A natural landscape of great beauty. Unaltered by human exploitation or occupation. National parks around the world are some of the most stunning places on earth, rich with remarkable and often rare plant and wildlife, and offering unrivaled scientific, educational, and recreational opportunities.
Nearly 100 countries around the world have lands classified as a national park. Australia alone has 285 parks, China has 208, Brazil has over 70, Mexico 67 and the U.S. has 60.
From the deserts of Africa to the glaciers of Europe and South America, from Yellowstone's giant sleeping volcanic caldera and Hawaii's live, ever-changing lava flows, from lions and zebras to toucans and gibbons, national parks feature the best of the best. The largest waterfalls, the tallest trees, the oldest cave art, the deepest canyons and the most epic migrations, this is the planet at its most awe-inspiring.
Here are some of the most extraordinary national parks in the world:
(Photo: Iguazu Falls, Argentina. Shutterstock)
Fiordland National Park
This park on New Zealand's South Island is known for glacier-carved fiords, the craggy mountains reflected in the Mirror Lakes, powerful waterfalls and towering Mitre Peak.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
This famous African wildlife sanctuary is unequalled for its natural beauty and scientific value. The annual wildebeest migration here is one of the most impressive natural events in the world. Visitors can see everything from elephants, lions and giraffes to hippopotamus, gazelles, warthogs, crocodiles, and cheetahs, along with a variety of birds.
Torres del Paine National Park
This park in Chile's Patagonia region has soaring mountains, calving glaciers and sweeping golden grasslands rich with wildlife.
Kruger National Park
Wildlife here includes lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos, along with hundreds of other mammals and birds. The varied landscape ranges from mountains to bush plains to tropical forests.
Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
The first national park in the U.S., established in 1872, this massive wilderness sits atop a volcanic hot spot and features alpine rivers, lush forests, dramatic canyons, and the famous Old Faithful geyser. Visitors often see bison, elk, bears, wolves, and antelope.
Grand Canyon National Park
Layered bands of red rock reveal millions of years of geological history along the 277-mile canyon cut by constant erosion from the Colorado River.
Banff National Park
Pristine wilderness and endless outdoor adventures characterize Canada's oldest national park, located in the Rocky Mountains near Calgary. See jagged snow-capped peaks, glistening glaciers and sweeping vistas.
Galapagos National Park
The Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Ecuador, is one of the world's leading destinations for wildlife-viewing. Because of its isolation, many of the species here are found nowhere else. Charles Darwin visited in 1835, and his observation of Galapagos' species later inspired his theory of evolution. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
This forest reserve in central Croatia is known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon. Walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water, and an electric boat links the 12 upper lakes and four lower lakes.
Goreme National Park
Known for its "fairy chimneys," cone-shaped rock formations, this eerie landscape is sculpted by erosion. The Goreme valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide evidence of Byzantine art as well as troglodyte villages and underground towns dating back to the 4th century. The park has an Open Air Museum with cave churches and frescoes from the 10th to 12th centuries
Los Glaciares National Park
The stunning landscapes of Los Glaciares National Park feature dramatic icefalls, glacial lakes, and jagged peaks. The park is home to many birds, such as condors and black-chested buzzard eagles.
Canaima National Park
Canaima National Park encompasses over 7 million acres in southeastern Venezuela, where the country borders Brazil and Guyana. It's distinguished by its massive, misty, flat-topped mountains that rise from grassy savanna. A 3,200-foot waterfall flows into a steep canyon surrounded by tropical forest.
Guilin and Lijiang River National Park
This park in southern China consists of five scenic sites featuring unique mountains, beautiful rivers, karst caves, stone carvings and cultural relics. The tranquil Lijiang River flows among the solitary hills and protruding rocks of Guilin.
Iguazu National Park
This subtropical rainforest on the border with Brazil is famous for Iguazu Falls. The park has diverse wildlife including coatis, jaguars and toucans, plus trails and viewing platforms. Pictured here is a coati, with the falls in the background.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
This marine park protects a large part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, a 1,400-mile long ecosystem of coral reefs and islands containing an abundance of marine life, including diverse fish, molluscs, starfish, turtles, dolphins and sharks. Pictured is a school of sweet-lips.
Yosemite National Park
The picturesque Yosemite Valley, at the foot of El Capitan, attracts as many as 4 million visitors a year. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, visitors can see giant sequoia trees, the famous Bridalveil Falls and the Ansel Adams Gallery, with prints of the photographer's famous landscapes of the area.
Namib Naukluft National Park
This park includes part of the Namib Desert, the oldest desert on earth, with massive, constantly shifting sand dunes and the Naukluft mountain range. The mountains occasionally get heavy rainstorms in summer that support a variety of plants and wildlife.
Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia National Park in northwest Wales features craggy peaks and glacial landforms as well as the historic Snowdon Mountain Railway, which climbs to the summit of Wales's highest mountain, Mount Snowdon, offering views of Ireland and the sea. The park has an extensive network of trails, and more than 100 lakes.
Jiuzhaigou National Park
Jiuzhaigou National Park is a network of valleys in China's Sichuan province. In one, a waterfall cascades from the edge of a large tree-fringed lake. There is a Tibetan monastery, mountains covered with ancient forests, and the striking, multicolored Five Flower Lake, pictured here.
Jasper National Park
This vast wilderness is characterized by glaciers, lakes and peaks, including the 11,033-foot-high Mt. Edith Cavell. Outdoor activities like hiking, camping and skiing are popular. Wildlife includes elk, moose, bighorn sheep and bears.
Kakadu National Park
The landscape of this huge and diverse nature reserve ranges from wetlands and rivers to sandstone escarpments, and is home to over 2,000 species of plants and wildlife including crocodiles, flatback turtles and a variety of birds. Aboriginal rock paintings, pictured here, date back to prehistoric times.
Swiss National Park
Located in the Swiss Alps on the border with Italy, this alpine park has over 50 miles of hiking trails and features abundant wildlife, including ibex, chamois, marmots, northern hares, lizards and many birds.
Glacier National Park
This 1,583-square-mile wilderness in Montana on the Canadian border features the stunning glacier-carved peaks of the Rocky Mountains, and more than 700 miles of hiking trails. Diverse wildlife ranges from mountain goats to grizzly bears. The park's 50-mile Going to the Sun Road (pictured) is often considered one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S.
Photo: Amehime / Shutterstock
Zion National Park
This popular Utah national park is famous for the steep red cliffs of Zion Canyon and the Zion Narrows wading hike, pictured here. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive leads to forest trails along the Virgin River. The river flows to the Emerald Pools, which have waterfalls and a hanging garden.
Photo: Checubus / Shutterstock
Komodo National Park
These volcanic islands are inhabited by about 5,700 giant lizards, whose size and aggressive behavior have earned them the name 'Komodo dragons.' The lizards weigh 150-200 pounds and exist nowhere else in the world.
Olympic National Park
Located on Washington's Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest, this park encompasses a variety of ecosystems, from the dramatic peaks of the Olympic Mountains to old-growth forests, rain forest, and coastline.
Victoria Falls National Park
Victoria Falls National Park in northwestern Zimbabwe protects the south and east bank of the Zambezi River in the area of the world-famous Victoria Falls, which is known as the greatest curtain of falling water in the world.
Kilimanjaro National Park
Tanzania's Kilimanjaro National Park is home to Africa's highest mountain, snowcapped Mt. Kilimanjaro. Hiking trails wind through rainforest inhabited by colobus monkeys and past the volcanic caldera of Lake Chala. Near the summit of Uhuru Peak the slopes are studded with glacial ice fields.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Big Island's famous park centers around the active Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. Visitors can see the volcano's glowing crater at night, or walk through the Thurston Lava Tube. Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983, and often exhibits lava flows into the nearby ocean. Currently the park is closed due to increased and damaging earthquakes, corrosive volcanic ash, and active explosions from Kilauea.
Sequoia National Park
Located in California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, the 275-foot high General Sherman Tree dominates this forest of ancient, giant trees. An underground cave features streams and striking rock formations. The Tunnel Tree is a toppled tree that was cut to allow cars to drive underneath.
Jostedalsbreen National Park
This national park in Norway contains the largest glacier on the European mainland. The park features glacial rivers, and the landscape ranges from lush valleys to alpine mountains and untouched areas that can only be reached on foot.
Photo: Holger Uwe Schmitt Wikipedia
Khao Sok National Park
This stunning nature preserve in southern Thailand features dense virgin rainforest, waterfalls, majestic cliffs and limestone karsts within the lake (pictured.) See towering bamboo, the world's largest flower, tigers and gibbons.
Everglades National Park
This immense 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve on the southern tip of Florida equates to a grassy, slow-moving river. The Everglades is made up of coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes and pine flatwoods that are home to hundreds of animal species, including the endangered leatherback turtle, Florida panther and West Indian manatee.