When compiling a bucket list or just a list for a memorable vacation, there are at least five must-see parks in the United States. Thanks largely to the National Parks Service that was organized in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson, the United States has an abundance of beautiful parks to visit. Most, but not all, are in the western states. Here’s the list of parks:

Yosemite National Park
This park covers 747,956 acres in the central eastern part of California near the city of Mariposa. Established in 1890, it’s one of the oldest National Parks. Among the sights to see are Bridal Veil Falls, a 620 foot fall in the southern wall of Yosemite Valley. There’s also the upper and lower Yosemite Falls, which plunge from a hanging valley, and Vernal Falls, which is famous for the rainbows that form in its mist. Rock formations include Half Dome and El Capitan, a great block of pure granite that rises over 3,600 feet from the Merced River.

When it comes to recreation, Yosemite is unmatched in its variety of things to do. The visitor can go hiking, fishing, climbing, horseback riding and swimming. Sports include tennis, golf and skiing.

Yellowstone National Park
Found in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park is on the site of a still active supervolcano. This is why the park is replete with geothermic features like Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts every hour and a half or so. Some types of algae are able to live in or around the steaming hot water of these features and dye the rocks around them a rainbow of colors. This can be seen at a feature like the Minerva Terrace.

Besides these features, Yellowstone, which covers 3,468.4 square miles, holds many forests, lakes, waterfalls and grasslands. The grasslands allow the largest and oldest herd of buffalo in the United States to flourish. The park also has a wealth of flora and fauna, including flowers endemic to the park and other large animals like elk and moose.

As in Yosemite, a visitor can enjoy all manner of recreation like hiking, fishing, camping and horseback riding.

Olympic National Park
For a change of pace from both Yellowstone and Yosemite, there’s Olympic National Park in Washington state. This unusual park occupies 922,650 acres on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s unusual because at least part of the park is made up of temperate rainforests. These are the Hoh and the Quinault Rainforests. These rainforests have cool winters and mild summers, so instead of tropical palms they’re dominated by firs, spruce, cedar and hemlock. Olympic also has a famous coastline and glaciered mountains, including Mount Olympus and Mount Deception. The park is the best for hiking and backpacking. Sports like snowboarding and skiing predominate during the winter.

Mammoth Cave National Park
For the spelunkers, Mammoth Cave is the place to go. Found in Kentucky, it’s part of the longest cave system in the world and encompasses close to 53,000 acres. The winding cave system is made out of a stable limestone and sandstone and was carved over millions of years by groundwater. Among the fauna that live in the cave are bats, cave fish and cave shrimp, which are blind and pale because of the lack of light.

A visitor can go on one of many guided tours that can last from one to six hours. By the way, the name of the cave system comes from its hugeness and not because any mammoth fossils have ever been found inside.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
This is the only national park that’s found entirely in the Arctic Circle. It’s an enormous park that’s larger than the country of Belgium. It might also be the wildest of the national peaks, as none of it is accessible by highway. The visitor has to use an air taxi or has to simply hike in.

Among the sights are rivers, Mount Igikpak, the Endicott Mountains and several wildlife refuges, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Gates of the Arctic is known for its stunning, weathered cliffs, some of which were once part of an ancient seabed.

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