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Top 5 National Park Treasures

Science Under the Microscope

Top 5 National Park Treasures

During the one-month summer break from, I was lucky enough to do some traveling with my family. We spent four days in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Between my father’s time in the U.S. Navy when I was a child, the wandering spirit of my mother- and father-in-law, and my own family’s vacations, I have been able to visit some two dozen National Parks all over the United States.

With summer vacation plans brewing for many teachers and students, a pretty inexpensive option is to visit one of these oases of nature that belong to every American citizen. Here is my list of the top five U.S. National Parks (or, as Wallace Stegner put it “the best idea we ever had”), in no particular order. Note: there is a heavy bias toward those sites that are near an ocean or offer unique wildlife viewing opportunities.

Grand Teton

The introduction probably gave this one away, and I am sure that many travelers drove right through this fantastic place on their way to Yellowstone, the oldest National Park. To do so, however, is really a shame. The Teton mountain range springs up from the valley floor in dramatic fashion making the peaks seem almost touchable. You can see elk, bison, and moose among other western plain species in this land of endless vistas and “Kodak moments”.

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The draw of this park, located close to the northeast corner of continental U.S., is the proximity of “mountains” (including the 1528-foot Cadillac Mountain) and the sea. The entire park is located on Mount Desert Island, near Bar Harbor, Maine, and has many unique features. From the top of Cadillac you can be the first person in lower forty-eight to view the sunrise. From the base of the island you can experience the visual and aural power of the ocean’s waves as they crash and force water up more than 30 feet at Thunder Hole. Exciting wildlife includes peregrine falcons and foxes.

Cape Hatteras

While this is technically a National Seashore and not a Park, semantics don’t make difference when you view the narrow strip of land that separates the powerful Atlantic Ocean along the coast of North Carolina with the marshes and beaches of the brackish Pamlico Sound. Many come for the historical sites (airplane ride, anyone?) and the famous lighthouses, but you would be remiss to skip a ride in a small boat through the lush wetlands on the sound side of the island. Or, walking barefoot through the sands of the beaches on the ocean side, while ghost crabs and razor clams dig their holes anew with every crashing wave.


This subtropical paradise of biology sports more species per square meter than almost any other part of the country. If you’re not afraid to strap on a pair of waders and get a little wet, a ranger-guided tour can introduce you to reptiles, amphibians, and insects the likes of which you can only imagine. Riding on an airboat through the swampy wilderness you can almost sense the life all around you.

Channel Islands

Located off the coast of California near the city of Ventura, these islands could not be more biologically isolated from the mainland. A sort of experiment in the evolutionary process of speciation, the Channel Islands are home to an amazing collection of creatures that have been separated from their cousins in SoCal for hundreds of thousands of years. This has led to new adaptations and new variety unseen elsewhere. Check it out, but be sure to bring a camera--some of the species may not be on the planet much longer.

Have your own story about one of these parks or feel that I left off the best ones? Let me know in the Comments.