The Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park is a good spot to explore the park’s namesake trees, which are the largest in the world by volume. The trunks of giant sequoia trees can be more than 100 feet around. Photo © Nick Hall

Outtakes: Five Unique National Parks

June/July 2016

When The Nature Conservancy asked Seattle-based photographer Nick Hall to visit five parks for a photo essay celebrating the National Park Service centennial, he jumped at the chance. Hall traversed the country from California to Maine to showcase a range of America’s most treasured landscapes, including Sequoia, Bryce Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Biscayne and Acadia national parks.

Sequoia National Park was “magical,” he says, in part because he explored it through the eyes of his young children. Massive downed trees looked even larger with his kids climbing on them. “Following them as they explored the forests and the trees they were interested in—it was just a wonderfully easy experience,” Hall says.

Not so easy was his January trip to Biscayne National Park, at the southern tip of Florida, where a hurricane churned off the coast. “It was really windy, and the tides were really ripping,” he says. To stay safe, he kept to the calmer shoreline waters and focused on the rugged coastline.

“It’s easy to go to the bigger parks,” he says, “but in some of these smaller, less well known parks, you can have a magnificent experience.”

1. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park in Maine became the first national park east of the Mississippi River in 1919. The park features a rugged coastline, the tallest point on the North Atlantic seaboard, and more than 100 miles of hiking trails with stellar views, like this scene from Jessup Path in fall. Photo © Nick Hall
Acadia National Park in Maine became the first national park east of the Mississippi River in 1919. The park features a rugged coastline, the tallest point on the North Atlantic seaboard, and more than 100 miles of hiking trails with stellar views, like this scene from Jessup Path in fall. Photo © Nick Hall
An Acadia park ranger monitors bats at Jordan Pond with a remote transmission system. Acadia was the first park to emerge from private citizens’ land donations after a group of year-round Maine residents and summer vacation-goers contributed land that led to the park’s creation. Photo © Nick Hall
An Acadia park ranger monitors bats at Jordan Pond with a remote transmission system. Acadia was the first park to emerge from private citizens’ land donations after a group of year-round Maine residents and summer vacation-goers contributed land that led to the park’s creation. Photo © Nick Hall

2. Bryce Canyon National Park

The Queen’s Garden Trail at Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park overlooks the park’s main attraction—a maze of colorful columns chiseled over millions of years by erosion from frost and rain. The rock formations look so improbable that the spires, called hoodoos, are also sometimes referred to as goblins or fairy chimneys. Photo © Nick Hall
The Queen’s Garden Trail at Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park overlooks the park’s main attraction—a maze of colorful columns chiseled over millions of years by erosion from frost and rain. The rock formations look so improbable that the spires, called hoodoos, are also sometimes referred to as goblins or fairy chimneys. Photo © Nick Hall

3. Rocky Mountain National Park

A fly fisherman hikes up to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The park’s more than 350 miles of hiking trails take people through different ecological zones and elevations with a vast variety of plants, wildlife and weather. Photo © Nick Hall
A fly fisherman hikes up to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The park’s more than 350 miles of hiking trails take people through different ecological zones and elevations with a vast variety of plants, wildlife and weather. Photo © Nick Hall
Big Thompson River is one of many fly fishing spots in Rocky Mountain, which includes the headwaters of the Colorado River. The park also straddles the Continental Divide and several peaks above 10,000 feet. Photo © Nick Hall
Big Thompson River is one of many fly fishing spots in Rocky Mountain, which includes the headwaters of the Colorado River. The park also straddles the Continental Divide and several peaks above 10,000 feet. Photo © Nick Hall

4. Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park’s Moro Rock hiking trail showcases views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range’s high peaks. Photo © Nick Hall
Sequoia National Park’s Moro Rock hiking trail showcases views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range’s high peaks. Photo © Nick Hall

5. Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park has many marine habitats to explore, including mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass meadows. The waters and islands of Biscayne mark the beginning of the Florida Keys, a string of islands that help make up the third-largest contiguous coral reef in the world. Photo © Nick Hall
Biscayne National Park has many marine habitats to explore, including mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass meadows. The waters and islands of Biscayne mark the beginning of the Florida Keys, a string of islands that help make up the third-largest contiguous coral reef in the world. Photo © Nick Hall

— NCM

What's Your Favorite Park?

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53 comments

  1. It’s hard to have a favorite because every time I visit a new park it becomes my favorite: So far Acadia, which I haven’t visited often enough, tops my list but I continue to look for another to top the list.

  2. I love every park I have visited. But Yellowstone for the variety and ability to watch wild animals. Yosemite because my Gramma was born in the valley 1866-it’s beauty sings in my genes. Acadia for its beauty, Mt Rainier because it’s close and gorgeous. All are ‘renewal’ places, have native peoples’ cultural history, basically safe and full of all sorts of folks enjoying the same things.

  3. My favorite National Park is the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The four sites that make up this park were recently (along with The Alamo) added to the list of World Heritage Sites. Dating from the 1700’s. they tell the story of the early Spanish efforts to colonize Northern New Spain. The churches at each of the four mission sites are today active parish churches, so we get to learn more about the separation of Church and State at these unique parks.

  4. Zion – We loved everything about it. It’s spectacular with the tall mountain rock formations. The air changing degrees as you hiked the trails with the cascading water dripping overhead. Watching rock climbers was amazing too. And of course the Grand Canyon, there are no words, just emotion to explain the feeling you get when you look out from any point of the Grand Canyon.

  5. My favorite park is the one I haven’t been to yet. The excitement and anticipation of a new adventure is the reason.

  6. Olympic National Park in Washington State. Stretching from breathtaking mountain vistas at Hurricane Ridge to the Pacific Ocean with the Hoh and Quinault rainforests in between. Mountains, rain forests, and ocean beaches; something for everyone.

  7. Just spent a night in Sequoia National Park during the summer. My son got to see something he could not even imagine.

  8. My all time favorite Park is Chaco Canyon (New Mexico) – it is truly a remarkable place to view and interact with the Ancestral Puebloans ancient religious Site. It is truly a very Magical Place. I also enjoyed Hovenweep in Southeastern Utah, also an Ancient Puebloan Site.

  9. I visited Arches National Park in June of this year. It was, indeed, wonderful! And I was happy the entrance fee was waived due to the National Park Service centennial celebration. However, of all the National Parks I’ve visited, Bryce Canyon remains my favorite. I’m always in such awe of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon!

  10. Acadia Nat’l Park in Maine. I’ve been there several times when I was younger, but it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten back. Everything about it is stunning to see & explore, & the loop road with a detailed map of the various highlights to stop at is an absolute delight for anyone who doesn’t have the ability to hike the trails. Each stop presents a unique opportunity to explore, search & photograph the exotic flora & fauna, have a picnic while watching the massive waves crash against the big boulders found throughout the park, take in the view from the top of a mountain, or just sit & contemplate the unique & mesmerizing atmosphere of the wild & the beautiful.
    I still have my maps & info from many years ago, that I will keep until I have another chance to take in the wonders of this outstanding creation. Put it on your bucket list & find your way to Acadia sometime before you end your adventurous travel opportunities. You won’t be disappointed!

  11. Yosemite is the most perfect park – it is truly awe inspiring.

  12. Cape Cod National Seashore–assuming that national seashores qualify as parks. Have been vacationing there almost every year since 1970. The dunes, pitch pine forests, beaches, ocean, big sky, sunsets, wind, fog, vistas, crashing waves, smell and sounds of the sea, and night time starry skies are wonderful.

  13. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is my park of choice because of the diversity of plant and animal life, the 800+ miles of hiking trails, and the fact that there is no admission fee. Living near the Smokies means I can go anytime and it only costs me the gas it takes to get to the trailhead. The weather can change from hour to hour due to the topography of the land. It’s breathtakingly beautiful here!

  14. We have been in well over 50 of the National Parks and monuments and have never seen one we have not been swept away with as much as the last one. It is difficult to pick a favorite since they are all uniquely different. We are fortunate to have such a gift and heritage within our borders. My husband and I plan to see all of them.

  15. The Grand Tetons are breathtaking, and inspiring.
    Yosemite is the ultimate in natural sculpture.
    Yellowstone is mindblowing in its variety of wonders!

  16. I love Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (collectively called “SEKI” by locals), mostly because they are both almost entirely backpacking parks. Only very, very small bits of them are accessible by road, but to the hiker they contain some of the most spectacular scenery in the Sierra Nevada, meaning some of the most spectacular on the planet.

  17. Zion: I could sit outside the Lodge all day and just revel in those canyon sites from the valley floor.

  18. Acadia is the park I’ve explored the most and is one of my favorites. I love being able to hike mountains and to be able to enjoy the sea. It’s beautiful! Thank you to the people of Maine for sharing this wonder!

  19. I have never not liked a National park and have visited many. However as a lesser known one I would say I loved my visit to the Dry Tortuguas. Camped overnight. Magical!

  20. So far in my travels I have to say >> Bryce.
    Its just sooo unbelievable with the unique hoodoos, & gorgeous colors, great hiking trails.
    Great for photography.
    A must see for sure.

    All I can say is >>> WOW !!!!!

  21. Have totally enjoyed all that I have visited. Acadia to the Great Sand Dunes.

  22. Zion 40 years ago. I was totally swept away by the majesty, colors, Angel’s Landing, the Narrows. I slept on the sand in solitude at the Upper Emerald Pool in December. That couldn’t happen now. The crowds are unbelievable; I don’t know how the wildlife copes. There was a book in the visitor’s gift shop ten years ago. It named the three men that discovered the canyon. My family had a good laugh. Here is this canyon with a year round river and desert for miles around and the native people never noticed it? There is still the off season to enjoy. I love the place, looking around my heart races and I gasp at the incredible surroundings. I’ve taken the two day trip from Chamberlain’s Ranch through the Narrows about 30 years ago and I can still remember this profound experience. I treasure the solitude of winter camping on the Kolob side of the park. My first visit, I came as a coastal Californian on a college field trip in October. It was life changing for me. Red rock country has become part of my blood.

  23. I love Arches National Park! If you go in the Fall it’s not to hot and you may be lucky enough to see it with a dusting of snow on the red rocks!

  24. Sequoia National Park is my favorite park. Then I would say , Rocky Mountain National Park , last but least would be Biscayne National Park . They all have a very unique setting about them . I’ve been to the first 2 but at the end of this summer I’m making my way down to Biscayne National Park . That’s one of the states I’ve never been too . So I’m looking forward to visiting this unique national park.

  25. Although I have enjoyed visiting many National Parks, Bryce Canyon remains my favorite. It was not until my most recent two visits, about 30 tears after my first visit, that I actually got to hike down the trails. The formations are so beautiful and the air so clear. I also enjoyed the view of the night sky on the more recent visit.

  26. Bryce was wonderful, but Zion was just as awesome. We visited both in the same week.
    It’s a trip I’ll never forget. Nor the stops between the two. Breathtaking views!

  27. Our National Parks are all so awesome that it is hard to pick one. However I have to say that Grand Canyon from the north side where there are fewer people to deal with, absolutely took my breath away!

  28. I have been so blessed to be able to go to many of our beautiful parks, from the Geat Smokey Mountians to The Rocky Mountians Park in Colorado but the one that captured my heart was Custer Park in South Dakota we were there for the Buffalo round up, it was breathtaking to hear the rumble and actually feel the ground shake as the buffaloes came up over the ridge and you were transported back in time , a time before they were almost wiped out , to a simpler time when survival did not include cell phones and selfies , I am proud that we are beginning to fix so many of the problems we caused , as my husband sat by our camp fire that night he said “look up honey” and I did , my husband of fifteen years showed me the Milky Way, and again I was breathless with beauty of our great night sky , and humbled by the beauty of this special park.

  29. I parchi Americani sono tutti stupendi, ma il mio preferito e il Sequoia Park. Sono rimasto esterrefato dalla bellezza e dalla enormità del parco.

  30. Utah Bryce Canyon , have not been there yet and the spires really drew me to them.

  31. Big Bend National Park. My friend and I backpacked there, crossed the river and took mules into Mexico. I went back twenty years later with my family and loved the park even more. It’s a beautiful park.

  32. “Above 10,000′?” Ummm, the roads in Rocky Mountain NP go above 12 and Long’s Peak is over 14,000. Just sayin’. PS: I love ALL these places!