Just before COVID-19 hit the U.S., I'd been deep in the planning process of a trip to visit a few different National Parks in California. In fact, I would have been leaving for the west coast in just a few days time. Instead, I'm sitting here nestled on my couch in NYC with two kitties at my feet. And while many of us wish we could be out exploring the depths of the Grand Canyon, Alaska's stunning glaciers or any of the country's other 60 national parks, for now we'll have to satisfy our wanderlust virtually.
That's right, Google Arts & Culture, Google Earth and the National Park Service all offer gorgeous, interactive video tours of almost all 62 national parks. So look on the bright side: Now you won't have to deal with any crowds. Or pesky bugs.
1. Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
Whether you prefer hiking, rafting or just zooming along with a birds' eye view, you're sure to be in awe of the Grand Canyon's jaw-dropping scale. Watch the stripes of rock change from shades of beige and dusty rose to deep red, rust and brilliant orange as the sun sets over the canyon. This is one of the most popular parks in the entire U.S., but for one afternoon (or multiple), you can feel like you have it all to yourself.
2. Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida
Located just past the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven islands and Fort Jefferson, an unfinished island military fort. There are coral reefs to explore, abundant sea life to watch and lots of exciting history to learn (think shipwrecks and legends of buried treasures).
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3. Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska
You don't need to go all the way over to Norway to see epic fjords (or even over to Alaska thanks to Google Arts & Culture). We have them right here in the U.S. And while rappelling into a crevasse, kayaking through icebergs and trekking over moving glaciers might not be mom's idea of an ideal vacation, you don't need her permission to tackle all these daring-dos through a laptop.
4. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Ever wonder what a real lava flow looks like up close or wished you could peer over the edge of an active volcano but without any of the actual danger associated with those thrilling adventures? Well, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park has not one, but two active volcanoes. First up is Kīlauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes (the park was closed to vistors due to activity as recently as 2018). Second is Mauna Loa, the second largest volcano on earth not so much in terms of height but in size (it has an volume estimated at approximately 18,000 cubic miles).
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5. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho
Pay a visit to the country's very first national park and see just what Teddy Rosevelt thought all the fuss what about, including the Old Faithful geyser, wild buffalo herds and multiple waterfalls, peaks and canyons. There's a lot to explore here, so you might want to break up your digital vacation into multiple days, just as you would an IRL trip to Yellowstone.
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6. Zion National Park in Utah
A personal favorite, Zion is best known for its wild rock structures. You can hike through shallow rivers flowing between tall cliffs of red stripes, catch a glimpse of Kolob Arch and see if you can spot the exact filming locations for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
7. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia
Folks on the east coast will be more accustomed to seeing far-reaching forests, gurgling streams and shade-covered hiking trails than bare mountain tops or rust-colored canyons. And that's exactly what you'll find in the 200,000-plus acre Shenandoah National Park. Virtually hike along the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountain range and count the hundreds of different types of birds and other wildlife you spot along the route.