One of the first mentions of a national park came from William Wordsworth in 1810. Looking out over England’s Lake District, he commented that it should be a “national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.”
It wasn’t until 1872 that Yellowstone — widely considered the world’s first national park — was officially established in the United States. Today, there are an estimated 6,555 national parks worldwide. Here are 13 to get you started.
1. Sagarmatha (Nepal)
Covering 1,148 square kilometers and four climatic zones, the UNESCO-listed Sagarmatha National Park is more than mountain views. The hiking route through the park in the direction of Mount Everest is one of Nepal’s best treks.
2. Grand Canyon (USA)
A U.S. classic, Grand Canyon National Park contains one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Beyond staring wide-eyed from the South Rim and riding a mule to the bottom, the park has plenty of terrain for extended backpacking, cultural exploration, and Colorado River trips.
Photo: B Rosen
3. Sundarbans (India)
The dense mangrove forests of Sundarbans National Park in West Bengal make an ideal home for tigers, among other animals. Floating safaris are the most common activity, but travelers can also visit the animal rehabilitation projects in the area.
4. Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, another Natural Wonder of the World, has divers polishing their goggles with excitement. Angling is also doable here in the largest reef system on the planet, but be wary of the no-fishing zone that covers one-third of the park.
Photo: Leonard Low
5. Bwindi Impenetrable (Uganda)
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park might not have the friendliest name, but get beyond that and you’ll find one of the most diverse ecosystems in Africa, home to animals like the mountain gorilla. Though the park is remote and permits are required, organized tours offer a chance to see the gorillas and other wildlife.
Photo: Chrissy Olson
6. Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica)
Even though Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest in Costa Rica, it still receives more than 150,000 visitors every year, making it the second most visited in the country. The setting is unbeatable — visitors can take their pick between beaches and hiking trails.
7. Banff (Canada)
Established in 1885, Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest. Like many of the popular national parks in North America, development hasn’t been held back, but the tourist shops and RV parks can’t take away from the towering mountains. Kick back in a hot spring, paddle across Lake Louise, or hike one of the imposing peaks.
8. Chitwan (Nepal)
Nepal’s oldest national park, Chitwan was established in 1973 and is famous for the Bengal tigers and single-horned Indian rhinoceros that call it home. Elephant and walking safaris allow travelers to view the wildlife.
9. Yosemite (USA)
Yosemite National Park receives more than 3.5 million visitors every year, but most stay within the seven-square-mile Yosemite Valley. Once you’ve glimpsed the intimidating mass of El Capitan and Half Dome, escape the crowds and explore one of the park’s wilderness areas.
Photo: Alaskan Dude
10. Gobi Gurvansaikhan (Mongolia)
At over 27,000 square kilometers, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park is the largest in Mongolia. It contains part of the Gobi Desert, a large area of steppe, and one of the country’s mountain ranges.
11. Triglav (Slovenia)
Slovenia’s Triglav National Park protects a variety of terrain, including the peaks and crags of the Julian Alps, lush alpine meadows, and the broad forested valleys of the Soča and Sava rivers. The Triglav itself — Slovenia’s tallest peak — stands near the center of the park.
12. Mikumi (Tanzania)
What would a trip to Africa be without a safari? Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park is one of the country’s lesser-visited parks, meaning fewer crowds and more feasible protection of the animals and environment. Visit in the dry season and you’ll likely have it all to yourself.
13. Torres del Paine (Chile)
Torres del Paine National Park, located on the southern tip of Argentina, is a prime spot for climbing and trekking. Though the weather can be severe, the views of the Cordillera del Paine, Fitzroy, and other mountains are unmatched. Travelers can explore the rivers, glaciers, and mountains of the park while staying in basic refugios.
Of course, these are only drops in the bucket. If old-growth forest is what you’re looking for, check out this post by Ellen Wilson.
Have a read here for some thought-provoking words by Fiona Murray, who wonders if “nature is for sale.”
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David DeFranza is an editor at large for the Matador Network. He has studied in China, worked in Japan, and wandered all over Asia, Europe and North America.