01 Everglades National Park Florida
Take to the water and kayak through this subtropical wilderness of mangrove swamps, marshes, hardwood hammocks and lakes, brimming with wildlife, from algae to alligators, cormorants to crocs, egrets to the elusive Florida panther. A designated International Biosphere Reserve, Everglades National Park was the first national park created to preserve its biological diversity and resources, rather than its scenery, history or geology.
02 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
New Zealand may have been the cinematic stand-in for Middle Earth, yet two of the world’s most active volcanoes — K’lauea and Mauna Loa — are located in this Hawaiian park and could easily be mistaken for JR Tolkein’s Mount Doom. A highlight is the sight of K’lauea spilling lava directly into the sea, while 150 miles of hiking trails skirting craters, scalded scenery and petroglyphs up the ante.
03 White Sands National Monument New Mexico
Blanketing around 275sq miles of the Tularosa Basin and bordering a US military base, White Sands is the largest gypsum (a common sulphate mineral) dune field in the world. Like a veil of billowing silk, these ever-expanding dunes edge north east at a rate of up to 30ft a year. Keep your eyes peeled for some of the exotic-sounding native animals, including the bleached earless lizard, the kit fox and the African oryx.
04 Grand Canyon National Park Arizona
This colossal — 18 miles wide and a mile deep — canyon may get inundated with five million visitors a year but it’s still possible to find a spot of solitude along its tracks and cool evergreen forests. And while guides are helpful, audio tours do a sterling job: simply dial T: 001 928 225 2907 at designated posts for two-minute nuggets of information about the area’s history and abundant natural wonders.
05 Zion National Park, Utah
You’ll discover adventure with a capital A at this mammoth 229sq mile park, whether walking or clambering over sandstone cliffs with the free climbers and the canyoneers. Top of the list is a hike, wade and swim through the Narrows — a 2,000-ft-deep canyon, laced with the Virgin River, that at times is squeezed to just 20ft wide. Be warned, flash flooding and hyperthermia are a very real threat.
Published in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)