Photo by Vaclav Sebek / Shutterstock
Watch hot air balloons rise in Göreme National Park in Turkey.
The U.S. may be known for its national parks, but these 10 in other countries―from Costa Rica to China―are worthy rivals.
Yellowstone National Park was a pioneer of its time. The park’s scenic geysers, forests, and mountain peaks inspired its visitors to advocate for the conservation of the area’s natural landscape. In 1872, Congress named Yellowstone the first national park and established some of the procedures that would become the foundation for the preservation and care of over 400 public parks nationwide.
What began as a relatively small movement in the wilds of Yellowstone spread across the nation and throughout the world—today there are more than 1,200 national parks in over 100 countries.
To help you explore the great outdoors beyond U.S. borders, we— along with our friends at luxury travel advisor company, Audley Travel—have put together a list of 10 memorable international national parks to visit.
Göreme National Park, located in Turkey’s Cappadocia region, is a blast to the past—back to the 4th century to be exact. The Göreme valley is a vast volcanic landscape full of mountain ridges, or “fairy chimneys,” created by centuries of erosion.
As if this natural wonder wasn’t amazing enough, the remains of underground towns and ancient dwellings—some believed built as far back as the 7th or 8th centuries—at this UNESCO World Heritage site are scattered throughout the park.
However, many of us may recognize this park for a more modern invention: Cappadocia is a popular area for hot air ballooning, with many tours taking passengers over Göreme valley.
The tropical rain forest at Corcovado National Park, located in the southern part of Costa Rica’s Puntarenas province, is of the world’s most biodiverse regions. This coastal park promises a chance to view some of Costa Rica’s rarest wildlife—scarlet macaws, squirrel monkeys, and a variety of colorful frogs, like the golden-eyed leaf frog (pictured above). It’s a popular place for hiking and camping, with a swimming hole around every corner.
With varied natural features ranging from rain forest and waterfalls to beaches and caves, Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park is 126,500 acres of pure wild. Located on Vancouver Island, a short ferry ride away from the coastal city of Vancouver, the park is popular among backpackers looking for an escape from the hustle of the mainland. Up for the adventure? Then plot a route along the park’s West Coast Trail, which offers 47 miles of trekking.
In East Africa, going on safari generally means climbing into a jeep and driving around in search of animals with an experienced guide. But at Hell’s Gate National Park, two to three hours west of Nairobi, visitors can set out in search of zebras, giraffes, and gazelle on a self-guided hike or bike ride and even rock climb within the park. If those sweeping cliffs and volcanoes look familiar to you, you’re not alone: Disney animators visited the park to get inspiration for The Lion King.
Best yet, the iconic flamingo-filled Lake Naivasha National Park is right next to Hell’s Gate, with many of the area’s hotels and campsites built on Lake Naivasha’s shores.
Skaftafell National Park has everything you might associate with Iceland: waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, ice caves, and picturesque mountain cottages atop green hills. It’s a mountain climber’s paradise and any photographer's dream.
Whether the word “park” triggers images of a relaxing afternoon or a vigorous hike up a mountainside, Mount Toubkal National Park has got you covered. Residents and tourists alike make the journey to view the Atlas Mountains or to hike along the highest peaks of North Africa, often stopping for a visit at one of the local Berber villages along the way.
Khao Yai National Park was established in 1962 as Thailand’s first national park and today is a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of the largest remaining monsoon forests in Asia, the park is home to a number of amazing species, including elephants, bears, otters, gibbons, and large pythons. While the park is popular with locals who want to view the many waterfalls and diverse wildlife, the hiking trails that wind around the area are relatively empty.
Argentina has many beautiful national parks but if you only have time to visit one, choose Los Glaciares National Park, a vast and dramatic park alongside the Chilean border. With rugged, towering mountains and 47 large glaciers within the park, Los Glaciares is full of dramatic landscapes sure to awe even the most jaded visitors as they kayak, hike, or explore by horseback.
Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, which sits in Australia’s remote Northern Territory, is perhaps best known for the iconic, giant sandstone monolith called Uluru. Although the park spans 512 square miles of Australian outback, many travel here to see the monolith, whose red color is said to change shades with the sun.
An important monument to the indigenous Anangu and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the park is more than just a photo opportunity. The sacred site bears markings of human settlement some 10,000 years ago, and visitors can learn about its cultural history and the significance it maintains to this day at the park’s Cultural Center.
In 1982, a forested, rocky 11,900-acre area in China’s Hunan province became Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China’s first such park. However, the legends of its first human inhabitants date back 100,000 years—well into the Neolithic Age. As one of the many stories go, a general named Zhang Liang sought refuge in the forest after fearing that the first emperor of the Han Dynasty wanted to kill him. He lived out his days in the forest, but his name carries on in the national park.
This story was originally published on April 16, 2016, and was updated on January 27, 2021, to include current information.
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