The Best National Parks to Visit—Virtually
Take a #VirtualVacay
For now, while 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 digital North American national and provincial park tours.
Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
Parks Canada describes Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve as "a rich, remote landscape steeped in spirituality." The site covers 1,470 km2 on the southern third of the Haida Gwaii archipelago, plus the National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, 3,400 km2 of ocean. The marine reserve is a feeding ground for humpback whales and many other species. See this and more in the video Gwaii Haanas Marine --Journey from mountain top to sea floor, or visit the park on Google Earth.
Algonquin Provincial Park
Established way back in 1893, Ontario's Algonquin Provincial Park is a 7653 square-kilometre refuge between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River. Many Canadians get their first experience of the park from their cars — a 56-km stretch of Highway 60 offers moose and bear sightings and easy hiking access. However, most of Algonquin's lakes and forests are only accessible by watercraft, and with the park closed until at least April 30, virtual tours are the closest you'll get for now.
Start with this video of Algonquin Provincial Park Through the Seasons; it's unnarrated, all the better to immerse yourself in the stunning scenes of nature and wildlife.
Gros Morne National Park
Western Newfoundland is home to Gros Morne National Park, a stunning piece of land representing Canada's most pristine beauty. The UNESCO World Heritage Site offers geology at it's finest -- this park has been attracting nature-lovers and scientists for decades. Geologists from around the world have made their way to the Tablelands to study this wonder of nature, where you can walk upon the Earth's mantle, exposed by continental drift millions of years ago. Let a guide take you on a video tour in this clip from Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism, or opt for all scenery, no talk from Amazing Places on Our Planet.
Rouge National Urban Park
Believe it or not, 20% of Canada's population lives within an hour's drive of Rouge National Urban Park, a nationally protected area straddling several jurisdictions in the northeast Greater Toronto Area. Established in 2015, it's easily accessible by public transit — though you'll feel a world away from the city as you explore its trails, hills, campsites and riverbanks. See the highlights in this Parks Canada video.
For more of Canada's exceptional wilderness, see Canada's National Parks on Google Earth.
United States: 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.
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.
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 neighbourhood, take a quick detour to the cantilevered, glass-bottom Skywalk to get outside your comfort zone from the comfort of home.
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 most famous, Delicate Arch, from your change collection (check your U.S. 2014 quarters). Other arches make for natural windows onto some of the most stunning views in the park.
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.
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).
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.
Yellowstone National Park
The world's first national park, Yellowstone is home to roughly half the world’s hydrothermal features, most famously, Old Faithful. Rivalling the geyser for the most otherworldly highlight of your virtual tour, the Grand Prismatic Spring is not to be missed.
Yosemite National Park
26 years before this California beauty became America'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.