Couple Goes to Every National Park in America, Says These Are the Best

Alvin Munene | Aug 08, 2018

Last year, former National Geographic travel photographer, Jonathan Irish, and NASA employee, Stephanie Payne,embarked on a journeyto see all of America's 59national parksin 52 weeks.

The coupledecided to take the trip in honor of the centennial last year as a way to celebrate the parks and inspire travelers to get out and explore them.

The pair, who had regularly visited national parks as children, spent as many as nine days in some of these parkstosee the sitesthat many travelers never get to.

Here are the top 12 the duo say every traveler should be sure to see.

Death Valley National Park


Payne and Irish picked Death Valley National Park, which spans both California and Nevada, thanks to the park's incredible variety of landscapes.

"I had never been to this park before and it absolutely blew me away,"said Irish. "It's really a park of extremes where you get everything from dunes to soaring mountains overlooking salt pans."

The park, noted for its extremely dry and hot temperatures, is where travelers will also find the lowestpoint in the U.S. and stunning striations of color at viewpoints likeZabriskie point, which Irish says has a stunninglandscape that reminds him of Rocky Road ice cream thanks to the many slopes that carve its surroundings.

Though the park typically has dry conditions, when it rains, the water sits atop the sand to make mirror reflections.

Grand Tetons National Park


Wildlife lovers will enjoyGrand Tetons National Park, in Wyoming, where they can see elks, grizzly bears, owls, sea otters, and more.

The park also comes alive with colors in the fall.

"I've never seen a place more beautiful than the Grand Tetons in the fall, when the aspen trees are just exploring with color against the backdrop of the Grand Teton Mountains,"Irish said.

One of his favorite stops in the park isOxbow Bend, where visitors can get aview of Snake Riverwinding towards the mountains. "There's just some scenes in nature that seem almost too perfect to be real, and this is definitely one of them,"Irish said.

Glacier National Park


Irish says Montana's Glacier National Parkis ideal for those who love hiking. The park is home to a variety of backcountrytrails where hikers can see an array of wildlife, including moose, grizzly bears, and black bears.

"It's also incredible because it's like an old soul,"said Irish. "It's one of the few places where you see billion and billions of year old rock by just looking up." Visitors can hike up mountains to get views of scenic valleys carved by glaciers, making their surrounding peaks seem all the more dramatic.

Badlands National Park


What makes South Dakota'sBadlands National Parkso impressiveis the fact that visitors are invited to walk directly onto the badlands themselves, since the park was formed through natural erosion, an opportunity travelers rarely get at other parks.

"You can walk out into these amazing vistasand into the badlands, where you'll find that you're all alone, and it's incredible,"said Irish.

Yosemite National Park


AtYosemite National Park,Irish suggests visitors head toGlacier Pointaway from all of the crowdsto get a sense of the heart of the park. Visitors can take a hike on the Panorama Trailto see what Irish says are the best views of the park, including viewpoints overlooking Half Dome and the valley below, andtwo waterfalls below.

Lake Clark National Park


AlthoughLake Clark National Parkis one of the least visited parks in the U.S., according to Irish, it's an iconic Alaska experience few know of that Irish says you won't want to miss. Once visitors arrive, they are treated to reflective lakes that create a breathtaking surrounding for activities like kayaking and hiking.

The exterior of the park's coast is known for its brown bear population.

Acadia National Park


Come toMainefor the lobster, stay forAcadia National Park'ssoaring granite peaks, rugged coastline, and the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Irish says that, thanks to the bright orange hue of some of the rocks in the park, when warm sunlight hitsthe rocksit creates an incredible pinkish glow.

Arches National Park


Utah's Arches National Park is known as a "red rock wonderland"thanks to some 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of soaring pinnacles that paint the scene a stunning hue of red.

"Arches has held my heart for as long as I can remember,"Irish told T+L. "The uniqueformations that make the park its namesakethe archesshowcase the park as such a fragile place with an incredible scenery, so it seem like an honor to be able to see these sites before they eventually fall and crack."

His favorite trail in the parkis theDevil's Garden, a challenging hike that includes at least 10 scenic arches.

Great Sand Dunes National Park


Colorado'sGreat Sand Dunes National Parkis an adventure lover's dream come true, as North America's tallest dunes stand in the heart of a landscape that includes everything from wetlands and aspen forests to alpine lakes.

Sequoia National Park


"I'll never forget going into Sequoia for the first time and looking up to see the trees because it feels like you're walking through hallowed ground because the trees are so massive and overwhelming,"Irish said. "It's one of those locations where you feel you just want to be quiet in the nature becauseit's just too beautiful."

One of the top trails at California'sSequoia National Parkis theBig Trees Trail, a short and easy walk that will take visitors to some of the biggest trees in the world.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park


Though Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is America's biggest national park, it's also one of the least visited, according to Irish. There are no roads here, meaning visitors must fly or hike into the park, which Irish says is what also helps to keep the place pristine."We would pitch our tent next to massive glaciers that run for two to three miles wide in some places and hike across them," Irish said.

Canyonlands National Park


Utah'sCanyonlands National Parkis divided by rivers into four parts that include the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves, each of which have their own awe-inspiring scenery to offer.TheNeedles was most impressive to Payne and Irish.

"Where we got blown away is the Needles district, where there's this otherwordly landscape of pink sandstone that takes the shape of needles nad forms to look just like nature's

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