Travelers visit national parks for a number of reasons. Many come to immerse themselves in the breathtaking natural splendor in a given country or region, while others tour the parks to explore the wonders of ancient civilizations and cultures. Nevertheless, the world’s national parks offer a wide variety of sights, sounds, and spectacles to behold.
Royal National Park in Australia is the nation’s first, established in 1879. Located a short drive from Sydney, Royal National Park is home to craggy coastal cliffs and dense rain forests up to twenty miles inland from the coast. One must-see in the park is Wedding Cake Rock, appropriately named because of its white color and layered appearance alluding to the pastry in question.
Tongariro National Park in nearby New Zealand was established in 1887 and is known for its natural splendor and its role as a cultural center for the indigenous Maori people. Also, the park is frequently visited by tourists interested in visiting filming sites for the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; many sites in the park, including Mt. Ngauruhoe and the Rangipo Desert, were featured as the land of Mordor, the domain of dark Lord Sauron.
Banff National Park in Canada was discovered largely by accident, when three workers from the Canadian Pacific Railway stumbled upon a cave in the Rocky Mountains with hot springs. In addition to hot springs, Banff is famed for its spectacular mountain peaks and valleys, crystalline lakes, and frequent wildlife sightings. Visitors can stay at the luxurious Banff Springs Hotel, established in 1888, before traveling north to Jasper National Park, home to glacial plains, stunning vistas, and wildlife including caribou, moose, grizzly bears, and a plethora of other species.
In stark contrast to the mountainous terrain prevalent at Banff and Jasper, Etosha National Park in Namibia is situated in a vast expanse of grasslands and salt flats. The Etosha Pan, a large salt flat that can be seen from space, is relatively barren but occasionally becomes a flamingo breeding ground, with nearly 1 million of the magnificent pink birds occupying the area at once. In addition, there are several waterholes where tourists can catch a glimpse of local fauna, including lions, elephants, zebras, leopards, and elusively rare black rhinos.
Ängsö National Park in Sweden is the oldest in Europe, established in 1909, and consists of approximately 470 acres of pristine, unspoiled wilderness, including old-growth coniferous forests, groves of thousands of deciduous trees, and a diverse array of bird species that make their home in the park, including white-tailed eagles. Also, the park is a testament to Sweden’s agricultural history, as its grasses were used in hay-making for centuries.
Even though Yellowstone is typically regarded as the world’s oldest national park, the Bogd Khan Uul Strictly Protected Area in Mongolia was declared as such in 1778, a full ninety-four years before its American counterpart. It encompasses a wide swath of land outside the city of Ulaanbaatar, including a mountain that has long been considered a sacred site for Buddhists and for their shamanistic predecessors. The Manjusri monastery, largely destroyed during the Communist era in the mid-twentieth century, is a testament to the impact of Buddhism on Mongolian culture. Tourists seeking a walk on the wild side can marvel at the critically endangered red deer, along with the Siberian marmot and black-tailed gazelle, whose abodes are located on the side of the mountain. Largely because of its natural splendor and rich religious history, Bogd Khan Uul was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.