If you follow my blog you probably know that I love the National Parks and enjoy making lists focusing on them. I’ve made lists of my Top 10 National Parks, Top 10 short and Top 10 long National Parks hikes, among others. I decided to make a new list. There are several different “Wonders of the World” lists out there. There’s the “7 Natural Wonders of the World,” “New 7 Wonders of Nature,” “New 7 Wonders of the World,” “7 Wonders of the Underwater World,” and more. So, I figured it was time for The 7 Natural Wonders of America’s National Parks list. Don’t worry, I went to the liberty of creating the list for you (USA Today was busy). Just like in the past, I compiled the list solely from the 20 National Parks I have visited. There are 59 U.S. National Parks, so I’ve only visited about a third of them, but I have been to many of the most popular and scenic parks in the country. If I included sights from parks I didn’t visit I would have at least considered Mt. Rainer, the General Sherman tree, and Denali.
Here’s what I came up with:
1. The Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon National Park)
I felt like I had to start with this, since it is known as one of the “7 Natural Wonders of the World.” The Grand Canyon is an amazing sight. Photos do not do it justice; you have to see it in person. And if you do go in person, I highly recommend hiking at least a short distance down into the canyon. As great as the view is from the rim, it’s better from below it. The stats are mind-blowing. The canyon is generally about a mile deep and ten miles wide. The Colorado River passes through the canyon for 277 miles.
I’ve been to the Grand Canyon three times. I hiked a few miles down the South Kaibab Trail and also hiked to Plateau Point, which is over 12 miles roundtrip down into the canyon. That was a grueling hike for me, but also one of my most memorable ones. I highly recommend it if you don’t want to go all the way down to the river. I actually had a backcountry permit to stay in the bottom of the canyon another time, but I had a change of heart. I’ve also spent a lot of time walking the rim and photographing the mammoth chasm.
2. Half Dome (Yosemite National Park)
This iconic rock formation is one of the symbols of the National Park System. Half Dome’s sheer northwest face is showcased in views from Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point. It towers above the eastern end of the famous valley. There are several incredible sights within Yosemite; ranging from Yosemite Falls, to the giant sequoias, to El Capitan, and Tolumne Meadows. But for most, Half Dome is the focal point of the park. It draws climbers, photographers, and hikers from all over the globe.
I hiked to the top of Half Dome. It was the hardest day hike I have ever completed. Depending on your route, it is usually between 14.2 and 17 miles roundtrip and it takes most hikers between 10 and 14 hours to complete. The total elevation gain is 4,800 feet. The dreaded cables section, which is right before the summit, can be extremely frightening for anyone with the slightest fear of heights (like me). Hiking up Half Dome now requires a permit. If you’re up to it, I recommend this hike. I completed it, but I don’t plan on ever doing that again.
3. Old Faithful (Yellowstone National Park)
Speaking of National Park icons, perhaps the only one that can compare with Half Dome and the Grand Canyon is Old Faithful. Everyone everywhere knows about Yellowstone’s most famous geyser. Old Faithful doesn’t actually have the most predictable or tallest eruptions, but it’s the combination of those things that make it such a popular sight. There are between 44 and 125 minutes between eruptions (it’s usually closer to 90 minutes). The eruptions can be anywhere from 106 feet tall to 185 feet and they last between three minutes and ten minutes.
I’ve seen Old Faithful erupt two or three times and at least one other geyser erupt (Beehive Geyser). If you don’t feel like sharing the view of Old Faithful with a few hundred of your closest friends I recommend taking the short hike up to Observation Point to watch Old Faithful erupt from above.
4. Delicate Arch (Arches National Park)
This is another very recognizable sight within the National Park System. This is a list of my 7 Natural Wonders within the park, so it should come as no surprise that they are some of the most well-known sights within the parks. The opening beneath Delicate Arch is 64 feet high and 45 feet wide. It is much larger than I expected. The famous rock image has graced countless magazine covers, stamps, license plates, and more. Unlike the previous places on this list, Delicate Arch requires a bit of a hike to see it. There are a couple of short hikes you can take to see it from afar or you can hike three miles roundtrip to the arch itself.
I have blogged about this before, but if you’re going to Arches National Park, do yourself a favor and visit Delicate Arch at sunset. It was a sight I will never forget. The hike itself is moderate with an elevation gain of 480 feet. The main factor of the difficulty will be the heat. If it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit out, the hike will be a lot harder on you than if it is 65 degrees out. Either way, seeing the arch at the end of the short hike is definitely worth it, especially if you can make it there in time for the sunset.
5. Crater Lake (Crater Lake National Park)
Crater Lake is unsurprisingly the focal point of the park that is named after it. The park is pleasantly quiet compared to the first four National Parks on this list. The stunning blue color of the lake almost exudes a feeling of serenity to the surrounding landscape. At 1,949 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. The lake is located inside a volcanic caldera. The rim of the caldera ranges from 700 to 2,000 feet above the water. The lake is an immaculate blue that simply must be seen in person. Crater Lake is also incredibly clear.
I was only in Crater Lake National park once and spent just one night there, but would very much like to return. While there, I watched the sunrise over the lake and hiked the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which is the only trail that descends to the lake. I highly recommend doing both things.
6. Bryce Amphitheater (Bryce Canyon National Park)
Bryce Canyon National Park is made up of a series of amphitheaters, not canyons. The most stunning and most visited of which is Bryce Amphitheater. The most notable sights within the park are inside of this amphitheater. Among the highlights are Thor’s Hammer, Wall Street, Queen Victoria, and Silent City. Sunrise Point and Sunset Point provide amazing vistas above the incredible amphitheater filled with colorful hoodoos and other stunning rock formations.
I have been to Bryce Canyon National Park two times. There are several trails that lead down into the amphitheater from the rim and I’ve enjoyed a few of them. The park boasts the combination of the Queen’s Garden Trail and the Navajo Loop as the best 3-mile hike in the world. If you have the time and energy I’d recommend adding the Peekaboo loop to the first two trails to make for an amazing 6.5-mile hike. You won’t be disappointed.
7. Yosemite Falls (Yosemite National Park)
At 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. It is actually a combination of three falls: the Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet). Only the upper and lower sections can be seen from Yosemite Valley. The waterfall is ephemeral, meaning it does not flow year-round. It normally dries up sometime in August and is at peak flow in May, overflowing with spring runoff.
I “hiked” the very short path to the base of the waterfall and admired it from several viewpoints around and above the valley. A more difficult trail takes hikers to the top of the waterfall. I haven’t completed it, but it is on my to-do list for when I return to the park.
So, that’s it. That’s my totally subjective list of The 7 Natural Wonders of America’s National Parks. I think it’s a pretty good list. I would give honorable mention to the Zion Narrows, Yellowstone’s Lower Falls and Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Grand Teton.