YosemiteImage via nationalparks.org
Home to some of the most extraordinary rock formations, Yosemite is a national park that should be at the top of your list. If the famous landmarks, such as Half Dome and El Capitan don’t draw you to visit, I’m sure the giant Sequoia trees, enormous waterfalls and grand meadows will do the trick. While the park is full of jaw-dropping views, you might consider visiting Glacier Point, which offers gorgeous views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Whether you’re a beginning hiker or an avid climber, the park also offers visitors of all skill levels guided tours, backpacking trips and climbing lessons. The activities are endless!
Image via huffingtonpost.com
As one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of the World” and the most-visited landmark in the United States, Grand Canyon National Park has been the backdrop for many tourist photos. While some might visit simply for the perfect photo opportunity, the park is full of activities for those looking for a thrill. The park is full of challenging hiking trails, bicycle tours and whitewater rafting. And if you’re feeling tired, you can always coast along the scenic Desert View Drive from the comfort of your car, tour the breathtaking canyon via Hermit Road on a free shuttle bus or hop on a mule and ride along the canyon rim.
Antelope CanyonImage via arizonahikersguide.com
With its mesmerizing lighting, this destination is a photographer’s dream come true. And with a simple Google search of Antelope Canyon, I guarantee you’ll be mesmerized enough to drive off as well. Located near Page, Arizona on Navajo land, Antelope Canyon is claimed to be the most visited and most photographed slot canyons in the American Southwest. While the entrance and walkways are all ground level, the canyon is only accessible through guided tours. The colors that project on the canyon walls depend on the time of the year you visit, so be prepared to come back for a second visit. You can book your tour here.
ZionImage via zmr.com
Zion, which is Utah’s first national park, is a go-to destination for those ready for activity-filled days complete with the most spectacular mountain panoramas. Whether you go backpacking, bicycling, bird watching, climbing, horseback riding or kayaking, there’s something for everyone. Because of its breathtaking surroundings, the park can get packed quickly, so be sure to plan ahead. The park recommends you take advantage of their free seasonal shuttle system by parking in the neighboring town of Springdale. This charming town has restaurants, cafes, markets, galleries and more to keep you busy when you get back from your adventures. The town also has plenty of hotels, vacation rentals, B&B’s and glamping options for those who need a place to stay. You can explore your options here.
Joshua TreeImage via nytimes.com
Explore the beauty of your desert surroundings during the day and fall asleep with the captivating night skies above your tent at Joshua Tree National Park. Compared to the other national parks on the list, this destination hosts a unique variety of plants, animals and geological displays. It also hosts plenty of recreational opportunities, such as mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking, horseback riding, geology motor tours and more. The gorgeous desert surroundings are also known to draw amateur and professional photographers from around the world. View more of your options here.
While Big Sur is currently isolated from Southern California due to a major bridge closure because of our recent winter storms, the town will no doubt be waiting for visitors to come back and visit once the bridge is rebuilt. According to KPCC, Caltrans estimates that they will need at least six months to demolish and rebuild the bridge. This destination gives you the beauty of the California coast, along with towering Redwood groves, so I guarantee it’s worth the wait and the drive! Looking to do something relaxing while visiting? You can visit the Esalen Institute to take a dip in the natural hot springs once you finish your hikes.