4 Exciting National Parks – 4 Different Continents
Most of us have probably been to a national park at one time or another. Probably for most people here in the United States and likely Canada too, there is a national park within driving distance. But there are other exciting national parks waiting for adventures to discover them in different countries and on different continents. When you go on vacation be sure to see if there are any national parks close to where you stay. Of course you could make visiting a national park the main purpose of your vacation. Here are four national parks in four different countries and on four different continents. Any one of them could make a great adventure for you and your family. Read about them below.
1. Wilderness Abounds at Glacier National Park – Montana USA
Thinking of bringing your family closer to nature? One of the best places in North America to do just that is the Glacier National Park. As the fourth largest park in the USA, this national park, located in the state of Montana, covers a land area of over a million acres that stretches all the way to the Canadian border. Together with its neighbor Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada, the Glacier National Park forms the first International Peace Park in the world.
On top of the surrounding iconic glaciers, which have been in existence for hundreds of years, the national park also boasts luscious hills, snowy meadows, rugged peaks and magnificent lakes. If all of these sound good, then better put this national park on your travel list because experts predict the glaciers in the park will most likely vanish by 2030 due to climate change!
One highlight that is certainly not to be missed experiencing in the Glacier National Park is driving through the beautiful 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road. This scenic road wraps around the mountainside, and provides access to the Continental Divide at Logan Pass and the St. Mary Valley. During your drive, you will get to see the best sights in the region including wildlife in their natural habitat.
Some of popular activities in the park are hiking through the luscious forests and mountains, as well as mountain biking along picturesque meadows. There are over 740 miles of well set walking trails within Glacier. Before going on your hiking trip, drop by the park’s visitor center to get necessary tips, warnings and recommendations. For a more informative and enjoyable trip, you should consider booking a hiking tour around the park’s back country. On this type of tour, you will be accompanied by wilderness guides, who are willing to share their knowledge about the unique ecosystems thriving in the region.
One of the popular walking sites is through the Two Medicine region, which is home to the Two Medicine Lake and Twin Falls. If wildlife viewing excites you, check out North Folk, which is populated by fascinating species like black bears, moose, mountain lions and bighorn sheep. Other incredible hiking trails are Piegan Pass, Highline Trail, Swiftcurrent Pass and Iceberg Trail.
Various types of tours are available at Glacier National Park. One of the cool tours around is the Red Bus tour. In this historic tour, you will ride on a 1936 roll-back canvas topped Red Bus to witness the park’s breathtaking scenery. The tour also includes regional cuisine dishes, glacier or lake hiking and photo journaling especially at Logan Pass. Boat tours that allow you to cruise gorgeous lakes of Glacier National Park are also highly recommended. Some of the notable lakes you can choose exploring in the park are Many Glacier, Rising Sun. Apgar and Lake McDonald.
Accommodation options are abundant in the park; from full service lodges, rustic inn to cabins and hotels. Even though Glacier opens its doors to the public all year round, some of the park accommodation and tours are only available in between late spring and early fall. You can also camp overnight within the park’s back-country area, but you will first need to obtain a backcountry camping permit from any of the visitor center or ranger station in Glacier National Park.
2. Cotopaxi National Park – Quito Ecuador
Cotopaxi National Park is situated 53 kilometers from the city of Quito, and is one of the most visited national parks in the Ecuador. The main reason to visit Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador is its resident active volcano that soars to a height of 19,000 feet above sea level. It is the most distinct feature of the park, but is surrounded by stunning valleys, rivers, and lagoons.
Cotopaxi has a near perfect cone-shape and is typically snow covered, making it a spectacular sight from a distance or from a airplane. This is the reason a great number of tourists still visit the park every year. The Cotopaxi volcano remains the highest continuously active volcano in South America. It last exploded in the year 1877. Despite of these facts, many adventure-seeking tourists still come to Cotopaxi in the hopes of climbing the volcano.
Park administrators only allow very experienced climbers to do the challenging hikes around the park including climbing the volcano. It is a very risky climb and only fit for those who are in top physical condition. The climb usually starts at 11 pm or midnight, and you can expect to walk on glaciers for at least 8 consecutive hours before you reach the crater. This schedule ideally allows climbers to reach the top in the early morning to get clear panoramic views before the clouds settle in.
You don’t have to be a thrill-seeking adventurist to enjoy a trip to Cotopaxi National Park. You can simply arrange for a tour that usually includes a comfortable hike around the volcano’s vicinity. Most tour packages bring you to the visitor center and small museum, as well as, provide lunch at a local hacienda. There are number of the outfitters in Quito that are offering various tour packages. On top of hiking expeditions, mountain bike and horseback-riding tours can also be arranged. However, you also have the option to explore the park and make arrangements on your own. You only need to pay a small entrance fee to gain access to the Cotopaxi.
There are several hiking paths around the park, and they range from short to mid-length. Although these hikes are not as challenging as climbing the volcano, take note that they are still situated at high altitude. Thus, the air in this area is rather thin, and it’s normal to feel lightheaded while doing the hikes. It is highly advisable that you spend a couple of days in Quito to get acclimatized to to the high altitude before joining hiking adventures around Cotopaxi.
One popular section to visit while making your Cotopaxi exploration is the Laguna de Limpiopungo, a beautiful but shallow lake that is home to a large number of bird species. Another visually appealing site is the high Andean paramo, where wild horses and llamas can be seen grazing.
This paramo provides a contrast to the flat plains below the volcano, which are characterized by volcanic boulders, reminiscent of prior eruptions. It is possible to make day trips to the national park, but there are several hotels close to the volcano if you wish to stay overnight. There are also opportunities to camp overnight at the volcano’s flanks.
3. Amazing Kakadu National Park – Australia
Kakadu National Park has been the home of the Bininj/Mungguy aboriginals for over 50,000 years. Its rock carvings, cave paintings and archaeological landmarks reflect the lives of its prehistoric inhabitants and the people living here today. This World Heritage Site possesses a diverse set of ecosystems including plateaus, lowlands, hills, coastal areas, and floodplains making it a suitable haven for hundreds of wildlife species. All of these features make Kakadu National Park a unique and fascinating destination.
Encompassing a land area of over 110,000 square kilometers, this national park in the northeastern corner of the Northern Territory is the biggest of its kind in Australia. One of the unique attributes of this park is its ability to dramatically change its landscapes depending on the time of the year. This is the reason why the Aboriginal tribal owners, who live in this area, recognize six different seasons.
Kakadu houses the highest number of aboriginal rock sites in the world. So while traveling in the park, don’t pass up the chance to see some of these notable sites. If you only have time to explore a couple; choose to go to Ubirr and Nourlangie, which are the most prominent rock art sites in the park.
There are daily tours being offered inside the park by different companies. The popular tours spots include the Koolpin Gorge, Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls and Yellow Water Billabong. Wildlife watching is one of the things to be enjoyed in Kakadu National Park. Some of the mammals, reptiles and other types that live here are rare, endemic or endangered. At the park’s wetlands, you will find a variety of crocodiles lazily sleeping on the river banks. Herons, ospreys and other exotic birds are everywhere. Other animals that are commonly sighted are wallabies, water buffaloes, snakes and feral horses. The best times to go wildlife watching in Kakadu are during the early morning and sunset.
Walking is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of Kakadu. Fortunately, there are many well-marked trails which you can follow. Some of the notable walking paths include Barrk Sandstone Walk, Yurmikmik Walks and Mirrai Lookout Walk. Another way of marveling at the park’s beautifully diverse landscapes is by air. Scenic flight tours on helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are offered at Jabiru and Cooinda.
To learn more about the park’s ecology and aboriginal culture, you should also drop by the Bowali Visitor Center and the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Center in Cooinda. Other fun activities to consider are cruising on the park waterways, and camping at Merl.
Kakadu National Park is accessible from the city of Darwin through the Arnhem Highway. The drive from the city to the park takes about 3 to 4 hours. You have to pay a fee to enter the park and the entry pass is valid for 14 days. Kakadu is a type of place that has so many sights to see, remarkable stories to tell and secrets to reveal. So the key is to allocated sufficient time to fully explore the park. Plan your itinerary well and do some advance research to prioritize the spots you want to see.
4. Authentic Ruaha National Park – Tanzania Africa
Ruaha National Park may not be as famous as its neighbor Serengeti, but this 7,809-square-mile park promises a less crowded and wilder atmosphere. Because this national park is not as accessible as others, it receives fewer tourists. However, there is no doubt that staying here is a very rewarding experience!
Ruaha’s landscape includes the Great Rift Valley, rolling hills, mountains, wetlands, and river systems. Natural cool and hot water springs are also scattered across the park. The roaring Great Ruaha River is the main river that runs through the national park. Along with other rivers like Mwagusi, Mdonya, Jongomero and Mzombe, it provides nourishment to the region especially during the long dry season. Ruaha’s distinct location, which is between hemispheres, enables it to become home to a very diverse set of mammals and other species.
The park is populated by a large number of elephants, hippos, buffalos and the endangered wild dogs. This is also the only national park where you will most likely see the Greater Kudu, a woodland antelope species that is sparsely populated because of the declining habitat. Other creatures that roam freely in Ruaha include, zebras, Sable and Roan antelopes, cheetah, giraffes, elands, jackals, bat eared foxes and leopards. The Mwagusi area is specially known for amazing lion viewing opportunities.
Ruaha National Park will excite any bird enthusiasts as it is a favorite migration spot for birds coming from within Africa and other parts like Europe, Asia and Australia. The park houses more than 500 bird species. Among them is the popular Ruaha red-billed hornbill. If you like snakes, lizards and crocodiles, then Ruaha is also one of the best places to see them. The national park’s rivers like the Mzombe and Great Ruaha are home to various types of reptiles and amphibians.
Ruaha also has interesting historical and cultural sites that visitors can explore. Most of these sites were occupied by some significant Southern Tanzanian tribes. If you want to learn more about old tribal rituals and traditions, drop by Painting rock at Nyanywa, ‘Ganga la Mafunyo’, and Mapenza’ grave at Mpululu. Iringa town’s Isimila pillars, God’s bridge, Mlambalasi, and Kalenga are also highly recommended historical landmarks.
Game viewing tours are plentiful in the area. You can take a ranger-guided drive on four-wheel vehicles during the day to marvel at the safari animals up close. There are also regular walking safari tours for small groups as well as bird watching excursions. Dry season, which is from mid May to December is considered to be the prime time for game viewing; while January to April, which is the wet season, is the best period for bird watching and witnessing luscious scenery and wildflowers. A number of tourists visiting the park also engage in picnics and bush meals.
Ruaha has relatively fewer lodges than most major parks, but the overall cost of visiting it is less than other prominent safari parks. Some of the affordable safari camps in the area include Kwihala, Mdonya Old River and Kigelia. Jongomero is the leading high end accommodation in the area but it’s also one of the best in all of Tanzania. Mwagusi is the oldest lodge while the Ruaha River Lodge is the largest safari camp in Ruaha.
If you have visited any of the above national parks please leave a comment about your experiences below.