Top 3 National Parks You Shouldn't Miss

By Nan Werther , last updated December 31, 2011

With the economy struggling, many Americans are visiting some of our many wonderful national parks as a way to keep vacation costs down, while still being able to explore the many places of interest and the natural beauty of our nation. National parks are one of America's most treasured places for many reasons. Not only are national parks excellent opportunities to learn more about the geographic wonders of America, but they can also be relatively inexpensive compared to international trips. Instead of heading abroad for your next family vacation, take a chance on America and hop in the car. National parks abound, but for the best experience, check out one of these top three places to visit for a vacation you won't forget.

Big Bend National Park

Technically considered three parks in one, Big Bend is a gorgeous stretch of land in Southwest Texas, accommodating mountain, river, and prairie scenes for you to take in. One of the last truly remote regions of the United States, Big Bend National Park is edged by the Rio Grande in the south and runs for over 80,000 acres north of that. Defined by extremes in both altitude and climate, you'll find both desert and subzero temperatures co-existing, as well as deep river channels and high mountain ranges. Canyon vistas abound, and hikers will find many excellent trails to hike in order to truly take in the surroundings. For less adventurous folk, many paved roads let you take in the view safely.

Another significant aspect of Big Bend's topography is that the park contains one of the largest tracts of protected Chihuahuan Desert ecology, in addition to many geologic anomalies and fossil specimens. Indeed, this vast and gorgeous land contains many surprises sure to delight visitors. In this sparsely populated region, most of the land is relatively untouched and preserved, thus offering an experience that is quickly becoming rare in this day and age.

Arches National Park

Adventurers seeking a sight for sore eyes should head to Arches National Park in majestic Utah. With beautiful sandstone arches (also known as natural bridges) sculpted by natural forces, such as erosion, this national park is not just an awe-inspiring geologic formations, but it’s also an educational experience to boot. Depending upon your family's adventurousness, there are many kinds of activities available in order to get the most out of your vacation. For starters, make sure to explore the park on foot. Arches National Park maintains a wealth of trails for you to enjoy on your visit. There are many shorter hiking loops available for those who aren't up to an extended jaunt, as well as longer and more challenging routes for experienced hikers and backpackers.

While there is not a lot of backcountry in this park, there are several opportunities for small-group camping in order to extend your visit. Both rock climbing and canyoneering are highly encouraged in the appropriate areas, and they are a breath-taking way to explore the canyons, arches, and scenic vistas. While rock climbing is better left to those with some experience, as the sandy faces can offer some challenges, the view from the top is one that few regret. If your stay doesn't allow for any true exploring, make sure at least to drive many of the available roads to take in one of America's top parks.

Glacier National Park

Located in Montana, right near the border of Canada, Glacier National Park is an enormous stretch of land encompassing over 1 million acres with abundant flora and fauna, portions of two different mountain ranges, and over 130 lakes to enjoy. Nicknamed the "Crown of the Continent," Glacier National Park is named after its distinct geographic formations that tell the story of momentous glacial movement. Although originally 150 glaciers existed in the park, only 25 currently remain. Furthermore, scientists predict that none will be left in less than 10 years if current climate habits remain constant.

The park contains numerous ecosystems with intact natural specimens still inhabiting the park as they have for hundreds of years. Hike over 700 miles of trails in order to view picturesque settings, like the prairie and tundra. You can also explore ancient forests of hemlock and aromatic cedar, or you can spot creatures, such as grizzlies, lynxes, wolverines, elk, moose, and the mighty mountain goat. This last animal is actually the symbol of the park itself! Due to the majesty and immense size of the park, you will want to find lodgings to accommodate your lengthy stay. Depending on your preferences, you can reside at many of the heritage hotel sites within the park or enjoy roughing it by staying at one of the many campsites available.

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