This year, more than ever, it’s important to travel responsibly and avoid large crowds. With their unbelievable majesty and grandiosity, national parks have enough square mileage per person to allow for a fun-filled adventure in these wide-open spaces.
Here are the six best national parks to see before the year is over.
#1 Grand Canyon, Arizona
If, by some miracle, you haven’t heard of this national park before, its name also functions as an apt description. The canyon itself spans 277 miles and is more than a mile deep. That’s the equivalent of four Empire State Buildings stacked neatly atop one another.
If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll have 54 trails to choose from, including the ever-popular rim-to-rim hike. As long as you didn’t accidentally pack for a business trip, we can assume you’ll have proper footwear in your inventory. But with how much walking you’ll be doing, make sure you bring durable hiking shoes for women, as some brands place a misguided emphasis on style over comfort and quality.
If you’re looking for something a little different, the Grand Canyon also offers river rafting tours in addition to the usual staples of any good national park.
#2 Kenai Fjords, Alaska
Exchange the usual dirt and sand for hundreds of miles of frozen tundra with this unique park experience. Kenai Fjords is home to Harding Icefield, one of only four remaining ice fields in the U.S., and Exit Glacier, a river of ice spanning nearly half a mile. If you’re lucky, you could spot a bear, coyote, mountain goat, moose, wolf, or any one of the 191 species of bird that reside there.
#3 Yosemite, California
Yosemite National Park feels like its own ecosystem, complete with waterfalls, valleys, treacherous hot springs, sprawling meadows, and towering trees. It boasts some of the most spectacular rock formations and richly diverse wildlife in the world.
To navigate its many trails and regions, download maps for hiking trails and freely explore the area (as long as you pay attention to warning signs and path labels).
#4 Joshua Tree, California
Joshua Tree straddles two distinct deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado, giving it two richly diverse ecosystems. Its distance from the bright lights of the big city means almost zero light pollution and the most spectacular night sky you could ever imagine.
Because of its lower overall elevation, Joshua Tree was initially used as a practice rock climbing area while snow covered the larger California mountains, but many climbers eventually recognized it for its own unique appeal. The rock formations are particularly low, making many of the climbs more of a scramble than a full-scale expedition, and most routes have quick and easy road access. It’s perfect for total beginners or seasoned pros looking to practice their bouldering and highlining.
Suppose you’re looking for more than just natural beauty. In that case, the small town of Joshua Tree is an adorable hidden gem with trendy local restaurants, thrift stores, and bars—all appropriately Western-themed.
#5 Zion, Utah
Another paradise for hikers and nature lovers, Zion contains such notable geographic features as the famous Angel’s Landing trail, Towers of the Virgin, and the Altar of Sacrifice. Despite these strangely intense and biblical names, Zion is welcoming to visitors of all ages, with many accessible half-hour hikes that the kids will love (or at the very least, tolerate).
If you’re not planning on staying in a hotel, there are a few nearby campgrounds that offer drinkable water fountains, fire pits and grills, and flush toilets. Beware of how much direct sun exposure these areas receive—and the absence of showers and power sources.
Dry shampoo and portable chargers, here we come!
#6 Hawai’i Volcanoes, Hawaii
This unique national park is home to not one but two active volcanoes, including the world’s largest shield volcano and one of the earth’s most active volcanoes. Visitors can traverse the rare volcanic landscapes and rich tropical rainforests as they migrate from sea level to summit.
For a spectacular sight, visit the Thurston Lava Tube, a now tubular cave formed by flowing lava from one of the several volcanoes within the park’s borders.
Park Yourself At One of These Stunning Parks
There’s nothing like the great outdoors to remind you of what’s really important. If you’re looking for a pure and simple getaway, check out any one of these six incredible national parks. And if you can’t make it before the year comes to an end? Luckily for you, these natural beauties aren’t going anywhere.