Why Now's the Time to See These 9 Eye-Popping National Parks

Celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial year with a visit to these stunners around the country.

The documentarian Ken Burns called our vast national parks system "America's best idea." And he wasn't kidding: It's filled with spectacular places to visit for a domestic vacation of a lifetime. 

The National Parks Service turns 100 this year, and that occasion is giving us the itch to get outdoors for an instantly refreshing break — and maybe a bit of digital detox. If you're feeling similarly inspired, consider one of these nine stunning options for a national park vacation. (Just please don't make like Vanessa Hudgens and break the law if you do!) Bonus: It's National Park Week, so you can go to any of these places (and 400 more in the system) for free through this weekend!

1.  Alaska

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest national park in the system (the size of four Yellowstones) has braided rivers among huge glaciers. The World Heritage site which was a mining site hosts nine of the sixteen highest peaks in the U.S. with steaming volcanoes in the distance.

2.  California

The Pacific Crest Trail stretches from California to Oregon and Washington. The breathtaking back-country backpacking hike between tall trees makes us want to be all Wild and free... a la Cheryl Strayed immortalized by Reese Witherspoon on the big screen.

3.  North Carolina

Take an amazing road trip by winding down the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, which holds two of the most-visited National Park lands — the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In season, there’s amazing fall foliage to boot.

4.  Idaho

Get this — you can see Craters of the Moon National Preserve from outer space. It is that cool and out of this world. Come for a night of stargazing from an extensive lava field.

5.  Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park welcomes visitors to participate in astronomy festivals and drool over hoodoos (pillars of eroded rock), plus sip some of the best air and snap pics of some of the most bizarre rocks in the country. Take a moonlit hike among the horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters and sigh at the beauty.

6.  Hawaii

Drive along the crater rim of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where Kilauea continues to overflow in an awe-inspiring, orange glow. There’s dramatic fog to be seen here, along with some petroglyphs along this volcanic bed.

7.  New Mexico

You’ll think you've been transported to an exotic, faraway place, but you'll be right here in the U.S. amid 10 dramatic acres of White Sands, where light sands sweep an active dunefield.

8.  Virgin Islands

Go boating along this three-mile stretch of beautiful blue mangroves and seagrass. Soft blue sponges and bright Boulder Brain Coral call the coral reef’s protected Hurricane Hole home.

9.  New York

It’s all about that estate life. Step back into the Gilded Age and onto the well-groomed grounds of the Vanderbilt Mansion. It was once the biggest estate of the 19th-century where the New York elite roamed against the grand architecture.

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