Reigning over the National Mall in the heart of America’s capital, the Lincoln Memorial ranks right up there with the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore as one of the most pivotal of patriotic memorials. It’s the kind of place that’s so deeply etched in American lore that even if you haven’t witnessed it in person, you’ve surely felt its might in movies and history books.
All across the US, from the floodplain forests of South Carolina to the Arctic tundra of Alaska, I’m constantly in awe of the diversity represented within the National Park Service. These magnificent lands, monuments, memorials, and historical havens represent the very best of America, and they inspire me like nothing else can.
Bubbling mud pots, volcanic lore, and shimmering lakes sound like something from a Land Before Time movie, but in fact these larger-than-life features can all be seen (and smelled) at California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park, an under-the-radar destination in the northern half of the state.
As the most visited and most iconic national park in New England, Acadia stands out as the true gem that it is. Located on the quintessentially craggy coast of Maine, the park commands more than 3.5 million visitors annually, making it among the top 10 most visited in the country, and for good reason. This is a place of stunning diversity, bustling wildlife, and vivid scenery, from soaring trees and crashing waves to picturesque islands, oceanside mountains, and the bucolic town of Bar Harbor.
Although it was already New Mexico’s most visited national park unit, White Sands got an exciting upgrade at the tail end of 2019, as it went from national monument to national park, ensuring the enduring popularity of this one-of-a-kind landscape, home to the largest gypsum sand dune field on Earth. Just how large are we talking? The park protects a sprawling portion of a 275-square-mile dune field in the Tularosa Basin, which is so vast and vibrant that it can be seen from space.
Likely one of the most unassuming national parks in the US, a stone’s throw from Chicago and nestled along the expansive shores of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was upgraded in 2019 to Indiana Dunes National Park. Despite its small size of 15,000 acres, this is a place of incredible biodiversity and more visitors than most any other national park in the country.
When most people think of national parks, things like steaming geysers, bison, soaring snow-capped peaks, and intimidatingly vast canyons might come to mind. But in reality, there is so much more to the National Park Service, and few places capture that offbeat “Find Your Park” ethos and diversity quite like South Carolina’s Congaree National Park, an immense floodplain filled with slow-moving waterways, hooting owls, boardwalk trails, and some of the tallest trees in the eastern US.
As the most northern national park in America, and the only park north of the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic is truly unlike any place in the country or the entire National Park Service. You likely won’t see many humans here; at 8.5 million acres, it’s the second largest in the US, but it only receives about 11,000 annual visitors. This remote wonderland is brimming with epic wildlife and a true sense of discovery.