Each year, TravelAwaits seeks the input of its passionate and well-traveled readers to nominate and vote for the best destinations worldwide. This year, we asked our readers to weigh in on the best national parks outside of the U.S. and the response was overwhelming.
From stunning landscapes to remarkable biodiversity, these 14 national parks represent the pinnacle of natural beauty and preservation. So, grab your backpack and join us on a virtual journey as we explore our annual Best Of Travel Awards winners for the best national parks outside of the U.S.
1. Loreto Bay National Park (Winner)
Located on the Baja California Peninsula, Loreto Bay National Park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. Its pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and vibrant marine life make it a top destination for snorkeling, kayaking, and diving. With its unique combination of desert and marine ecosystems, Loreto Bay offers an unforgettable experience for visitors seeking serenity and natural wonders.
2. Galapagos National Park
Renowned worldwide for its remarkable biodiversity and crucial role in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Galapagos National Park is a living laboratory of wildlife. This remote archipelago in the Pacific Ocean boasts an incredible array of species, many of which are endemic to the islands. From giant tortoises and marine iguanas to blue-footed boobies and Galapagos penguins, visitors can observe these captivating creatures up close and witness nature’s awe-inspiring wonders.
3. Cinque Terre National Park
Nestled along the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that enchants travelers with its colorful villages and breathtaking coastal scenery. The park is comprised of five picturesque towns, each perched on cliffs overlooking the Ligurian Sea. Hiking trails winding through terraced vineyards and olive groves provide visitors with mesmerizing views of the rugged coastline, making it a hiker’s paradise.
4. Fiordland National Park
In the southwestern corner of New Zealand’s South Island lies Fiordland National Park, a place of unparalleled natural beauty. Spectacular fjords, cascading waterfalls, ancient forests, and snow-capped peaks define this rugged wilderness. The jewel of the park is Milford Sound, often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. Exploring Fiordland’s vast landscape is a truly awe-inspiring experience.
5. Serengeti National Park
Stretching across Tanzania and into Kenya, Serengeti National Park is synonymous with the great African safari experience. This iconic park is teeming with wildlife, including the Big Five (lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo, and rhinoceros), wildebeest migrations, and countless other species. Witnessing the drama of the savannah unfold in Serengeti’s vast grasslands is an adventure that will leave a lasting impression.
6. Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park
Tucked away in the heart of the majestic Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy, Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park is a natural wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts. Towering peaks, picturesque valleys, alpine lakes, and lush meadows create an idyllic backdrop for hiking, climbing, and mountaineering. The park’s unique geology, rich flora and fauna, and charming mountain villages make it a must-visit destination for nature lovers.
7. Lake District National Park
With its tranquil lakes, rolling hills, and ancient woodlands, Lake District National Park in the United Kingdom has inspired artists and writers for centuries. This picturesque region in northwestern England offers a myriad of outdoor activities, including hiking, boating, and cycling. Explore the charming villages and historic sites scattered throughout the park or simply immerse yourself in the serene beauty of the landscape. The Lake District is a true gem that captivates visitors with its timeless allure.
8. Thingvellir National Park
Situated on the dramatic tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Thingvellir National Park in Iceland is a geological marvel. This UNESCO World Heritage site not only offers stunning vistas of volcanic landscapes, but it is also historically significant as the location of Iceland’s first parliament, Althing. Visitors can explore the park’s rugged terrain, marvel at the crystal-clear waters of Silfra fissure, learn about Iceland’s fascinating cultural heritage, and maybe even see the northern lights!
9. Torres Del Paine National Park
Nestled in the breathtaking Patagonian region of Chile, Torres del Paine National Park is a haven for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts. Its jagged snow-capped mountains, glistening glacial lakes, and vast grasslands create a mesmerizing backdrop for activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and wildlife spotting. The park is home to foxes, pumas, and guanacos (similar to a llama).
The park is named after the three imposing granite towers — The Torres del Paine, or “Towers of Paine” — that are its centerpiece and an iconic symbol of Patagonia’s raw beauty. TravelAwaits contributor Sarah Kingdom describes the park as a “fantastic destination for intrepid hikers, kayakers, mountain bikers, or any adventurous traveler.” While multi-day treks are quite popular, spectacular views and iconic landmarks can also be seen by driving around the park.
10. Twelve Apostles Marine National Park
Along Australia’s Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park beckons travelers with its dramatic coastal scenery. These towering limestone stacks, jutting out of the Southern Ocean, create a captivating panorama. Visitors can explore the park’s pristine beaches, marvel at the rugged cliffs, and spot marine life such as seals, penguins, and migrating whales. The Twelve Apostles Marine National Park is a testament to nature’s artistic prowess.
11. Plitvice Lakes National Park
A true natural wonder, Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia enchants visitors with its cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, and lush forests. Wooden footbridges and hiking trails meander the park, allowing visitors to discover its enchanting beauty up close. The interplay of vibrant turquoise waters and green foliage creates a surreal and breathtaking experience, making Plitvice Lakes a must-visit destination for nature lovers.
12. Iguazú National Park
Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazú National Park boasts one of the world’s most magnificent waterfalls, the awe-inspiring Iguazú Falls. With over 270 individual cascades spread across nearly 2 miles, the falls are a mesmerizing sight to behold. Visitors can explore the park’s lush rainforests, walk along the extensive network of trails, and even take exhilarating boat rides to witness the power and grandeur of the falls up close.
13. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Deep in the heart of Australia’s Red Centre, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park holds cultural and spiritual significance for the Anangu Aboriginal people. The 512-square-mile park is home to two iconic landmarks: Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Previously known as Ayers Rock, Uluru is the largest single-rock monolith on the planet. These massive sandstone formations rise from the desert landscape, creating a profound sense of awe and wonder.
Witness the mesmerizing color changes of the world-famous rock at sunrise or explore the hiking trails around Kata Tjuta for a deeper connection with this ancient land. An Aboriginal word meaning “many heads,” Kata Tjuta is composed of 36 gigantic monoliths. Take the Valley of the Winds loop, which wends between Kata Tjuta’s domes.
Both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are protected sacred sites and climbing them is banned, but there are several other ways to experience this incredible landscape. Enjoy indigenous-led or self-guided walks. Explore Walpa Gorge; it’s like an ancient temple chiseled by nature. Attempt indigenous dot painting, hop on the back of a camel, see rock art sites, sample indigenous foods, and skydive or helicopter over Uluru.
14. Glenveagh National Park
Nestled in the rugged landscapes of County Donegal, Glenveagh National Park showcases the beauty of the Irish countryside. With its pristine lakes, mountains shrouded in mist, and lush woodlands, the park offers a serene and tranquil escape. Constructed in the 1880s, the stunning Glenveagh Castle Gardens is one of the Emerald Isle’s outstanding horticultural masterpieces. Explore the enchanting Glenveagh Castle, embark on scenic hikes, or simply enjoy the peace and solitude of this remote wilderness. Glenveagh National Park is a paradise for nature lovers, birdwatchers, and those seeking to immerse themselves in Ireland’s natural heritage.
Whether you’re an adventure seeker, wildlife enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of the natural world, these national parks are a testament to the importance of preserving our planet’s most treasured landscapes. So, pack your bags, embark on a journey of discovery, and let these remarkable national parks inspire your next great adventure.
Read more from our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards