1 Acadia, Maine

Hugging the rugged Maine shoreline, Acadia National Park is one of the most recreationally diverse retreats in the US. Here, you can scale pink granite cliffs, venture across islands, canoe up quiet creeks, hike bald mountains, or sea kayak through rocky isles. Even when it freezes, you can try cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or ice fishing.

Encompassing more than 47,000 terrifically diverse acres on Mount Desert Island, just off the coast of Maine, Acadia is not only a playground for outdoors enthusiasts, it’s also a haven for wild- and sealife. Everything from white-tailed deer to moose and whales frolic in its ocean, woodlands, peaks and glacial lakes.

The park is best explored over a couple of days, pitching a tent at the Seawall campground, and hiking its stunning trails, then diving headlong into more adventurous pursuits.

For a meaty 17km hike, try the route on the island’s eastern half, linking the peaks from Gorham Mountain to Norumbega Mountain, beside Somes Sound Fjord. Alternatively, an early morning trek to Sargent Mountain  will reward you with arresting sunrise views.

For something more sea-level, take an 18km Seal Cove to Clark Cove kayak tour in Southwest Harbour, where the rugged granite coast is dotted with pristine coves to explore.

You can also dabble in some rock climbing – lessons are available – or hire a bike and cruise the park’s historic carriage roads, stopping for a regionally famous pick-me-up, ‘popovers’ – a buttery kind of Yorkshire pudding – along the way.

Finally, take a whale-watching boat tour, floating along the ocean surrounded by Maine’s famous lighthouses. Spot
one of the giant mammals and it will rank among your journey’s highlights.


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2 Rocky Mountains, Colorado

The loftiest of all the US national parks, this is a mecca for climbing, scrambling and hiking, with a lifetime’s worth of high spots to explore.

You’ll get an idea by tackling the 26km ‘Mummy Grand Slam’ hike, which traverses the wide-open tundra at the north end. Dodge herds of elk and bighorn sheep as you dip down to alpine lakes, then peer over mountain edges at the end of the Chapin Pass trailhead for vertiginous views.


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3 Yosemite, California

Yosemite’s high peaks and cathedral-like valleys are among the world’s finest natural treasures.

Take a climb to escape the crowds and witness a dazzling landscape of luminous, fine-grained granite domes that break up rolling meadows. Various trails – including the 51km ‘Range of Light’ loop – will help you conquer the rockery. Then, cool off
in the natural swimming holes.



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4 Yellowstone, Wyoming

At 350km², the US’s first national park is so vast there are regions beyond its familiar waterfalls and geysers
that many people have no idea exist.

However, when time is of the essence, there are some experiences you can’t miss. Hike up Yellowstone’s peaks and keep a keen eye out for the Druid Peak wolf pack. Then, take a paddleboat along the river, marvelling at the sandhill cranes, bald eagles, ospreys and peregrine falcons as you approach the delta. It’s a menagerie!


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Grand Canyon, Arizona

So spectacular is this natural wonder that people have stood at its top and wept at the view.

The beauty of the Grand Canyon can be taken in from several perspectives: from the top, midway down, and from the Colorado River, after you’ve navigated its challenging trails and even taken on its rapids. Take the path from rim to water and you’ll see the biggest peaks, the deepest canyons and the steepest edges.

Camping? You’ll need to book at least two years ahead.