The US National Parks are often acclaimed as the country’s most treasured lands, encapsulating the American landscape full of scenic wonders, protected wildlife, historic landmarks and so much more. The parks’ incredible popularity means you’ll want to try to start planning at least a year in advance for access to your pick of lodging and experiences.
Travelers have a wealth of variety and destinations to visit with 59 protected areas known as National Parks. However, here are three of the most popular ones our team often helps with in designing unique, memorable experiences.
Yellowstone National Park
Designated as a national park in 1872, Yellowstone has been an important part of Wyoming’s colorful history. With over two million acres of carefully protected wilderness, it’s home to some of the best wildlife viewing, including grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, elk, buffalo, antelope, swans, eagles and more. Enjoy the “must see” spots of Old Faithful, the Lower Falls, Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs. The park is full of outdoor activity options such as hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, biking and more. (Ask us about unique winter excursions as well!)
Yellowstone covers an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. Most of the park lies in the state of Wyoming, with thin strips to the north and west that are part of Montana and Idaho. Surprisingly, the park contains several vegetation zones, ranging from the northern desert found between Gardiner and Mammoth, to the alpine tundra of Mount Washburn. In between are grasslands, forests, marshy riverbanks and alpine lakes.
Old West Dinner Cookout | Take a wagon ride or travel by horseback through the sagebrush flats to an Old West Dinner Cookout at Yancy’s Hole. Here you’ll line up for steak and other classic meal sides followed by cowboy-sung western songs. Watch the sunset as you keep an eye out for the local wildlife.
Biking Day Trip to Grand Tetons | The dramatic, rugged peaks of the Teton Range virtually erupt from the flat plains and Snake River Valley, creating a landscape that at times appears to be an illusion. Located directly south of Yellowstone, it’s easy to combine these parks in a trip and get the best of both. Go for the day on a bike tour and pedal winding bike paths under the shadows of Grand Teton, Middle Teton, Teewinot, Nez Perce and Mt. Owen (the five peaks of the Cathedral Group in Grand Teton National Park).
Wind Along the Snake River | Enjoy a guided excursion of the Snake River. View the spectacular landscape of the 1056-mile long river and watch for the abundant wildlife, including eagles, osprey, beavers, otters, bison, antelope, moose and elk. As you quietly paddle (either by canoe or kayak), be sure to take in the nature and beauty that surrounds you.
Property We Love
The Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins is the park’s oldest hotel. It recently underwent a remodel, bringing modern amenities to the hotel’s rustic heritage. The new lobby area feels like a living room with views of the lake, polished hardwood floors and sparkling chandeliers. Guests can relax on wicker furniture as they listen to a string quartet or gaze out huge windows at boats crossing the lake. A shuttle is available that runs to Fishing Bridge and its marina.
Yosemite National Park
Best known for its waterfalls (21 in total), Yosemite National Park also contains granite cliffs (El Capital), deep valleys, 3,000-year-old giant sequoias (like the Wawona Tunnel Tree), broad meadows and a vast wilderness. Yosemite provides a home for the American black bear, mule deer, cougar, gray fox, bobcat and various species of owl. You can explore these and many other sights of the park year-round. For the active traveler, hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, rock climbing and even skiing are plentiful.
Yosemite is set in the Sierra Nevada mountains located in the central-eastern part of California. The park covers an area of 747,956 acres and a majority of visitors only visit a portion of the park, the Yosemite Valley. Yosemite is one of the largest and least fragmented habitat blocks in the Sierra Nevada range, and contains five major vegetation zones: chaparral/oak woodland, lower montane forest, upper montane forest, subalpine and alpine.
Camp Among the Giants | Venture off the beaten path on a guided camping trip (gear provided) that takes you to sights unseen. Experienced guides will provide history and insight into Yosemite as you explore America’s tallest waterfalls, biggest trees, and cliffs rising 4,000 feet. Visit Yosemite Valley, the giant Sequoia trees and the breathtaking High Country.
Exploring the Falls | Spend the day on a guided tour visiting some of Yosemite Valley’s most popular sites – its waterfalls. You’ll visit Bridalveil Falls, Ribbon Falls, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, and Horsetail Falls. Each year in the later part of February, if the conditions are just right, Horsetail Falls lights up with a red glow as the sun sets.
In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams | Visit several sites where Ansel Adams made his famous photographs of Yosemite on a 4-hour small-group photography tour. Your guide, a professional photographer from The Ansel Adams Gallery, will lead a hands-on workshop that helps participants improve their skills with digital cameras, while highlighting the life and work of Ansel Adams.
Property We Love
Known for its stunning interior design and architecture, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel was specifically designed to highlight its natural surroundings, featuring Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The destination of queens and presidents alike, this distinctive Yosemite hotel offers a perfect balance of history, hospitality and elegance. It offers a gift shop that focuses on local artisans, a decadent sweet shop, a comfortable bar and a heated outdoor swimming pool.
Grand Canyon National Park
Vast. It’s often the first word used when describing the Grand Canyon. Its beauty is breath taking and its sheer size is sure to leave most anyone humbled. This national park is Arizona’s most notable landmark, with its official name being The Grand Canyon State. At 277 miles end to end, its steep, rocky walls go to a depth of more than a mile from the top down to the canyon floor where the Colorado River cuts its path through the landscape. Whether you have hours or days to visit, you’ll find many ways to enjoy some adventure or just take in the amazing views. Enjoy a short guided tour or a multi-day backpacking trip. Try white-water rafting, biking or a tour by air. And, be sure to learn about the Native American culture and history that is vital to this part of the United States.
The Grand Canyon is most accessed via the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim (about 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff, in northern Arizona). The North Rim is only about 10 miles away from Grand Canyon Village as the crow flies, but is 215 miles (about a five-hour drive) by car, because you have to drive around the canyon to get there. The North Rim is best accessed from southern Utah. The park adjoins the Navajo, Havasupai and Hualapai Reservations, as well as the Kaibab National Forest.
Sunset Helicopter Tour | Experience the beauty of the Grand Canyon on a luxury helicopter tour during sunset. From Las Vegas, your tour will take you over Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon West Rim. It’s here you’ll land and relax before your gourmet dinner – complete with fine china, silverware, linens, flowers and champagne.
Raft the Lower Portion | Undoubtedly one of North America’s best river rafting trips, you’ll travel from the centerline of Grand Canyon National Park to the Western border. After orientation, start on your invigorating rapids trip along the mighty Colorado River. Enjoy unbelievable scenery, riverside camping and delicious food, along with breaks to hike and explore.
Historical Train Ride | Leaving from Flagstaff, take a ride on the historic Grand Canyon Railroad. Each railroad car has been restored to its original state. Sit back and enjoy the ride as your guide shares interesting commentary about the train and its history while pointing out the historical sites along the way. You’ll also have some free time to explore the Grand Canyon on your own.
Hiking Havasupai Waterfalls | Located west of the Grand Canyon, the stunning crystal blue waters of Havasupai Waterfalls are a 10-mile hike to get to with no car access. However, often the most challenging part of the visit isn’t the hike, but obtaining the permit prior to visit as there are limited provided per day. Skip the hassle and take a small group tour with one of Pique’s partners to visit this hidden gem on the sidearm of the Grand Canyon. On your guided journey, hike to Havasu and Beaver Falls, cool off by taking a dip in the spring-fed creek, search for fossils and explore a historic mine in Carbonate Canyon before settling into basecamp and relishing a gourmet meal prepared by your guides.
Property We Love
A two-hour drive from Grand Canyon Village, Amangiri is a remote hideaway tucked within the luminous canyons of the American Southwest. The resort’s location makes it a great “home base” as it’s easy to visit other popular geographic wonders in the area, including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Antelope Canyon. The chic, serene suites feature sitting areas, fireplaces, private courtyards and free Wi-Fi. Chefs create dinner from local ingredients paired with any of their 900 bottles of wine in the cellar. Relax after a day of hiking in their world class spa offering hydrotherapy, massages, saunas and more.