Somewhere along the way, I became somewhat of a national park collector. That’s not to say that I’m opposed to other parks: state, provincial, municipal. But, I know that national parks are a reliable bet for sampling the-best-of-the-best landscapes during short stopovers in particular areas. With that in mind, here are a few of my favourites.
10 National Parks to Add to your Bucket List
Seoraksan National Park, South Korea
I can’t convey my love of this park. Staying in the park, waking up to sunshine and mountains, the beating of drums and buddhist rituals, the feeling of being in this place that just feels, well, epic. The picture above was the view from my balcony. Twice. Really, I went back twice in two months and got the same room. The hiking here suits all levels, and Koreans take their hiking seriously. Food in the park is expensive, but catching a bus into the city (Sokcho) is easy and cheap. Read more here.
Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand
The tour I did through Doi Inthanon was kind of weird. There aren’t really trails in the park, so you have to go via road. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it, but came across some unexpected and unique opportunities. The one that stood out most was a visit we made to a village of Burmese refugees who’d been living in the park for around 20 years. They wove scarves, tapestries, and sold their products to tourists. The village was tiny, with a couple of dogs and chickens running around. It’s interesting to see how populations like this interact with the tourism industry. They allow us to visit as the money we spend supports their livelihood.
Of course, there is more to the park, including the highest point in Thailand. But.. it’s just not that exciting when you reach the peak in a van.
Kakadu National Park, Australia
Kakadu, and neighbouring Litchfield, are gems in the Northern Territory. They reek of adventure, of living a wild and bohemian life. Somewhere between the blazing humidity and cool relief of rock pools, there is a lot of history here. I did a three-day camping tour that included a traditional Cul Cul (a welcome to the Wulna country), which entailed a young girl spitting water on my head, and had a go at playing the didgeridoo (I failed). The photo above is some of the ancient rock art you can see at Ubirr. The rock faces here have been painted and repainted since 40,000 BCE.
Mount Aspiring National Park, New Zealand
This park is one of those places that looks good with blue sky or grey clouds overhead. A hike through fields where cows and sheep graze, following by a jaunt through temperate rainforests, and finally to the Rob Roy Glacier. This is where you take a break, have a snack somewhere on the massive boulders in a valley, and wait for the thunderous roars of cracking ice and mini avalanches.
Jasper National Park, Canada
Jasper is sometimes referred to as Banff’s stoner brother–it’s like a less-developed version of Canada’s oldest national park to the south. And that makes it pretty special. The Icefields Parkway is one of those routes that you should probably drive at some point in your life. It’s a place where you’re likely to catch a few wildlife sightings, while winding through mountains and stopping by at the Columbia Icefield. If you’re really keen, you can continue driving south until you reach Banff.
Ang Thong Marine National Park, Thailand
Perhaps one of my favourite days in Thailand was my time in Ang Thong Marine National Park. Alex Garland’s original inspiration for The Beach, you can easily see why this is. The water is turquoise, the sands are white, the rocky islands jut out from the water, leaving caves and tunnels just asking to be explored by kayak.
Blue Mountains National Park, Australia
There are plenty of easy trips to make from Sydney. When I visited the Blue Mountains, the region was in the midst of heavy wildfires. Certain routes had closed, and some of our options were out for the timeframe. We took the train less than 2 hours from Sydney and walked to the visitor’s centre in Katoomba. The trailhead we chose almost immediately swelled with a deafening sound of cicadas, and it would rise and fall throughout the journey. Surprisingly, this isn’t an annoying sensation, it’s actually pretty impressive. Throughout the trails are plenty of lookouts and chances to appreciate the rising and falling landscape, the lush forests, and the craggy outlying rock forms, like the Three Sisters, seen above.
Chiaksan National Park, South Korea
Chiaksan is a great introduction to hiking in South Korea: it’s not too far from major cities, is well-maintained, and (although gruelling) is really only a half-day hike. Along the way is a mountainside temple area to explore, at the bottom are some small stalls and restaurants that serve up quality Korean food. Read more about Chiaksan here.
Gros Mourne National Park, Canada
Newfoundland may not have an abundance of national parks, but the ones it has are good. Gros Mourne is the second-largest national park in Atlantic Canada and a world heritage site. An extension of the Appalachian Mountains, the terrain is rife with rocky mountains and fjords. The unique geology across the region is worth taking a closer look at.
Banff National Park, Canada
I almost didn’t include Banff on this list, just because it is Canada’s most popular national park, by far. But, I had to, because despite how annoyingly terrible it is to find parking by a trail head in peak season, the views are always worth it.
Banff is the oldest designated national park in the Great White North. The town itself can be a deterrent–it’s a tourist town through-and-through. Skip it and head for the trails to get to the real heart of the park. There are plenty of options, including climbing a Via Ferrata route at Mount Norquay.
What are your favourite parks? Have you visited any of the ones above?