National Parks in North America
You know a place is a diver's paradise when you see more people in wetsuits than in bikinis. Thanks to a strong vision from the government and other enthusiasts, as early as 1979 the entire coast of Bonaire was registered as a national marine park. Boats and fishermen follow strict regulation and people have to pay a nature fee (like a park entrance fee) to enjoy anything water-related. As a result of these efforts, Bonaire's coral reefs are in better condition than most places in the Caribbean, and the island is one of the world's top spots for shore diving. Most visitors come to Bonaire to dive and the locals are ready to welcome them just for that. In fact, Bonaire has probably exhausted all the possibilities of puns and clever names for shops, schools, and hotel names with the words dive, scuba or other dive-related words. Driving along the west coast, yellow rocks can be seen on the side of the road. These rocks indicate most of the 90+ named diving sites on Bonaire and Klein Bonaire, the little sister island. Snorkelling is also amazing, as the reef usually starts mere metres from the shore.
What once were two plantations now make this national park on the northern part of the island. Bonaire isn't known for its lush vegetation, and the park is no exception, but it still manages to offer a lot to explore: blowholes, lagoons, flamingos, old plantation constructions, turtle nesting grounds, salt pans, iguanas, and tons of cacti. The "long route" follows the coast where most points of interest are, while a few walking trails allow a closer look at some of the features. The hike up the Brandaris trail leads to Bonaire's highest point and offers a great view over the island and beyond. And as everywhere on the island, great snorkelling and dive sites dot the leeward side of the park.
Pigeon Island National Park lies at the northwestern tip of St. Lucia. It's actually no longer an island, as it got artificially joined with a strip of sand to the mainland in the 70s. Today, it's a natural park with some ruins dating back to the colonial times when the British controlled St. Lucia. But the main reason to come here is to walk up to the top of Fort Rodney and afterwards scale Signal Hill, for magnificent views over Rodney Bay and the north coast. Within the tiny national park there are also a nice small beach and a restaurant, also with great views.
© Luke Kenyon
Believe it or not, Salt Lake City is actually situated on one of the biggest salt lakes in North America. Traditionally attracting tourists due to the large Mormon population, the salt lake contains a number of state parks with Antelope Island being one of them. Only recently a causeway was built that allows easy access from the outskirts of the city to the giant, hilly island in the middle of the salt lake. Surprisingly, antelopes are not the most populous animal on the island but Buffalo, with a heard of 800 residing on the island. There are also large bird colonies and smaller animals including mice and rodents that will get into your car at night if you choose to stay, which is possible. Make sure you close all opened food, as mice are not the best company while trying to sleep.
© Demelza Howard
Ever wanted to fry some eggs on the bare ground? Then Death Valley is the place for you! The second hottest place on earth with summer temperatures up to 56.7 C (134 F), and ground temperatures rising up to 94 C (201 F), Death Valley is also the lowest point in North America 86 m (282 ft.) below sea level. Here you will find a diverse landscape of beautiful sand dunes, salt flats, natural marble canyons, mountains and remnants of ancient salt water lakes with unlimited back country hiking and camping. There are also ghost towns to explore, and disused mineral mines that barely lasted a year or two due to the harsh climates (and yet Native American tribes have been living here for 10,000 years). You really need your own vehicle here, and preferably a 4WD if you want to go back country as there is no public transport. There are a few tiny tourist towns with amenities, and a few designated trails, but you are free to go wherever you like here.
Denali National Park is mainly a summer attraction. During winter, the park is closed for the biggest part but this means also that there wonâ€™t be thousands of people visiting at the same time as you. At the visitor centre you can borrow snow shoes and ski poles for free and you can go snow shoe hiking. A great hike is to the top of Mount Healy from where you get beautiful views of the park and its mountains. If you are lucky, you can see moose either along the trail or along the access roads to the park.
The tourist facilities right by the park are closed in winter but in the nearby town of Healy there are several places to stay and restaurants which are also open in winter.
© Johnny Haglund
Sequoia National Park has some of the largest trees on earth. Most people travel here to see the famous General Sherman, which is the largest tree on the planet. However, a walk in the so called Giant Forest, is equally impressive, because you'll come up close to some of the fallen giants. They are hundreds of years old, and to just look at the roots and walk along the massive trunks, makes you realise the enormous size of these trees.
If you do the walk in the early morning, you'll be able to enjoy the scenery alone, but look out for black bears. They are very used to humans and not afraid of you. But if you walk slowly away, after taking a photo of course, they'll leave you alone.
One of the most spectacular wildernesses in North America, Yosemite is something that cannot be described sufficiently in words. The Yosemite Valley is amazing, filled with dramatic cliffs, black bears, stunning water, and unfortunately lots of people. Over 3 million people go to Yosemite every year so it is difficult to find it not crowded. If you want a more "wild experience", get a wilderness permit and head to camp in the backcountry. Little Yosemite Valley is just as impressive, without the people. Climbing Half Dome is well worth the climb, even if the last ascent up the cables is not for people afraid of heights. The view from the top makes everything worth it. Going up for sunrise or sunset will be less crowded, because the cables can get very busy midday.