The Best in the West - Our 9 favourite National Parks in western USA and Canada

9 December 2016

The Best in the West -

Our 9 favourite National Parks in western USA and Canada

Classic road trips. Spectacular wilderness. Incredible hiking, cycling and kayaking.

There are some seriously amazing places in south-western USA around the huge upheaval of the Colorado Plateau. And there are some incredibly spectacular landscapes in south-western Canada along the line of the Canadian Rockies.

If you're ready to pretty much implode with the splendour of it all, get yourself to the wild, wild west. Here's our round up of our nine favourite national parks in western USA and Canada.

Grand Canyon National Park

Where is it?

Arizona, USA

What's the park famous for?

The grandest of all canyons needs no introduction. A massive hole in the ground carved by the Colorado River over five million years, this place needs to be seen to be believed.

Get busy at the Grand Canyon

Stretched along the South Rim, there is a great walking trail – it offers different perspectives and views across the canyon and gives you an understanding of the sheer scale of the place. With a bit more time you can descend some way into the canyon itself or take a scenic helicopter flight to get the big picture.

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A zoomed-in snap of the dazzling layers of red and brown in the canyon wall, brightly illuminated as the sun sets.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Where is it?

Utah, USA

What's the park famous for?

Bryce Canyon is famous for its spectacular hoodoos – thousands of lumpy rock formations that jut into the air from the canyon walls and floor.

Get busy at Bryce

Once you're done ogling the hoodoos (sunrise and sunset are prime viewing times), consider a walk into the canyon. You'll head down between hoodoos, under rock arches and along the canyon floor amongst pine and fir forest. Bryce also has one of the darkest night skies in North America, so star gazing is a serious pastime here.

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An arty night-time shot of the glittering Milky Way above the orange hoodoos of the canyon.

Zion National Park

Where is it?

Utah, USA

What's the park famous for?

Zion is set at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, the Mojave Desert and the Great Basin, creating a unique set of ecosystems within one park. It's Zion Canyon that takes centre stage, though, with its dramatic red and brown sandstone walls.

Get busy at Zion

Driving into the park through the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel is a highlight – the road is cut through solid rock, and you emerge from the tunnel pretty much half-way up the wall of a huge bowl-like canyon. Breathtaking. The walk to Zion Narrows, the narrow end of the canyon, is great – and if you're feeling brave, you can wade further into the canyon in the water or try your hand at river tubing.

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Beautiful red cliff, crystal clear waterfall, bubbling river and desert landscape.

Yosemite National Park

Where is it?

California, USA

What's the park famous for?

One of the world's most astounding cliff faces – a massive 900 vertical metres of cliff makes El Capitan a mecca for serious rockclimbers. The iconic glacial-cut shape of Half Dome is another highlight. In fact, the whole park is a breathtaking array of stunning slabs of rock, all set along a beautiful wooded valley.

Get busy at Yosemite

Soak in the glory of this nirvana-like environment – it's staggeringly picturesque and words and pictures don't do it justice. Walk to waterfalls or embark on a more strenuous hike right up the back of Half Dome for breathtaking views. (Or, if you're a world-class climber, scale El Cap.)

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Early morning sunshine, butterflies in a grassy meadow in the foreground, utterly massive cliff in background.

Arches National Park

Where is it?

Utah, USA

What's the park famous for?

The rock arches of this park are what gives it its name – there are over 2000 incredible sandstone arches dotted through the park. Delicate Arch is the most famous but Landscape Arch is the most unbelievable – it's so long, spindly and delicate that it seems almost absurd.

Get busy at Arches

This is a beautiful desert landscape on the Colorado Plateau. There are some great short walks up to and around the arches, as well as exploring other stunning rock formations, pinnacles and balanced rocks.

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The red sky of sun set behind a perfect archway of red rock.

 

Banff National Park

Where is it?

Alberta, Canada

What's the park famous for?

Incredible turquoise lakes surrounded by towering rocky, snow-capped peaks. There's mountains, there's lakes, there's glaciers, there's lakes, there's bears and did we mention the lakes? If you've ever seen a picture of a turquoise lake in the Canadian Rockies, it's probably in Banff.

Get busy at Banff

The hikes to the old tea houses at Lake Louise are tough, but you are rewarded with a civilised cup of tea and a slice of cake while you take in the views of surrounding glaciers. If you're not a hiker, ride the gondola, take a boat trip on Maligne Lake, do some wildlife photography or just soak in the splendour.

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A surreal turquoise lake with steep mountains jutting out of the water and tumbling glaciers above.

 

Jasper National Park

Where is it?

Alberta, Canada

What's the park famous for?

Glorious Canadian wilderness, waterfalls and wildlife – which is all a bit more remote and quiet than Banff.

Get busy at Jasper

Hike, kayak, bike ride, explore, wildlife watch – Jasper is a great place to hang out. Drive the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper – it's 230 kilometres of world-class drive down the glacier-filled heart of the Canadian Rockies. Surrounded by jagged peaks, massive icefields, tumbling waterfalls and roaming mountain goats, it's as good as any drive anywhere in the world. Big call. But definitely true.

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Two elk standing on a quiet walking trail near a small bright-turquoise lake.

 

 Glacier National Park 

Where is it?

British Columbia, Canada

What's the park famous for?

This is a high altitude part of the Rockies, so even at road level, you're right up amongst the rocky peaks and stunning glaciers that give the park its name.

Get busy at Glacier

It's an absolutely spectacular park to visit, even if you're just passing through. The stone remains of the Glacier House hotel on the old line of the Canadian Pacific Railway are well worth exploring. The hikes in Glacier tend to be more serious, higher-altitude treks, so if you're hiking, be well prepared.

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The arched monument at Rogers Pass against a backdrop of towering ice-capped mountain peaks.

 

Wells Gray Provincial Park

Where is it?

British Columbia, Canada

What's the park famous for?

Remote, isolated wilderness, pristine forest and 39 big waterfalls.

Get busy at Wells Gray

Being such a large and remote park, this is the perfect place to spend a day or two in the wilderness. A canoe trip on Clearwater Lake is in order, plus there's a stunning array of waterfalls to visit, including the spectacular Helmcken Falls, the forth-biggest waterfall in Canada.

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Morning mist in the air, looking along the front of your canoe across the lake to the pristine wilderness beyond.