This bold mountain range rears up from the bison grazing lands of Wyoming to a height of some 2,133 m (7,000 ft). The heart of the range – part of the Rocky Mountains – is the trio of Grand, Middle and South Tetons, their peaks capped with snow throughout the winter.
Picture Yosemite and even if you’ve never set foot in the High Sierra, it is imposing Half Dome that immediately springs to mind. Rising some 1,534 m (5,000 feet) above the valley floor, this granite intrusion is one of the world’s greatest climbing challenges, once said to be “perfectly inaccessible”. Thousands of hikers per year now prove that not to be true.
Wildflowers bloom around the sub-alpine foothills of Mount Rainier, the focal point of the eponymous national park. This active volcano reaches a height of 4,392 m (14,410 feet) above sea level and is the source of six major rivers. The wildflowers have a very short growing season, meaning they bloom even more profusely.
This unique national park is home to the largest collection of hoodoo in the world. That’s what those oddly shaped pillars of sandstone you’ll see stretching across the landscape – caused by erosion over many thousands of years – are called. Take the 2-km (1.3-mile) Navajo Loop Trail to see the best of it.
Old Faithful was the first geyser in Yellowstone National Park to be christened, and its name remains apt today. This dramatic hot spring is one of the planet’s most reliable natural features, erupting roughly every 60 to 110 minutes, and expelling thousands of gallons of boiling water from its volcanic cone.
No visit to Everglades National Park could be complete without an airboat ride, speeding along between the waving seagrasses and twisting through the dense mangroves, seeking out alligators, wading birds and even manatees along the way. There’s no better way to see the “river of grass” than this.
Previously known as Mt McKinley, North America’s tallest mountain peak reclaimed its original name, Denali, in 2015. Looming above the Alaskan landscape, this mountain is the uncontested heart of the park, tempting hardy climbers with its ice-clad bulk. The West Buttress Route to the peak (6,190 m; 20,310 ft) is accessible to those with intermediate climbing skills; the rest of us will have to make do with simply looking up in wonder.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk tests visitors’ heads for heights with its clear glass floor. Walk out onto the horseshoe-shaped cantilevered bridge and it appears that there is nothing beneath the soles of your feet but 1,219 m (4,000 ft) of red rock. The Grand Canyon has never looked so impressive.
The Ancestral Puebloans made this area in Colorado their home for more than 700 years, and today you can see the homes they left behind carved into the cliff face – some 600 of them, in fact. The largest is Cliff Palace, which once had a population of 100 people.
Perhaps the most photographed bizarre geological feature in a national park full of them, Double O Arch is a sandstone fin with two arches eroded into it, the largest some 21 m (71 ft) wide. This unique piece of natural rock art is all the reason needed to hike the short Devils Garden Primitive Loop trail, which leads right to it.
On the moist, west-facing slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range grow giants – giant trees that is, some of them as tall as a 26-story building. The very tallest of these giant sequoias is General Sherman, at the northern end of the forest, standing 84 m (275 ft) high.
Great Smoky Mountains
The best time of day to see the blue haze above the fabled Smoky Mountains is at sunset, when the sky lights up pink and the falling sun is unable to bleach out those fabulous colours. Head to Morton Overlook on Route 441 for the best view in the park.
There aren’t many places where you can stand and safely watch a volcanic eruption – so you’re sure to be awed by Kīlauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Its current eruption began in 1983 and shows no signs of ceasing. Visit the overlook at the Jaggar Museum to see the vent within Halema'uma'u Crater.
This national park is less than 1 per cent land, so strap on a snorkel and dive into its beautifully clear (and wonderfully warm) waters. Little Africa is the best place for snorkelling, off the north side of Loggerhead Key and is also home to lobster, barracuda and all manner of tropical fish.
The only way to truly explore the Channel Islands is by kayak, poking into caves and inlets and sharing the waters with sea lions, seals and dolphins. On the island of Santa Cruz you can visit one of the world’s largest sea caves, the Painted Cave. Lichen and minerals cause the colours you’ll see here – for which you’ll need a head torch. (Words by Helen Ochyra)