North America

Bats, volcanos, crocs: 12 hair-raising national parks and monuments

When I was a child, I met the tallest trees on earth; I chased fireflies through the Great Smoky Mountains; I witnessed Old Faithful in all its glory (even though I had to hold my nose); I was entranced by Devils Tower and Mount Rushmore; I was awed by Yosemite.

Venturing into the wilderness became my thing, and it never stopped. Over the years I helicoptered onto glaciers in Denali, I hiked the lava fields in Hawaii and I searched for pythons in the Everglades. 

Here are some of my favorite memories of America’s national parks and monuments. They’re reasons to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service. For more ideas and info, visit findyourpark.com.

  • 1. Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, California

    Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, California

    Yosemite National Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Greg Chancey

    Half Dome, a granite monolith, is the rock star of Yosemite. Hike the beast, nearly 8,800 feet above sea level, and you can call yourself a rock star, too.

  • 2. Bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

    Bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Bats in Flight

    Each night during the summer, when it’s time to prowl for food, hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats zoom out of the cave in Carlsbad Caverns. Be sure to check out the ranger talk at the outdoor amphitheater.

  • 3. Moro Rock at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

    Moro Rock at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California

    Joey Carnes

    Visitors have been captivated by Sequoia & Kings Canyon Moro Rock for more than a century, and it’s not hard to see why. Put on your comfiest shoes, climb 400 steps and snap pics of the majestic view.

  • 4. Glowing volcanic gas at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

    Glowing volcanic gas at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

    Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Jason Chu

    There is nothing quite like seeing the fiery glow of molten rock up close in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Be sure to come back at night, too. On a clear evening, you get a great view of the Milky Way.

  • 5. Alligators and crocodiles at Everglades National Park, Florida

    Alligators and crocodiles at Everglades National Park, Florida

    Everglades National Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Elizabeth Queen

    These toothy reptiles are the most famous residents of the Everglades. Keep your eyes peeled; there’s a good chance you’ll spot some. If you’re brave, sign up for a swamp walk.

  • 6. Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

    Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

    Yellowstone National Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Jim Keenan

    If hydrothermal activity fascinates you, visit the Great Fountain geyser. Its eruptions propel streams of droplets up to 200 feet into the air.



  • 7. Ice Caves at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

    Ice Caves at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Tim Trombley

    Pictured Rocks' famous sandstone cliffs should be on your short list. Stunning curtains of ice form in the winter when snow falls from the cliffs, melts and refreezes.

  • 8. Great Gallery at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

    Great Gallery at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

    Canyonlands National Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Michael Greene

    Early American Indian pictographs and petroglyphs make this trip to Canyonlands well worth the effort.

  • 9. Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana

    Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana

    Glacier National Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Becky Jorgenson

    One of the coolest things to do in Glacier National Park is to drive down Going-to-the-Sun Road. This 50-mile marvel goes through the park's rough and rugged interior, snakes around mountainsides and provides plenty of photo ops.

  • 10. Night sky at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

    Night sky at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico

    Chaco Culture National Historical Park, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Lex Headman

    If you truly want to get away from it all, this certified International Dark Sky Park will do the trick. Visitors to Chaco Culture Historical Park,  get to experience an ancient landscape and stare at the dark sky, just as the Chacoans did a thousand years ago. 

  • 11. Tram ride to the top of the Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Missouri

    Tram ride to the top of the Arch at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Missouri

    Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Nathan Braune

    The 630-feet-tall Gateway Arch in St. Louis is the tallest manmade monument in the U.S. For something to write home about, ride to the top of this architectural gem at tge Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

  • 12. Climb to the crown at the Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York

    Climb to the crown at the Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York

    Statue of Liberty National Monument, National Park Foundation’s Share the Experience photo contest/Stephen Kuchera

    Walk up the 377 steps of the spiral staircase inside the Statue. Once in the crown, gaze upon New York Harbor through the 24 windows.