For this Green Challenge, I’m going to ask you to go on vacation.
That’s right, a vacation!
I’m not asking you to spend a fortune on it either- there’s no plane ride involved, unless you want to go all out. Actually, for this vacation, you could be there and back in a day.
The weather is becoming more and more gorgeous. I think it’s about time that people started to leave their houses after being cooped up all winter, go outside, and enjoy nature’s beauty and bounty. So, sometime this week, take a day off from work, let your kids skip school (unless you want to wait until next weekend), and for one day, go enjoy a national or state park. There are currently 6,624 state parks and 59 national parks across the United States, so chances are, there’s one not too far from you.
Too busy this week? That’s fine. Sit down with your family, choose a park together, talk about what you want to do at the park, and make plans for another week. Natural preserves offer numerous activities for your family, such as fishing, hiking, swimming, sports, horseback riding, animal watching, photography opportunities, and much more. Some of my favorite times with my mother have been when we were hiking together at a park. It could be a perfect opportunity for you to talk with your family about the importance of preserving and enjoying nature.
(International viewers, hang in there, I’m going to include some global natural attractions after I’m done writing about U.S. state and national parks!)
Not only are state and national parks fun and beautiful, but they’re often very cheap to visit. Some allow free admission, and most include gift shops (which of course, you don’t have to buy from). Pack a cooler of food, a frisbee, your fishing gear, and Fido’s water dish and you’ll be good to go. Many parks also offer camping sites, if you decide one day isn’t enough.
Need help finding a park? Check out this listing on Wikipedia. Select your state and browse through the list. For New Yorkers: I have been to Buttermilk Falls (Ithaca), Cayuga Lake (Seneca Falls), Chimney Bluffs (Huron), Green Lakes (Syracuse), Letchworth (Castile), Niagara Falls (Niagara Falls), Seneca Lake (Geneva), Sonnenberg Gardens (Canandaigua), Taughannock Falls (Ulysses), and Watkins Glen (Watkins Glen). There isn’t a single one of these parks that I wouldn’t suggest to you… they are all beautiful with plenty of activities and sight-seeing to keep a family occupied. I’ve been going to the gorge at Watkins Glen since I was a child, so it holds a special place in my heart. My other personal favorites are Green Lakes, Letchworth (dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East, and rightly so), Sonnenberg Gardens, and Taughannock Falls.
Gorge at Watkins Glen State Park
Picture courtesy of: http://davereed.tumblr.com/post/6729758853/sunsurfer-watkins-glen-state-park-new-york
According to The Daily Green, these are the are the top ten national parks in the United States (to read the full article, click here):
10. Acadia National Park in Maine attracted more than 2.2 million visitors in 2007. Its 30,000+ acres of land include vast forests and stunning stretches of rocky coastline. The first protected land that would become Acadia National Park was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913, but John D. Rockefeller contributed largely to make the park what it is now.
Popular Activities: Hiking, biking, horse riding
Acadia National Park
Picture Courtesy of: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0511/feature2/online_extra.html
9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park was first protected in 1974 and was dubbed a national park in 2000, making it the youngest park on this top ten list. This is the only national park in Ohio, and it attracted 2.5 million people in 2007. The major attractions at this park are the beauty of Brandywine Falls, the history of the Erie Canal, and oddly, an old automobile junkyard that now houses a population of beavers.
Popular Activities: Hiking, biking, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, golfing
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://parks.mapquest.com/national-parks/cuyahoga-valley-national-park/
8. Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is 484 square miles, includes nine Rocky Mountain peaks, and attracted 2.6 million visitors in 2007. In 1929, the area was preserved by President Calvin Coolidge and Congress.
Popular Activities: Hiking, climbing, fishing, canoeing, snowshoeing (winter), skiing (winter)
Grand Teton National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://stockphototops.blogspot.com/2012/10/grand-tetons-national-park-free-stock.html
7. Zion National Park in Utah attracted 2.6 million visitors in 2007 and encompasses 229 square miles. Zion Canyon is fifteen miles long and at its deepest, plunges nearly a half a mile into the earth. Meaning “place of sanctuary” in Hebew, Zion is home to a plethora of wildlife, including 271 bird species. President William Taft preserved the area in 1909, it was renamed Zion in 1937, and it became a national park in 1956.
Popular Activities: Hiking, biking, horse riding
Zion National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zion_National_Park
6. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado includes sixty mountains and 416 square miles, and was visited by 2.9 million people in 2007. The park’s natural treasures include alpine wildflower meadows, stunning lakes and streams, national forests, Colorado River headwaters, and incredible wildlife, like bighorn sheep. The park was originally designated in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.
Popular Activities: Hiking, climbing, fishing, horse riding, scenic driving
Rocky Mountain National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://www.recreation.gov/marketing.do?goto=acm/Explore_And_More/exploreArticles/Rocky-Mountain-National-Park.htm
5. Olympic National Park in Washington attracted 3 million visitors in 2007. It’s array of natural beauty includes Pacific Ocean beaches, rain forest valleys, glacier-capped peaks, and a wide variety of plants and animals. President Teddy Roosevelt dedicated the Olympic National monument in 1909 and President Franklin Roosevelt dubbed it a national park in 1938.
Popular Activities: Hiking, sailing, cross-country skiing (winter)
Olympic National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://www.globeimages.net/img8076.search.htm
4. The size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, Yellowstone National Park includes territory in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. 2.3 million visitors came to the park in 2007. Established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone was America’s first national park. This grandiose natural monument is known for its geysers, grizzly bears, and bison.
Popular Activities: Geyser-viewing (particularly Old Faithful), hiking, biking, boating, fishing, horse riding, skiing (winter), snowmobiling (winter)
Yellowstone National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://famouswonders.com/yellowstone-national-park-in-wyoming/
3. Yosemite National Park in California is 1,200 square miles (about the size of Rhode Island), and racked up 3.5 million visits in 2007. Yosemite features the granite cliffs of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, giant sequoia groves, and fantastical waterfalls. Yosemite was the third national park, established in 1890, but its history goes back to President Abraham Lincoln, who made the protection of its land law in 1864.
Popular Activities: Climbing, hiking, biking, scenic driving
Yosemite National Park
Picture courtesy of: https://alpineshop.webconnex.com/yosemite-2013
2. With a whopping 4.4 million visitors in 2007, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is typically included in 7 Natural Wonders of the World lists. The incredible, colorful canyons were carved by the Colorado River. Teddy Roosevelt preserved the Grand Canyon as a monument in 1908, and it became a national park eleven years later.
Popular Activities: white-water rafting, hiking, biking, museum visiting
Grand Canyon National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://www.bugamerica.com/destinations/usa/arizona/grand-canyon.html
1. The most visited national park in 2007, more than doubling the Grand Canyon’s popularity with 9.4 million visitors, is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling North Carolina and Tennessee. The park includes 800 miles of hiking trails and is known for its rivers, waterfalls, diversity of recreation, the spring and summer wildflowers that give the park the nickname “Wildflower National Park,” and its namesake mist. The Great Smoky Mountains is home to an array of wildlife, including elks, black bears, and at least thirty species of salamanders, making the park the “Salamander Capitol of the World.” The park was established in 1940 under Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, with a 5 million dollar donation from preservation enthusiast John D. Rockefeller.
Popular Activities: Hiking, scenic driving, biking, fishing
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Picture courtesy of: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/great-smoky-mountains-national-park-morning-haze-at-oconaluftee-dave-allen.html
Top Ten Global Natural Attractions
I’m borrowing these natural attractions from the top fifteen list found here and replacing United States locations in the top ten with locations from the last five. Just for your curiosity, the Grand Canyons and Yellowstone National Park originally made the top ten in this list.
10. Lake Turkana National Parks, Kenya
Lake Turkana is the most saline of Africa’s lakes, and is an important site for wildlife, both plant and animal. The three parks are a common pit stop for migratory birds and important breeding grounds for crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and many venomous snakes. Turkana National Parks are home to the Koobi Fora deposits, which contain a plethora of fossil remains. The fossils have promoted a greater understanding to nature’s history than any other site on the planet.
Picture courtesy of: http://ictnguru.blogspot.com/2012/05/lake-turkana-in-turkana-county.html
9. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The nineteen islands that make up the Galápagos are found in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America. They have been called a “showcase of evolution,” and indeed, Darwin’s Galápagos finches are the most important and memorable example of evolution that I have learned in Biology. Some notable species on the islands are the finches, giant tortoises, and land iguanas.
Picture courtesy of: http://www.wallpaperpin.com/wallpaper/1440x900/galapagos-islands-wallpaper-hd-wide-10892.html
8. Cerrado Protected Areas, Brazil
The Cerrado is one of the world’s oldest and most diverse tropical ecosystems. The sites protected have been refuges for animals during times of climate change for millennia… So Cerrado could be and will be an important place for our world’s upcoming and uncertain future.
Cerrado Protected Areas
Picture courtesy of: http://www.smashinglists.com/ten-geographical-wonders-of-the-world/
7. Columbia Ice Fields, Alberta, Cananda
Located in the Canadian Rockies, the ice field lies partially in Banff’s northwestern tip and the southern part of Jasper National Park. The area receives a large twenty-three feet of snow annually, and the fields feed eight major glaciers.
Columbia Ice Fields
Picture courtesy of: http://www.smashinglists.com/ten-geographical-wonders-of-the-world/
6. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
This one is on my bucket list, along with Australia in general. The reef encompasses 132,974 square miles, 3,000 individual reefs, 900 islands, and is unsurprisingly the world’s largest coral reef system. It can be seen from space! Great Barrier is located in the Coral Sea (gee, wonder how it got that name) off the coast of Queensland. It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Great Barrier Reef
Picture courtesy of: http://www.acfonline.org.au/about-us/our-success-stories/conserving-great-barrier5. Angel Falls, Venezuela
This site in Venezuela is the world’s largest free-falling freshwater waterfall, dropping 2,648 feet! It is found in Canaima National Park in the Bolivar state of Venezuela. Because of the height of the falls, the water is slammed by winds and turned to mist before it hits the bottom. Angel Falls feed into Churun River, which in turn runs into Carrao River.
Picture courtesy of: http://touristsparadise.blogspot.com/2012/05/angel-falls-venezuela.html
4. Vredefort Dome, Johannesburg, South Africa
Two million years ago, a meteorite larger than Table Mountain impacted the Earth south of what is now Johannesburg, creating the largest meteor impact site on earth. Now, this area is known as Vredefort Dome. The meteorite caused a thousand-megaton blast (I don’t really have an analogy for that, but it sounds like a LOT). It became a World Heritage Site in 2005.
Picture courtesy of: http://www.guideoftravels.com/the-vredefort-dome-scar-of-an-ancient-asteroid.html
3. Aurora Borealis, Northern Hemisphere
Named after the Roman goddess of Dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for wind, Boreas, these natural phenomena are colored lights that appear in the sky, most often in the polar zone. The other common moniker is the Northern Lights, as it is unique to the Northern Hemisphere. The lights are most often seen from September to October and from March to April. I faintly remember seeing them when I was little… Even in the Northern Hemisphere, the stunning Aurora Borealis displays are a rare treat. I enjoyed the Disney movie, Balto, as a child, and one of my favorite scenes is when Balto recreates the Northern Lights for Jenna using broken glass and reflections.
Picture courtesy of: http://www.lovethesepics.com/2011/02/24-amazing-auroras-aurora-borealis-aurora-australis/
2. Amazon Rainforest, South America
Also a bucket list item! Found in the Amazon Basin of South America, the rainforest covers and incredible 1.2 billion acres located within nine nations (Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana). The Amazon Rainforest represents more than half of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforests. An incredible 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced here, and the Amazon also contains one fifth of Earth’s freshwater supply.
Picture courtesy of: http://itsabeautifulearth.com/2011/06/04/why-you-should-save-the-amazon-rainforest/
1. Milford Sound, New Zealand
Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most popular tourist attraction, was called the eighth wonder of the world by Rudyard Kipling. It is found in the Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage Site. The sound (actually a fjord) includes mountains blanketed in lush rainforests, featuring areas that were used to film Lord of the Rings. Seals, penguins, and dolphins can be found traversing Milford Sound’s waters.
Picture courtesy of: http://mstecker.com/pages/nzmsa23ms4a-3.htm
So, whether or not you travel a half an hour away from home to visit a state park or you go half way around the world on an international trip, I want to hear about it, and maybe see some awesome pictures. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the very least, tell me which of these locations are the most appealing to you. Have you already been to one of these locations? Please, leave a comment with your experiences, and maybe even consider being a Guest Writer.
Thank you so much for reading, and my best wishes to you and your family in all of your travels.