Get the best of both worlds -- big skies as well as big buildings -- when pairing a city stay with a trip to a nearby national park on a U.S. or Canadian vacation. Several big names are within a few hours' driving distance from urban centers across North America.
Toronto Point Pelee (also near Detroit plus Cleveland -- by ferry): Jutting into Lake Erie, this eight-square-mile park features a beachfront, marshes, forest and grasslands. Even though it might be one of Canada’s smallest national parks, it still remains to be one of its most visited. There are more than 700 species of plants as well as more than 350 species of birds, making it a top spot to bird watch. In fall, visitors can see thousands of butterflies fly overhead, as it sits on a major Monarch Butterfly migration route over Lake Erie.
Kootenay National Park: “Although Kootenay's scenery is as grand as can be found anywhere else in the Rockies, its trails are considerably less crowded than those in the neighboring parks” states Frommer’s. Visitors can take advantage of the quieter trails and scope out scenic natural sites such as Marble Canyon -- a 200-foot chasm cut through limestone -- and Paint Pots, where iron-rich spring water pools are coloured red and yellow. Or relax in the natural hot springs.
Seattle: Mount Rainier National Park (approximately two hours drive): “Like a mysterious, white-clad woman, often veiled in clouds even when the surrounding forests and fields are bathed in sunlight, Mount Rainier is the centerpiece of its namesake park” states Fodor’s of this formidable volcanic peak near Seattle. Standing at 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier offers activities for every season. In early fall, hunt for huckleberries growing in the foothills or snowshoe during the winter through the alpine trees.
Olympic National Park (less than three hours by car): This park is home to three major ecosystems, making it like visiting three parks in one. From breathtaking mountain vistas, active ocean tide pools and ancient forests, visitors can explore a multitude of different terrains. Venture to Hurricane Ridge, a 17-mile stretch of winding road, or head to Ruby Beach -- named for the ruby-like crystals that wash ashore from the fresh water -- on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula.
Point Reyes National Seashore:Located across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, this Marin County park is a National Seashore due to its mix of commercial and recreational uses with historical ranching and oyster farming. Visitors can hike more than 70 miles of trails, including a trail to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, which recently reopened after restorations.
Muir Woods:North of San Francisco and part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, this breathtaking park is home to Redwood trees ranging from 400 to 800 years old. Even though this park is normally shrouded under a layer of fog, the wet environment aids in the growth of the trees and preservation of the park. Trees’ heights range up to 260 feet high. Traverse over bridges with Redwood Creek flowing below year-round.
Travelzoo Tip: Extremely popular with locals, the parking lots here can fill up early in the day. Head out first thing in the morning or plan to visit on weekdays when kids are back to school and adults are back at work. Miami: Biscayne National Park: Almost all (95%) of this U.S. National Park near Miami is underwater with the bay’s shore beingcomprised of an extensive mangrove forest. The park’s offshore barrier reefs provide a home for fish and endangered species, such as the West Indian manatee, American crocodile and five species of sea turtle.With only one mile of paved roadway at the park, visitors need to boat, snorkel, canoe or kayak to explore the vast terrain. There are guided boat trips (for a fee) that take visitors around the park and spot wildlife.
Everglades National Park:At 2,400 square miles, this is the largest subtropical wilderness and third-largest national park in the lower 48 states. Visitors can spot alligators, manatees and a variety of birds while exploring the historic trails and prehistoric sites. Canoe and kayak hikes are available to explore the freshwater marsh, mangrove forests and open Florida Bay waters.