Nestled in Utah between Nevada and Arizona, walking through Zion feels like following in the footsteps of your ancestors. Sprawling, wide expanses are courted by rust-red and tan-hued Navajo sandstone valleys filled with lush, green fauna. There is something spiritual about the place, whether you’re looking for gentle walks and beautiful vistas or to push your hiking and climbing to the next level. Start things off easily with the famous Emerald Pools trail, a meandering mile taking in dramatic cliffs and scenic waterfalls, and build up to the Taylor Creek trail, the best way to experience the changing sandstone colours and the mysterious Double Arch Alcove.
With over 2 millions visitors a year, Bryce National Park is unfortunately not a secret destination, but with sprawling landscapes and wide open spaces, you’ll feel like you’re the only person there. Formed as a series of canyons, Bryce is famed for its otherworldly hoodoos - rows of spiked rocks that make for incredible pictures. Work your way around the four main vista points and then settle down for an epic sunset and a night under the stars, the old-fashioned American way. With its dizzying elevation of up to 9000 ft, Bryce is often much cooler than the rest of the U.S. parks, making it a perfect summertime escape.
3. Death Valley
If you’ve ever thought about going to Death Valley, you’ve probably been told not to go in the summer. The punishing heat of up to 57 degrees celsius and flat plains makes this stretch one of the most brutal places in the world to face the midday sun. Nevertheless, this remote national park remains one of the most beautiful desertscapes on the planet, boasting canyons, sand dunes, mountains, volcanic craters and even palm tree-trimmed oasis. Explore the unexpected plant life (it’s home to over 1000 species), quirky animals and contrasting landscape by foot and by car to make the most of this spectacular place.
Probably the most famous of all the parks on this list, Yosemite’s infamous Half Dome has been everyone’s screensaver at some point in time. Despite being the most well known (and thus the busiest), if you avoid the peak summer months, the hiking trails are unbeatable for their beauty and serenity. Meander around the falls and test your metal on the Mist trail, scaling the sheer cliff face by cable to reach the top of the Half Dome. Stay in one of the heated camps within the park itself to hit the trails early and take advantage of 360 degree views from the get go. With lush greenery, plenty of waterfalls, lakes and trees, Yosemite really is a cut above.
Rising up out of the bold Utah flats, Canyonlands National Park is a magical place. Shrouded in mystery, this huge park is best explored with a four-wheel drive but there are plenty of walking trails that take in all the vistas too. Explore the Mesa Dome and step into a ancient meteoric crater, or mountain bike around the White Rim trail which skirts the Sky mesa, creating a beautiful loop around the rich, red terrain. Canyonlands is more manageable than many of the other parks on this list, allowing for everything from a few hours to a full weekend trip or more. Maker sure you bring enough water to keep you going though as rest stops are few and far between - this isolation however, is part of what makes this particular parkso very beautiful.