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National Parks: Supersized natural wonders in the US

by Debra B. Guffey

Superlative natural wonders appear wherever you turn in the USA’s national parks. Whether you’re working on your bucket list – ‘Climb North America’s highest mountain!’ – or just wanting to hug the world’s largest living tree, you can explore nature’s extreme outer limits at these record-setting US national parks.

Water, water everywhere

Looking for North America’s highest waterfall? Head to California’s Yosemite National Park, where the triple-decker cascade of Yosemite Falls tumbles 2425 ft into a glacially carved valley. One of the world’s 10 highest waterfalls, Yosemite Falls swells in late spring, when melting snow from mountain peaks roars as it drops into the Yosemite Valley, which conservationist John Muir described as nature’s temple.

Equally impressive wonders are the spouting geysers of Yellowstone National Park, shared between the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. More geysers are found here than anywhere else on the planet, with superheated water from underground volcanic rocks bubbling to the surface in hot springs, fumaroles and roiling mud pots. Old Faithful, the park’s most famous geyser, erupts more regularly than any other geyser on earth, spouting up to 8400 gallons of water over 100 feet high into the air every hour or two, day and night.

Closer to the West Coast lies the USA’s deepest lake at Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. The astounding clarity of 1943ft-deep Crater Lake, formed by rainfall in an extinct volcanic caldera, will have you instantly reaching for your camera. Peer over the crater rim from roadside viewpoints or hike down to Cleetwood Cove, where you can catch a boat tour over to Wizard Island, the volcanic cinder cone popping up above the lake’s surface that looks like an enchanted lost world.

From snowy peaks to hot badlands

With global climate change accelerating, you’d better hurry if you want to see North America’s largest collection of glaciers. Of the 25 large glaciers remaining in Montana’s Glacier National Park, several are expected to melt away by 2030. You’re best off heading north to chilly Alaska, where Glacier Bay National Park and Wrangell-St Elias National Park are preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The number of glaciers there dating from the Little Ice Age – including a few record-breakers that flow for 75 miles or have grown to be 3000 feet thick – is uncountable.

Alaska also boasts the USA’s tallest peak. At 20,030 feet high, Denali (Formerly Mt McKinley)– an Athabaskan word meaning ‘The High One’ – dominates the epic landscapes of Denali National Park. If you can’t journey that far, California’s Sequoia National Park offers the chance to climb Mt Whitney (14,505ft), the highest peak in the Lower 48 states. Towering over the Sierra Nevada range, Mt Whitney’s summit – with its views of craggy granite peaks, not to mention head-spinning elevations – may take your breath away, literally. Sequoia National Park is also home the world’s largest living tree, a giant sequoia that measures over 100 ft around.

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