Whether you’ve always been a rambler or you’ve recently developed a love for wonderful walks in nature thanks to lockdown’s “one outdoor exercise a day” rule, there are some pretty special open spaces in the world where you can discover new surroundings, rugged scenery, and majestic wildlife – and most of them are free.
We’ve cherry-picked some of our favourite national parks so you can spark some adventure in 2020, whether you’re on a staycation or planning your next trip abroad.
Yosemite National Park, California
Possibly one of the most famous on the national parks list, Yosemite is a must-visit if you’re a nature-lover in the US. First protected in 1864, this beautiful landscape in California’s Sierra Mountains is famed for its cascading waterfalls, plunging valleys, towering ancient sequoia trees and granite cliffs. Admire the vast wildlife, take a tour, raft along the Merced River and camp underneath the stars.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Croatia is known for its undeniable natural beauty and the Plitvice Lakes is a prime example. Located between Zagreb and Zadar, this serene hangout is of the most famous national parks in the world, complete with UNESCO World Heritage Site status. This exceptional space is actually known as Croatia’s first national park, with no less than 16 spectacular waterfalls, striking turquoise lakes and a whole host of wildlife to admire (259 species to be precise). Keep your eyes peeled for deer, birds, wolves, bats and more.
Goreme National Park, Turkey
This town nestled in the unique Cappadocia region of Turkey features a volcanic landscape that’s entirely sculpted by erosion. Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia cover a variety of regions, whereby working villages and subterranean cities lie amid the encompassing rock formations – a real spectacle for those lucky enough to visit. A famous sight here is what’s known as the “fairy chimneys”, which are striking cone-shaped rock formations often photographed.
Calanques National Park, France
There are a few fantastic national parks in France; Calanques is one of the youngest. Nestled in the heart of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region in the south, this exceptional space is the only national park in Europe to include land, sea and peri-urban areas, covering 8,500 hectares of land and 43,500 hectares of sea. It’s pretty big. Popular things to do here include discovering the amazing biodiversity, making a splash with exciting watersports, and hiking the rugged nature trails backed by limestone cliffs.
Lake District, UK
The Lake District is one of the most popular places to visit if a staycation is on the cards. Located in Cumbria, this is the largest national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in England. Aside from simply soaking up its natural beauty, there’s an abundance of exciting things to do here – which makes it a great place to visit for active families. Get on the water with boating, swimming, fishing and watersports activities hosted on the lakes, hop aboard the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, spend time down by the coast (26 miles of it, to be exact) and admire the animals at the wildlife park and aquarium. Hours of fun!
Peneda-Geres National Park, Portugal
If you’re travelling to Portugal and you’re seeking a wonderful walk, you’re sure to stumble upon the Peneda-Geres National Park – since it’s the only one in Portugal. Located in the old provinces of Minho and Tras-os-Montes (just a short distance from Porto), you’ll find everything here from old granite villages with free-roaming cows, to a handful of waterfalls, stunning woodlands, ancient monuments, spectacular viewpoints and much, much more. Well, there is 72,290 hectares of the area, after all!
Timanfaya National Park, Spain
One of our favourite hangouts in the Canary Islands, Timanfaya National Park is admired for its unique lunar-like landscapes situated in the southwest of Lanzarote. This popular attraction covers a quarter of the island and was created due to unceasing volcanic eruptions that took place between 1730–1736 and in 1824, which saw rivers of lava from over 100 volcanoes flood the villages that once stood. Grab your hiking boots and explore the rocky walking routes, enjoy a leisurely camel ride, and tour the Mountains of Fire while you’re here.
Tulum National Park, Mexico
This stretch of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula serves up a treasure trove of ancient history and culture, with Tulum National Park being an eco-archaeological site worth exploring. Located in Quinta Roo (close by to Cancun), this protected area along the coast and archaeological zone is rich with tropical mangroves, colourful fauna, hidden cenotes, and even an ancient walled Mayan city complete with a castle. Arrive early in the morning and experience this wonder before it gets too busy, then perhaps head into bustling Playa del Carmen for the evening – situated just an hour’s drive away from the ruins.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Another gem among the famous national parks in the US is Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming. Nestled atop a volcano, this incredible space serves up a variety of spectacular things to see and do, from capturing a glimpse of the world’s unique carnivores in The Northern Range (we’re talking moose, elk, deer and beyond), to over 1,000 miles of dramatic hiking terrain, and a host of geologic wonders such as hot springs, mudpots, and geysers – now that’s a sight worth seeing! If you’ve always wanted to go on a bear hunt, this is the place to do it!
New Forest, UK
If you’re into wildlife, woodlands and walking, then the New Forest is where to head. Swap the hustle and bustle of everyday life for tranquil surroundings when you visit this serene spot in the middle of Hampshire, southern England, where you’ll discover peaceful forest trails, ancient woodlands, free-roaming ponies and quaint towns and villages. Grab the kids and glide through the forest on exciting cycle trails, go horse riding, hit the waters, or simply wander to your heart’s content. Better still, there are plenty of hotels in the surrounding area if you wish to extend your stay.
Cinque Terre National Park, Italy
Introduced in 1999, Cinque Terre holds the title of Italy’s first-ever national park. This spectacular corner of the coast is famous for its candy-coloured houses, clifftop towns that overlook the Mediterranean, and centuries-old seaside villages along the Riviera Coastline. The Cinque Terre National Park can be found in the province of La Spezia, Liguria in northern Italy, and it’s jam-packed with scenic walking paths and trails, medieval villages, majestic caves and waterfalls, plus plenty of swimming opportunities. Hire a kayak to explore some of the parks hidden gems on the water.
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Crowned as Iceland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir promises a truly enchanting visit thanks to its rugged landscape featuring otherworldly volcanoes, snorkel-worthy lakes, horse riding, and hiking trails. Visit while it’s dark and you might be lucky enough to experience the northern lights, adding a touch of magic to the already dramatic atmosphere.
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