It's impossible to completely convey in a single article the stunning beauty and variety of the U.S. National Parks. They range over the moonscape-like areas of the Badlands in South Dakota and the Petrified National Forest in Arizona to the lush greenery of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee or Crater Lake, Oregon.
In between the two extremes there is Glacier Park in Montana. Filled with dense forests, icy lakes and breathtaking mountains, it offers every kind of outdoor adventure. It's joined in that opportunity by other western regions, like the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. With peaks as high as 14,000 feet, hiking takes on a whole new dimension here.
In the opposite direction, tourists looking for adventure can visit Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Dozens of miles of underground trails in huge caverns offer endless excitement. Bat caves that house thousands of the flying mammals alternate with views of glowing stalagmites 10-stories high.
The Grand Canyon in Arizona provides one more of nature's spectacular 'sculptures', this one a nearly 300 mile long gash in the Earth 4-18 miles wide and over a mile deep. The bands of colored stone that form the cliff walls provide a stunning backdrop to the birds of prey that hover nearby.
Sometimes, nature likes to provide moving works of art.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park houses several examples, including Mauna Kea. Filled with active volcanoes and continuing lava flows, the park is an ash-laden wonderland. Steaming vents spew forth sulfur dioxide over the scenery.
Other steaming vents gush forth in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Hiking trails and horseback riding paths let visitors get a close-up look at these most amazing of nature's fountains. The Grand Teton National Park not far away provides still another fascinating look at the variety produced by natural processes. Carved over eons, the park provides some of the country's best whitewater rafting trips down the Snake River.
For a more placid look at the landscape of the west, head to Zion National Park in Utah. Here, visitors can find narrow canyons topped by stone arches, some of which span over 300 feet.
Animal-watching is a big part of many of the parks. That's nowhere more true than The Everglades in Florida. Situated at the southern edge of the state, it houses alligators, stingrays and dozens of species of bird like the Great Blue Heron.
Crater Lake in Oregon also gives lots of chances to see nature's abundance. The massive lake is surrounded by high mountains, covered with dense forests. That landscape provides a home to soaring hawks and bears. There are lots of trout, too, for those who want to combine sport with sightseeing.
Everyone will have his or her favorite of the parks, and a favorite area within one. But for millions, the crown goes to Yosemite National Park.
With the largest granite outcropping on the planet (El Capitan), it reaches out to both rock climbers and those who are simply awed by the mammoth sight. Huge waterfalls splash down the mountains through dense forests with miles of trails. Those paths provide hikers and backpackers with more land than they could ever hope to cross in a lifetime. Horseback rides provide one of the best ways to see some of them.
Whichever type of terrain or outdoor activity you seek, in whatever part of the country you want to go, there's a U.S. National Park that will far exceed your highest expectations.