The National Parks Service (NPS), part of The Department of the Interior was created by an Act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on 25th August 1916. Today NPS administers almost 400 sites in America covering approximately 84 million acres of real estate. In excess of 250 million people visit the sites each year.
The sites include, Monuments, Historical Sites, Military and Battlefield locations and Recreation Areas, plus 58 designated National Parks. In this article we feature five of the top National Parks. Our selection is subjective but based on scenery, visitor facilities, wildlife and annual attendance. We welcome reader’s comments and opinions on our choice.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA
Glacier National Park in Montana, borders Alberta and British Columbia to the north and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to the east.
As an intact eco system, the Park provides amazing plant and animal research. 62 mammals have been documented. These include the threatened Grizzly Bear the Canadian Lynxand the rarely seen, Mountain Lion. A total of 260 species of birds have been recorded and include the Golden Eagle, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon.
Hiking is the most popular activity with nearly 700 miles of trails. Anglers can enjoy the finest fly fishing in North America, with the Cut Throat Trout,Northern Pike, Kokanee Salmon and the endangered Bull Trout in the lakes and streams.
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS
The Park earns its name from the bend the massive Rio Grande River makes in the centre of 801,000 acres in west Texas.
Three major canyons,Santa Elena, Marsical and Boquillias are within the Park boundary together with the Chisos Mountains whose rock peaks rise to 7,825 feet.
The unusual combination of mountains, arid desert and muddy river has produced another unique eco system producing species not found elsewhere. The Colima Warbler, Sierra Del Carmen white-tailed Deer are normally not found north of Mexico and the endangered Mosquito Fishlives here. There are 400 species of birds co-existing with Javelina(wild hogs) and many more mammals. Plant life is plentiful with over 60 species of spectacular cacti.
Apart from fishing, hiking and photography the Park’s 100 miles of paved roads and 160 miles of dirt roads make Big Bend the premier mountain biking destinationand a must for anyone with a love of wildlife.
BRYCE CANYON, UTAH
Located in the south west of Utah, Bryce Canyon, despite its name is not a canyon but a natural amphitheatre. It is one of the smaller National Parks, covering almost 56 square miles and was established in 1928. Visitors in 2007, numbered around 1,000,000.
It is one of the most spectacular sites of the National Parks and famed for its geological formations. These include its Hoodoos, mountains up to 9000 feet high and vast amphitheatres. Bryce Canyon has a higher concentration of hoodoos than anywhere else in the world. These rock formations reach a height of a 10-storey building and were formed by wind, water and ice erosion. Their spectacular colours of red, white and orange provide magnificent views and photo opportunities for visitors.
The forests and meadows of Bryce Canyon support a diversity of animal life. Mule Deer are the most common with endangered species of Utah Prairie Dog, California Condorand the Southwestern Flycatcher also present. About 170 different birds visit each year. Reptiles include the Great Basin Rattlesnake, Short Horned Lizard, Striped Whipsnake and the Tiger Salamander.
Apart from sightseeing there are 8 hiking trails plus several skiing trails.
With its high altitude and clear air, landscape photography is popular particularly at sunrise and sunset.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK WYOMING.
Founded in 1872, Yellowstone is the second largest National Park in the USA and is the flagship of the National Parks Service. Located in Wyoming and extending into Montana and Idaho, the Park covers an area of 3,427 square miles or a massive 2,221,766 acres.
Half of the world’s geothermal sites are in Yellowstone because Lake Yellowstone is centred over the Yellowstone Caldera. The Caldera is technically an active volcano having erupted several times in the last two million years. The park has an estimated 10,000 thermal sites. Of these only 300 are actual geysers. The best known is probably Old Faithful which erupts every 40-90 minutes and Steamboat Geyser which is the largest in the world.
Yellowstone is home to over 60 species of mammals. These include the endangered Gray Wolf, Lynx and Grizzly Bear. Others are Bison (buffalo), Black Bear, Elk, Moose,Mountain Goat, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Lion.
18 species of fish live in Yellowstone together with reptiles and amphibians. In the 311 species of birds the Common Loon, Harlequin Duck, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon and Bald Eagle are a special concern in view of their rarity.
For Campers there are 12 Campgrounds with over 2000 campsites. There are numerous eating places in the Park and dining facilities are available, ranging from fine restaurants to snack bars and cafeteria.
SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK , CALIFORNIA
Sequoia National Park is a National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of Visalia, California. It was established in 1890 as the second U.S. national park, after Yellowstone. The park spans 404,051 acres. Rising to 13,000 feet (3,962m) the park contains the highest point in the United States, Mount Whitney, which is 14,505 feet (4,421 m) above sea level. In the south the Park borders Kings Canyon National Park and the two are administered by the National Park Service as one unit.
The park is most famous for its Giant Sequoia Trees and has five of the ten largest specimens of these Redwoods in the world. The General Sherman Tree, 2500 years old is 275 feet (84m) tall with a girth, at the base, of 109 feet (33m).
The lower elevations of the Park are the only NPS-Protected, foothills eco system and home to Bobcats, Foxes, Squirrels and Rattlesnakes. At the higher elevations visitors can see Mule Deer and Black Bear who have been known to steal food from unattended vehicles.
The Park has over 240 known caves with more found each year, including The Lilburn Cave which is 20 miles long. Crystal Cave at 3.4 miles long is the only one open to visitors and its Marble Hall is full of amazing stalactites.
These Parks are home to giant trees, mountains and deep canyons. The Generals Highway climbs 5000 feet from oak-studded foothills to the Sequoia Groves, from where trails lead to a high alpine wilderness.
Apart from Lodges, the Park has a tent hotel and 7 campgrounds with Lodgepole being open all-year round.
The USA National Parks bring pleasure to millions of campers, hikers, photographers, skiers and tourists every year. They are a great natural treasure.