This August, the U.S. National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, an occasion that deservedly has been the focus of much publicity and fanfare.
Our nation's 59 national parks welcome millions of visitors every year and represent a remarkable cross-section of this country's diverse and fascinating landscapes.
While our collective attention is focused on the subject of national parks, here's a look at some of the parks beyond this country's borders that are also pretty stellar.
Foursquare recently compiled a list of the top 25 national parks outside the U.S., based on user ratings, visit popularity and the app's proprietary hotness score.
Banff National Park in Canada earned the number one spot on the list, according to Foursquare. Also among the top ranked options were parks in Russia, Australia, Croatia and South Africa, among others.
We did some additional research of our own, tapping travel bloggers and travel industry experts for their opinions on the subject, in order to add a few less expected and less well-known options to the list. Below are some of the recommendations that rose to the top from all of these sources.
Canada - Banff National Park
The Rocky Mountains in the United States are certainly a site to behold, but when God created the Canadian Rockies, he worked overtime. At least that's the way many visitors to Banff describe the scenery, explains Nancy DaDalt, the park's Director of In Resort Services.
"There is a sense of indelible awe people feel when they come here," she says.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Banff is Canada's first national park, created in 1885. Located outside of Calgary, in the province of Alberta, the 2,564 square mile park includes mountains, glaciers, ice fields, forests and alpine landscapes. It's also home to grizzlies, cougars, wolves, elk, bighorn sheep and moose.
An added bonus at this park, says DaDalt, is the ease of access to all that it has to offer.
"You can be a hardcore climber or an armchair enthusiast and still experience the mountains here as if you are in the middle of them," DaDalt continues.
And yes, summer is a great time to experience Banff. However, during the winter, when the mountains are covered in a cloak of snow, is an especially spectacular time to visit. (An added bonus during a winter visit - sleigh rides through the park, for a quintessential Canadian Christmas experience.)
Nepal - Sagarmatha National Park
The translation of Sagarmatha, a Nepali word, is "sky head." That seems an appropriate name for a park dominated by Mount Everest, the planet's highest mountain.
Yet, it's not just tackling the world's most famous hike that draws visitors to this charming, bucolic park.
A protected area in the Himalayas that has no roads (only hiking trails), Joost Schreve says the park provides a vibrant view of life in rural Eastern Nepal.
"You spend days outdoors on trails and because it's an area where historically, a lot of people have lived, and all the commerce takes place on these trails, you will see people carrying stuff from village to village to trade, lots of kids on the trails walking back and forth to school, it's just a beautiful place," says Schreve, co-founder and CEO of KimKim, a travel company that specializes in connecting tourists with local experts.
The 443 square mile park, which ranges in elevation from 9,334 feet to 29,029 feet, is Nepal's first national park and is considered a sacred Himalayan landscape.
Croatia - Plitvička Jezera National Park
Croatia's parks are mentioned repeatedly by travel experts and bloggers, and one park in particular ranks fairly high on the Foursquare list - Plitvička Jezera National Park.
A series of 16 terraced crystal clear lakes, connected by waterfalls, blogger Lucy Aitken Read calls it singly the most beautiful place on earth.
Of the lakes she says: "They are so clear that when you are standing on the shore the ducks appear to be floating in mid-air, and when you are standing on a cliff looking from above there is a perfect mirror image of the waterfalls reflected on its surface."
Founded in 1949, Plitvička Jezera National Park is in central Croatia. It is notably one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The one major downside here - visitors are prohibited from swimming in any of the lakes. That doesn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of many travelers however. The park welcomes more than one million visitors each year.
Chile - Torres del Paine National Park
Similar to Banff in some ways, Chile's Torres del Paine National Park is famous for its pristine and larger than life mountains and glaciers, as well as its many lakes and rivers.
Located in Southern Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine is bordered on the west by Bernardo O'Higgins National Park and on the north by Los Glaciares National Park, creating a sprawling, pristine region unlike many other places on earth.
In fact, as one of 11 protected areas in the Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica (together with four national parks, three national reserves, and three national monuments), the protected area here makes up about 51% of the land in the region.
"This is a dramatic, beautiful park," says travel blogger Elizabeth Avery, who has visited 67 countries and founded Solo Trekker 4 U. "It's just like Alaska ... It has glaciers, a waterfall, a crystal blue lake and snow-capped mountains year round."
Among those majestic snow covered mountains are the namesake Torres del Paine, three towering granite peaks of the Paine mountain range that reach more than 8,200 feet above sea level.
Avery suggests when visiting this park, or any national park for that matter, try skipping the bus tours and hire a local to show you around, for a much more off-the-beaten path experience.
Namibia - Etosha National Park
One word - fantastic.
"It's not like anything else you'll experience anywhere in the world," begins traveler Kevin Read, who writes Travel with Kevin and Ruth. "The only thing that comes close is Kruger National Park in South Africa, but from everything we've read, Etosha is much more the real Africa, and yet it is not visited nearly as much by tourists."
It's true, when it comes to iconic national parks in Africa, Kruger, Serengeti and others seem to receive much of the publicity.
Etosha dates back to 1907, when it was proclaimed a game reserve. Much later, in 1967, it was elevated to status of National Park. An 8,600 square mile preserve, Etosha is home to hundreds of species of mammals, birds and reptiles, including several that are threatened or endangered.
Among the unforgettable highlights here, says Read, is being able to drive around the park on your own (skipping the crowded safari tours) and also camping in the park on your own.
"We were totally surprised that people can go camping and that it's a common thing to do," explains Read. "It's such a big park too, that you feel like you're the only one there. We would take four to six hour drives, totally by ourselves. You can hire guides, or you can just rent a car and go on your own. We were six days in there, and it was fantastic."
During that time Read says his wife and he saw lions, rhinos and leopards, among many other animals.
"At one point, we turned around a corner, and there was a bunch of elephants," says Read. "They looked at us and we looked at them, and then we all carried on. It was a surreal."
Cuba - Topes de Callantes
Cuba has become one of the hottest destinations on the planet thanks to the warming of relations with the United States, so it seems appropriate to include one of its most highly recommended national parks.
As the longtime director of marketing for Intrepid Travel, one of the world's largest travel companies, Jared Alster has seen his fair share of beautiful destinations. And now, as co-founder of Stride, a marketplace for tours and adventure travel, he continues his deep dive into all that the world has to offer.
With all of this experience behind him, Alster's first pick when asked to name the best national park outside the U.S., is Topes de Collantes.
Located in the Escambray Mountains, in the south of Cuba, not all that far from the beautiful colonial city of Trinidad, the park is frequently visited by Cubans, but not necessarily by other travelers.
"It's a real off the beaten path gem," says Alster. "It features mellow hiking trails, beautiful waterfalls, and comfortable accommodations in local lodges. The park also contains coffee plantations and if you're lucky, you can talk to a local grower about their trade. It's also a bird watcher's paradise." Or perhaps, it's just plain paradise.
Within the Topes de Collantes park boundaries there are caves, rivers, waterfalls, grottos, canyons and natural pools. Thanks to the moist winds coming from the Atlantic Ocean, the north face of the park's mountains provide an ideal refuge for plants and animals. The south face, meanwhile, is home to an important ecosystem and two UNESCO World Heritage sites - Valle de los Ingenios or Valley of the Sugar Mills, and also Trinidad city.
"Visiting this park was definitely one of my favorite highlights from my entire time in Cuba," continues Alster. "I enjoyed the big cities, but for me I love the outdoors so it was a natural fit, and it gives you a glimpse into the local way of life more than anything you will get in the cities."
And really, that's what all of these national parks do so well - give visitors a glimpse of life beyond the skyscrapers and concrete, whether that's in the United States or around the world.