There’s no denying that this is a rough time for most of us; even if we are not being directly affected by Covid-19, having to stay home is still difficult for all but the most introverted. The good news is that the United States National Parks has released an exciting new feature whereby we can all visit our parks virtually, right from the safety of our homes!
Simply follow the links below to visit each one of these national treasures and virtually “walk” along some of the most beautiful natural trails in the world. We hope this allows you to escape the four walls of your home, even if just in your imagination, even if for just an hour or two.
Just five miles north of Moab in Utah, Arches National Park’s fiery orange sandstone arches tower above the surrounding smooth, desert landscape. Encompassing over 75,000 acres, this stunning park is beloved for its wide variety of astounding geological formations. Must-see sandstone features at Arches include the red, soaring Delicate Arch to the east, Landscape Arch to the north, and towering Balanced Rock located in the center.
During your virtual hikes, check out more remote trails that you might miss in person, including the “Primitive Loop,” found in the part of the park known as Devil’s Garden.
Fun fact: The Delicate Arch is featured on Utah’s license plates.
In South Dakota, 244,000 acres of desolate geological wonder beckon you. From sturdily stacked moon-like rock formations to towering towers, the unforgiving landscape of Badlands National Park is home to hardy bison, mule deer, pronghorn, raptors, bighorn sheep, and acres of prairie dog towns.
On your virtual visit, you can explore layers of red, yellow, white, and brown sedimentary rock on your hike, gaze out over the nearly alien landscape, and wander the lush prairie grasses nestled between the rock formations. Be sure to visit the Fossil Exhibit Trail, too! This boardwalk installation displays various fossils that have been found in the Badlands: saber-toothed cats, prehistoric horse-like creatures, long-extinct burrowers, and even alligators once called this national park home.
Fun fact: These formations may look immoveable now, but geologists report that just as the Badlands were formed by nature over time, in another half-million years, they will have worn away completely!
High in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, glaciers have carved deep valleys, creating Glacier National Park. This mountainous retreat is a lush habitat for goats, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, elk, river otter, skunk, hundreds of bird species, fish, and dozens of other small animal species.
Hikers can tackle over 700 miles of established trails, a few of which lead to the breathtaking views of Hidden Lake. Be sure to visit Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, Grinnell Glacier, and the world-famous Going-to-the-Sun Road!
While the geological formations you’ll see on your tour have been formed over the last billion-and-a-half years, climate change has ravaged the glaciers, leaving behind bare rock. You’ll notice these missing glaciers as flat, empty rock shelves throughout the park.
Fun fact: As you view the icy cold lakes throughout the park, note that Montana has granted the waterways of Glacier National Park a water quality rating of A-1, which is the best rating Montana awards.
The Grand Canyon hardly needs an introduction. As one of the 7 Wonders of the World, this famous park welcomes 6 million visitors every year! This ever-changing landscape of weather-hewn canyons and the Colorado River is beloved for its unique beauty, especially visible at sunrise and sunset. Your virtual visit to the uplands of northern Arizona will take you through thick pine forests, through scrublands, and into the habitats of deer, coyote, and some of the most beautiful birds of prey in the state. During your visit, you may enjoy visiting some locations that are difficult to reach in person, like the gorgeous Havasu falls.
Fun Fact: Mary Colter, often hailed as a genius of architecture, designed a series of six remarkable buildings through the park. Can you find any on your hike?
Iconic, glacier-capped Mt. Rainier, over 14,000 feet high, towers over Washington State, but the National Park itself is located Southeast from Seattle. This massive 369-mile reserve surrounds Mt. Rainier and encompasses verdant meadows, hundreds of hiking trails up to incredible mountain views, and a stunning array of wildlife. Sixty-five mammal species call this park home, but deer, elk, squirrels, jays, and ravens are among the bolder species you’re most likely to see on your virtual tour.
If you persevere in your virtual climb, you’ll eventually reach Sunrise, the highest point you can drive to when visiting in person, 6,400 feet above the meadows below. Several volcanoes are visible from here! If you prefer mountainous views and soft meadows to wander, begin at the trail that reaches the Paradise overlook.
Fun fact: Although Mt. Rainier has erupted 12 times in the last 2,600 years, the last time it did so was about 2,200 years ago.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the highest point in the contiguous United States while you wander the forests that are home to the largest tree in the world (seeded over 2,500 years ago), Sequoia National Park is a must-see. Located on the south end of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, this park is home to red-tail hawks, marmots, bobcats, squirrels, and the occasional mountain lion.
Virtual visitors can travel over hiking trails to Crystal Cave nestled underground, climb to soaring Moro Rock, and “drive” through the famous Tunnel Tree, carved out to allow the road to pass through.
Fun fact: The ultracool Bearpaw High Sierra Camp is nearly 12 miles out, overlooking the western divide. Can you find it on your visit?
Shenandoah National Park is nestled against the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and includes part of the Appalachian Trail within its extensive trail systems. While most of the park is heavily forested, visitors can also enjoy wetlands, gaze up at cascading falls, and hike 516 miles of trails, down into valleys or up soaring peaks like those found in the Old Rag Mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for the black bears, deer, squirrels, fish, and over a dozen bird species that call these verdant forests home.
Fun fact: Shenandoah National Park is also the largest bear sanctuary in Virginia.
As the only tropical island getaway on our list, Virgin Islands National Park is truly unique among our national parks. Covering 23 miles of both land and ocean, this park is almost completely surrounded by coral reefs. Donkeys, deer, pigs, iguanas, goats, tortoises, and dozens of other tiny creatures make this paradise their home, while peaceful sea turtles swim in the warm ocean waters around the reefs.
Virtual visitors to Virgin Islands National Park can explore the ruins of an 18th-century sugar plantation and sugar mill, enjoy the beautiful beaches, or take a visual hike through the dense rainforest that covers most of the island.
Fun fact: Despite the many animals that thrive within the park, only bats are really native to this area.
This California National Park is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Glaciers and flooding have carved out this canyon system, leaving high peaks and deep valleys behind. Now, visitors can explore wetlands and lakes, meadows and forested regions, or take hiking trails through giant, ancient sequoia trees back to picturesque waterfalls.
On your virtual visit, be sure to check out the famous Cathedral formation, find Bridalveil Fall, and see El Capitan and Half Dome, which are famous for the challenge they offer serious (IRL) climbers. Look out for glaciers! You’ll see them in several locations on your hike. While glaciers created the geology of the park, even the largest of today’s glaciers, Lyell, is too young to be a remnant of those older, much larger glaciers.
Yosemite Valley, where most visitors arrive to view the landscape, is only 1% of this beautiful park! If you can, take time to wander through the beautiful sights that the rest of the park has to offer.
Fun fact: Just like the famous Sequoia trees that live here, Yosemite is massive! This national park is larger than either Rhode Island or Delaware, and 95% of it is fully designated as wilderness.
As the first national park humanity has ever created, Yellowstone holds a special place in the hearts of many. Situated on the Yellowstone Plateau, 8,000 feet high, and sprawling through Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, this park is famous for its geysers, forests, and hiking trails that wander through many different types of ecological biomes.
On your virtual hikes, you’ll be able to explore Yellowstone’s mountain ranges and canyons, follow rivers as they run into lakes, or visit the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano anywhere on the continent! Fully half of the globe’s hydrothermal features and geysers are right here in Yellowstone, all fueled by this dormant volcano.
This UNESCO world heritage site is home to hundreds of species of animals, among them free-ranging bison, elk, wolves, grizzlies, deer, and countless other fish, bird, reptile, and amphibian species, so keep an eye out to see which animals make a cameo on your virtual hiking cam!
Fun fact: The Yellowstone Park bison herd is the largest and oldest herd in the nation.
Thank you for visiting the Parks blog! We will continue to publish content designed to support our community throughout this difficult time. We wish all the best for each of you, and we look forward to seeing you in person as it becomes safe for us to do so.