Time to break out the hiking boots and bug spray! The National Parks Service is celebrating Earth Day this weekend with free admission to all National Parks. April 15- April 23rd marks National Park Week, a seven-day event that includes tons of sponsored activities, including art shows and nature exhibits.
To take full advantage of free entrance to the parks, we’ve pulled together a list of our top six National Parks across the country. These nature reserves are perfect for a spontaneous spring vacation and all those highlighted in this article feature special attractions that are exclusive to each park. So gather your gear and trek through these scenic locations for an unforgettable Earth Day.
Joshua Tree National Park (California)
Joshua Tree National Park has gleaned a lot of special attention lately for its ‘super-bloom’, an extraordinary burst of wildflower blooms happening this spring. However, a trip to Joshua Tree will offer much more than just flowers. Known for its uncommon species of tree, this national park also features the Cholla Cactus Garden (seen above), as well as herds of desert bighorn sheep that you may be lucky enough to see in person.
Acadia National Park (Maine)
Acadia National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in the United States, and is famous for its mountains of salmon pink granite. Explorers who travel to Acadia will note its stunning beaches nestled between pink rock faces, and variety of wildlife. Perhaps one of the most unique attractions of this park is Cadillac Mountain, where visitors can be the very first to witness the sunrise in the United States.
Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Hikers who journey to Rocky Mountain National Park will be dazzled by the high peaks of the Continental Divide, which are the park’s main focus. Moose sightings are particularly common throughout the park, and the glassy, green waters of Emerald Lake reflect the perfect image of Hallett Peak. While in the area, visitors should stop by the Stanley Hotel in the nearby town of Estes Park, which provided the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai’i)
Home to two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kīlauea, Volcanoes National Park gives visitors an unparalleled glimpse into earth’s history. On the lip of Mount Kīlauea there sits the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, whose visitor center gives a scientific history of both the volcanoes as well as the nearby tectonic plates. Rare views of lava rock and burning magma are the biggest appeal of this park, but its location on the island of Hawai’i also gives visitors the perfect chance to snorkel, dive, and swim along the beaches of the southern tip of the island.
Arches National Park (Utah)
One of the few parks with its own petroglyphs, Arches is known for its red rock and natural arches formed from salt beds and sandstone. The petroglyphs were carved by the Ute people back in the 17th and 18th century and have managed to withstand the test of time, remaining beautifully preserved. One of the most popular sandstone arches is Delicate Arch, which stands an amazing 65-feet tall and was nicknamed “the chaps” by cowboys due to its trouser-like shape.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina, Tennessee)
The Smokies are some of the world’s oldest mountains, dating back to the early Precambrian period, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park has aptly been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, travelers can walk along the Appalachian Trail and witness one of the most biologically-diverse locations in the United States, home to various species of fox, river otters, and woodchucks. Little River Road provides some of the best overlooks with countless waterfalls and hiking trails.
All of the photos featured in this post are from renowned nature photographer, Ian Shive. His new paperback book, The National Parks: An American Legacy, provides over 200 images of the picturesque parks, and makes for a great companion on the trail.