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10 most-visited parks offer a range of virtual visits
Spending time outdoors can reduce stress and increase overall health. Stuck inside? You can still connect with nature with a virtual visit to a national park. Ten of the most visited national parks in the nation offer innovative ways for visitors cooped up at home to explore America the Beautiful.
Photo courtesy of iStock / SeanPavonePhoto
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The mist-shrouded peaks, verdant forests and numerous waterfalls of the Great Smoky Mountains straddle the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. This swath of American wilderness is typically the most visited park in the National Park system.
Its viewpoints have been painted and immortalized in poetry, and many are showcased via live webcams placed throughout the park. Gaze across Newfound Gap, check out the weather atop Clingmans Dome or soak up the views from Purchase Knob.
Photo courtesy of Allyson Mathis / NPS photo
Grand Canyon National Park
Many Americans are familiar with the colorful formations of the Grand Canyon, whether from visiting in person or seeing the iconic park in photos. While the views are undeniably beautiful, the park also has archaeological significance.
On a Grand Canyon virtual archaeology tour, armchair travelers get an inside look at the first major excavation along the Colorado River in nearly four decades. A series of interactive 360-degree photos show the archaeologists at work, with insight into their tools and methods.
Photo courtesy of iStock / TCallahan
Rocky Mountain National Park
Many sights of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado might be familiar to travelers – granite mountaintops, glassy lakes, meadows filled with wildflowers and the occasional elk, moose or black bear. The sounds of the park, though, might be less familiar.
Explore this popular park using a different sense by diving into the park’s Sound Library. Experience the sounds of dawn in Big Meadow, relax with the babbling brook near Black Canyon Trail, hear a thunderstorm from the Sunrise Campsite, listen to a bull elk bugle or learn the difference between the song of a yellow-rumped warbler and a mountain chickadee.
Photo courtesy of NPS Photo / Caitlin Ceci
Zion National Park
Few vistas are as dramatic as the one from the top of Angels Landing. One of the world’s most famous hikes leads to the top of this clifftop perch. If you want to know what it’s like to hike Angels Landing (or want to relive the experience from your couch), set out on an eHike.
This virtual experience features videos, pictures and sounds that allow you to compare the Virgin River at normal flow and during a flash flood, listen to canyon tree frogs from the West Rim Trail, learn to identify California condors and watch hikers ascend the chain to Scout Lookout.
Photo courtesy of iStock / GarysFRP
Yosemite National Park
Few national parks have more iconic natural wonders than Yosemite. Travelers can see these landmarks in real time thanks to the park’s series of webcams.
See water cascading down from Yosemite Falls (and the Pacific dogwoods that bloom just below the waterfall each spring), or look up at Half Dome from the floor of Yosemite Valley. Another camera shows the High Sierra conditions from an elevation of about 8,000 feet.
Photo courtesy of NPS / Diane Renkin
Yellowstone National Park
America’s oldest national park is also one of the easiest to tour virtually. Learn about the history of Fort Yellowstone, see the bubbling mud pits at the Fountain Paint Pot, gaze down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, explore the hydrothermal features of Mammoth Springs and see what it’s like to walk along the boardwalks of the Upper Geyser Basin.
You can also watch Old Faithful erupt in real time or send an audio postcard featuring the sounds of springtime, the yips and howls of wolves at Blacktail Pond or the bellows of bison in the Northern Range.
Photo courtesy of NPS Photo
Acadia National Park
One of the best ways to experience Acadia National Park in Maine is from the water. Set sail to explore the rocky shores of Mount Desert Island from your computer via an Acadia eCruise.
Hear interpretation from real park rangers as you watch a tide time-lapse from the Porcupine Islands, take in the panoramic views from Baker Island, listen to the sounds of the ocean or resident harbor seals, or do some virtual birdwatching along the rocky cliffs.
Photo courtesy of NPS Photo
Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Tetons are breathtaking even in photos, but the views are even better from the trails of this legendary alpine climbing destination. The park offers three ways to explore online.
Trek to the top of a 13,770-foot summit without breaking a sweat with the Grand Teton eClimb, or take an eHike around String Lake, complete with video, animal sounds, plant identification guides and animations of Teton geology. Travelers can also experience the Moose-Wilson Corridor to get familiar with some of the park’s wildlife.
Photo courtesy of NPS Photo
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park protects a rainforest ecosystem largely untouched by human habitation. As such, it also protects a staggering range of habitats and impressive biodiversity.
A set of beautiful interactive murals caters to those with an interest in plants and animals (or the more artistically inclined). Click through the images to learn more about what’s growing in the park, as well as the restoration of the Elwha Estuary.
Photo courtesy of NPS / Tim Rains
Glacier National Park
The landscapes of Glacier National Park rank among the most majestic in the nation, and simple photos don’t do them justice. While nothing beats standing amid the snow-capped peaks and turquoise glacial lakes yourself, the park’s interactive panoramas help impart the sense of grandeur by allowing views to scan right, left and all around.
Soak up the scenery of Lake McDonald, Two Medicine Lake, Running Eagle Falls, Highline Trail, Going-to-the-Sun Road and the Meadows at Fifty Mountain.