The editors of Travel + Leisure have already brought you our bucket list trips and trips that changed our lives. Now, to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, we bring you a sampling of our favorite experiences at the places the agency oversees. These range from our oldest and most classic parks—Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains—to lesser-known national monuments like White Sands in New Mexico and Devils Tower in Wyoming. We tell you which trails to hike, the drives and helicopter rides that offer special views, and more. The world is so full of extraordinary places to visit, it’s easy to forget sometimes that many of them are right here in our backyard. Read on and start dreaming about which park you’ll visit next.
For more stories celebrating the centennial of the national parks, head here. »
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone packs so many landscapes and experiences into one park. Intensely colorful hot springs, raging waterfalls, vast plains, geysers of varying levels of fame… and the chance to take a simultaneously steamy and chilly dip in the Boiling River. There’s also the wildlife, of course. On the first day of my trip to Yellowstone a few summers ago, a park ranger alerted us to be extra-cautious while driving in case we ran into a “bear-jam”— a traffic jam caused by park visitors stopping to watch the wildlife. The more elusive the species, the bigger the jam. We didn’t see bears, but we “bear-jammed” for moose and elk and, my personal favorite, bison.
The bison cause traffic jams not just by being visible from the road, but by meandering, without a care in the world, directly into your path. It’s their land. They do not care that they might be interfering with your schedule. They do not care that you’re trying to reach Grand Prismatic by nightfall. They do not care if you miss the next Old Faithful eruption. They lumber past, giving you what feels like a very deliberate side-eye, and you happily cede your schedule to their will. —Skye Senterfeit, associate photo editor