramatic and jaw droppingly beautiful national parks

in the whole world. The hiking trail from Ensenada Bay to Lapataia Bay on the Lake Roca is

very popular where visitors can see mountain horses grazing under the stunning Andes

mountain range. Unique wildlife like Andean condors, guanacos, red foxes and many sea birds

wandering in this heavenly landscape makes Tirera del Fuego one of the most beautiful national parks in the entire world.

 

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