Awestriking. Awe-inspiring. Awesome. These phrases signify the wonder and amazement you feel when confronting something majestic. They are also apt labels for the feelings you have when experiencing any one of America’s 61 national parks.
These natural playgrounds know a thousand different ways to take your breath away. Whether its towering granite cliffs blocking out the noonday sun, waves of prismatic mist wafting peacefully from the thunderous collision of waterfall and river, or massive bison staring serenely at your car, wondering if they should eat it for lunch—every angle you stare, every pathway you hike is packed with awe.
We are so enamored with national parks, we’d like to take this opportunity to hand out a few awards to our favorites.
Most Photogenic: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Set your camera on stunning. Between the volcanic-powered geysers, boiling hot springs and bubbling mud pots; the rugged mountain peaks and placid, pristine lakes; and the bison, elk and grizzlies ambling across the meadows, your smartphone’s internal memory will fill up fast with hundreds of photos. We suggest you bring out the big guns—the digital cameras and telephoto lenses—in order to visually record all of the splendor this park has to offer. You’ll also need impeccable timing to capture Old Faithful, the punctual geyser that erupts with thousands of gallons of scorching water every 74 minutes or so.
Most Amazing by Air: DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when your eyes are airborne, flying high with bald eagles above the birch forests of Denali National Park, you’re going to behold a lot of beauty. Whether by helicopter or twin-engine aircraft, soaring into the face of Denali—the highest peak in North America—truly allows you to be utterly gobsmacked by its sheer size and unmistakable dominance. Helicopters have the added ability to land on glaciers, giving you a unique opportunity to hike across wildflower-filled alpine valleys.
Most Awesome Fireworks: HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
With all due respect to national parks where you can witness the Northern Lights, we had to award this one to the hard work of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, two of the most active volcanoes in the world. Together they put on a fiery light show that does not disappoint, one filled with a churning energy that forces you to respect the superpowers of Mother Nature. For the best view of the perpetually steaming Halema’uma’u crater, head to the Kilauea overlook; and then drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road to witness the hissing, steaming battle of molten lava and raging sea.
Most Look-up-able: YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Typically one does not brag about a neck ache, unless you get it from constantly staring skyward in Yosemite National Park. And skyward you will stare, challenging your eyes to accept the grandiose handiwork of the massive glaciers that carved this park from scratch thousands of years ago. The vertical might of the park is ever-present: Yosemite Falls, the highest in North America, surges 2,424 feet down in a torrential fury; the burly granite beast Half Dome rises 4,737 feet to cast impossibly long shadows; and El Capitan, the mammoth monolith, stands quietly in the north side of the valley, letting everyone know who really is in charge.