The Best National Parks to Visit—Virtually

Mar 20, 2020
The great Wallace Stegner once called America’s national parks “the best idea we ever had,” and we couldn’t agree more. Equal parts meditative and mind-blowing, these magnificent wildlands somehow make us feel our most humbly—and gratefully—human. They’re our gift to ourselves and our truest escape, whether for a solitary hike or an eight-person family vacation.

And though, for now, we may not be able to visit them in person, we can remember past trips and look forward to future visits with these breathtaking virtual tours, some led by rangers—others self-guided. So set aside your puzzle-making and your Netflix queue and get back to nature (from a distance) with these 12 digital national park tours.

Kenai Fjords National Park

Only by Alaskan standards could this qualify as small (it's the state’s smallest national park, in fact). At more than 1000 square miles, Kenai Fjords is home to dozens of glaciers, almost 200 bird species and an amazing array of land mammals. See: hoary marmots, northern bog lemmings and the five resident species of shrew (!). And did we mention the wolverines? On your guided virtual tour, you can kayak through Bear Glacier lagoon and climb into a glacial crevasse—you know, for practice, until you get there in person.

Take the whole tour here.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is rightly famous for its Martian-red rock formations (aka hoodoos), sweeping canyon views and Natural Bridge—an 85-foot arch carved by nature—but this corner of southern Utah is also home to a lesser-known star: the Bristlecone Pine, which can live for thousands of years. In fact, the most ancient one in the park—thought to be more than 1,600 years old—is visible from Yovimpa Point (one of several stunning spots you can visit on your self-guided Google Earth Tour).

Take the whole tour here.

Glacier National Park

Thanks to early conservation efforts and sheer size (more than a million acres), Montana's Glacier National Park is a seriously happy place for wildlife—hence one of the largest grizzly populations in the Lower 48. The park's largest body of water—Lake McDonald—is known for its mirror effect and makes for a particularly zen-inducing first stop on your virtual tour. But the second stop is hard to beat in that department, too.

Take the whole tour here.

Grand Canyon National Park

One distinct advantage of visiting the Grand Canyon from home is that you can get to a whole spread-out series of amazing viewpoints (this appropriately grand tour comes with 18 stops), whereas time constraints often dictate otherwise IRL. So start plotting your next in-person visit by deciding where you stand—at least figuratively—on the age-old question of the canyon's best lookout: Mather Point? Hopi Point? Or perhaps the Abyss? And while you're in the neighborhood, take a quick detour to the cantilevered, glass-bottom Skywalk to get outside your comfort zone from the comfort of home.

Take the whole tour here.

Grand Teton National Park

Home to one of the continent's youngest mountain ranges (practically a kid at not even 10 million years old), Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park inspires explorers and artists alike. You can take in the peaks as Ansel Adams did for one of his famous photographs—from the Snake River Overlook, where the Tetons appear over a dramatic bend.

Take the whole tour here.

Arches National Park

Lavishly adorning Utah’s high desert, Arches National Park has the highest density of natural arch formations in the world. You might recognize the the most famous, Delicate Arch, from your change collection (check your 2014 quarters). Other arches make for natural windows onto some of the most stunning views in the park.

Take the whole tour here.

Sequoia National Park

California’s Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 to protect the area from loggers. Thanks to that designation, the tree that's widely considered the world’s largest (if you're going by highest wood volume in a single stem) still stands—and goes by the name General Sherman. While the giant general is accessible by path, the vast majority of the park is designated wilderness—and a prime spot to go lose yourself right now.

Take the whole tour here.

Virgin Islands National Park

You can thank a luxury cruise for the founding of the Virgin Islands National Park: When Laurence Rockefeller (yep, the son of that Rockefeller) visited St. John in 1956, he was so struck by the island's beauty that he bought up land to be donated to the National Park Service. Worth visiting (virtually or otherwise) for the beaches alone, the park also offers everything from Taino rock carvings to 800+ subtropical plant species.

Take the whole tour here.

Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes: Mauna Loa (which, when measured from its base, is taller than Everest)—and Kīlauea, one of the earth’s most active volcanoes. Recently reopened after the infamous 2018 eruptions (and now temporarily closed again), the Nahuku Lava Tube is one of several stunning stops on this guided virtual tour.

Take the whole tour here.

Everglades National Park

The country's largest tropical wilderness, Everglades National Park in southern Florida is home to 36 protected or endangered species—not least, West Indian manatees, American crocodiles and Florida panthers (!). Visualize yourself looking out for them on the Google Earth "walk" along the Anhinga Trail.

Take the whole tour here.

Yellowstone National Park

The world's first national park, Yellowstone is home to roughly half the world’s hydrothermal features, most famously, Old Faithful. Rivaling the geyser for the most otherworldly highlight of your virtual tour, the Grand Prismatic Spring is not to be missed.

Take the whole tour here.

Yosemite National Park

26 years before this California beauty became our nation’s third national park, Lincoln signed an order that protected the land—the first instance of land being set aside for public use and preservation, and the arguable precursor to all future national park designations. For a sense of what moved Abe to act, check out the glowing rock faces of the golden hour, the sweeping vistas of forests and waterfalls and the hikes (literally) through sequoias.

Take the whole tour here.

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