Sep 29

It’s nearly that time of year again, on Saturday 29th September every national park in the United States will open their gates, waive its entrance fees and invite everyone to come and explore stunning mountains, canyons, forests, beaches and more as part of National Public Lands Day.  The ARKive team in the US have been fortunate enough to visit many of the nation’s parks and have compiled a handy top 10 for you to add to your list of places to visit this Saturday.

Death Valley

Devil’s Hole pupfish photo

Travelers should heed the warning in the name of this national park, but please don’t let it scare you from visiting this natural wonder. Even though it is the hottest, driest and lowest point in the US, it actually provides vital habitat for a special little fish called the Devil’s Hole pupfish found only in a single, 20 square kilometre spring in Death Valley.

Great Smokey Mountains

Common snapping turtle photo

Watching the misty fog chase up over the peaks of the Great Smokey Mountains is truly a sight to behold, and being within a day’s drive of over half the citizens of the US, it’s worth the trek to visit. Wildlife abounds in this 800 square mile park from furry black bears to hard-shelled snapping turtles. Snapping turtles have an extremely varied diet and are sometimes bold enough to steal fish bait right from fishermen’s lines!


Wood stork photo

There really are no words to describe the feeling of skimming over the marshy waters of the Everglades on an airboat with the wind whipping through your hair and birds of all shapes and sizes in flight around you. The wood stork is one such bird and, according to the National Park Service, a pair can consume nearly 440 pounds of fish feeding themselves and their young during breeding season.

Grand Canyon

Bighorn sheep photo

Canyon enthusiasts will agree that if you’re going to visit the Grand Canyon, timing your arrival to enjoy the sunrise or sunset is key. Seeing the ancient walls awash with the pinks, reds and oranges of the setting or rising sun is definitely something to add to your bucket list. Bighorn sheep are just one of the species which call the canyon home, and have been known to easily scale its vertical walls using their agile footing and keen eyesight.


Shenandoah salamander photo

Just a 90 minute drive from the nation’s capital, Shenandoah offers miles and miles of blue-ridged mountains, sparkling waterfalls and peaceful woodland. Home to 14% of the world’s 535 salamanders, Shenandoah National Park is a premier biodiversity hotspot for these amphibians. The Shenandoah salamander is particularly interesting as it is a member of the family Plethodontidae, commonly known as the lungless salamanders, which obtain oxygen by breathing through their skin.

Mount Rainier

Snowshoe hare photo

Given its name, you could be forgiven for assuming that Mount Rainier is a mountain, although in fact it’s actually an active volcano! With over 35 square miles of snow and ice on the volcano, the snowshoe hare thrives in this winter wonderland, its coat changing from brown to white to camouflage with the seasons.

Point Reyes

Northern elephant seal photo

At Point Reyes National Seashore there are vast stretches of pristine Pacific shoreline just waiting be explored. Northern elephant seals have claimed a portion of these beaches as their annual breeding grounds and at the Elephant Seal Overlook location in the park, you can observe them here while keeping both you and the seals safe!


Peregrine falcon photo

If rocky and rugged coastline is more your style then Acadia is just the ticket. Bird-watching enthusiasts will particularly enjoy spotting peregrine falcons soaring the skies around Mt. Cadillac. Thanks to the park’s Eastern Peregrine Falcon Reintroduction Program, there is now a vibrant population of these birds in the park, having been rescued from the brink of extinction due to hunting and environmental toxins.

Rocky Mountains

American pika photo

Seeing the Rocky Mountains erupt from the flat mid-Western plains of the United States is a spectacular vista. One tiny species that inhabits this massive park is the adorable American pika. The males of the species are particularly charming since they are known for performing a “song” to attract a mate during the breeding season.

Assateague Island

Bottlenose dolphin photo

Speaking from personal experience, it’s hard not to fall in love with Assateague Island while sitting on the sandy shore and watching bottlenose dolphins play in the ocean before you. Assateague also offers another unique experience, watching the ‘wild’ horses that roam freely in the park and along the beaches. The horses aren’t actually native to the park and legend has it that their ancestors were survivors of an old shipwreck off the coast of Virginia, although this has never been proven.

I’ll be traveling to Assateague this Saturday to enjoy the park for Public Lands Day and hopefully spot some wildlife through the lens of my camera. On Monday, I’ll upload my favorite shots from the day to ARKive’s Facebook page and if you’re able to visit a park, too, I encourage you to do the same. Let’s see how many folks we can get outside and enjoying US national parks this Saturday!

Liana Vitali, ARKive Science, Education and Outreach Officer, Wildscreen USA

  • Desiree ( (September 29th, 2012 at 9:53 pm):

    Although the Smoky Mountains are crowded, they’re worth the trip! Most salamander diversity in the world. Thanks for spotlighting our beautiful parks on this side of the pond!

  • Doug Norris (October 1st, 2012 at 11:52 am):

    We have visited Death Valley. Everglades, Rocky Mountains, and the Grand Canyon.

    In the Grand Canyon, we were taken on a day excursion by a women who was very knowledgeable about the flora, fauna and geology of the region. Even though just my wife and I were shown around, her fee was not at all exorbitant. Her sharing added considerably to our enjoyment of the “Grand Canyon experience”

    Unfortunately, we found that her knowledge was exceptional – even people we met who worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service were not very knowledgeable. Some people we met in Parks found a ban on hunting in Southern Africa’s national parks extraordinary. Equally, we found it extraordinary that people walked around unescorted in places were dangerous predators live. We came across a cougar in a location in which they were not supposed to be found. We kept details to ourselves as we had visions of the animal being hunted. The message for us is that our outlook on conservation is not necessary shared by others – it did come as a bit of a shock, but that’s life, I guess!

    Death Valley was wonderful. Look out for the small creatures – reptiles and birds. The flora is also very interesting.

    The Everglades is great for birds, flora and some reptiles – we came across a Pygmy Rattlesnake.

    Generally we found it very easy to travel around the USA in a rented car – distances were not as daunting as we expected them to be. Americans were always very friendly, helpful and willing to go the extra mile to help.

    We highly recommend a trip to the USA, but we also recommend a lot of preparatory research to get the best out of the experience.

  • Liana (October 26th, 2012 at 8:08 pm):

    Hi Doug, Many thanks for your thoughts and for sharing stories about your trips in and around US parks. So glad to hear you found traveling to be easy and it to be an overall enjoyable experience. I’ve certainly got many more places on my list to hit and wildlife to observe as I’m sure you do, too. Happy travels into the future!