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Way back in 1872, the US government declared a 8,900 sq km stretch of dense woodland sprawling across Idaho, Wyoming and Montana a national park. It hadn’t been done before- anywhere in the world. But, more than a century down the line, that decision has borne fruit- in more ways than one. That stretch of land is one of the USA’s biggest tourist attractions: Yellowstone National Park; and it’s been followed by dozens of other parks, some along the coasts, some in the seemingly inaccessible heights of the Rockies and the Appalachians- all spectacular, all a wonderful way of getting out into the open and seeing wild America up close.

Today, the USA boasts of some of the  world’s best protected areas- many of them natural wonders, and some fine examples of cultural heritage too. Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest cave- all of 563 km long, and still much of it uncharted; Redwood National Park, along the Western coast, is where the giant California redwood grows, the largest living thing on earth. Denali and Glacier are prime examples of far northern fauna and flora: the land of grizzlies and dall sheep, wapiti elk and salmon. Mesa Verde, surprisingly different from most of the other parks, protects amazing native American cliff dwellings; and the impressive Grand Canyon National Park is the place to go to view some of the most brilliant natural architecture on earth.

Yosemite, Carlsbad Caverns, Great Smoky Mountains, Redwood, Mammoth Cave, Olympic, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon- all are US national parks which are World Heritage sites too. This is where you go to see dense green woods of pine, spruce, aspen and larch; to photograph the bald eagle, the bobcat and cougar, the black bear and  grizzly (don’t get too close!); to hike and bike, to camp and fish.. Marvel at the fall colours in Adirondack Park; wait for Ol’ Faithful to come gushing up, punctual to the minute, in a burst of steam and hot water in Yellowstone. Experience the stunning Sierra Nevada at Yosemite National Park, go whale-watching at Acadia, and get a taste of the desert, complete with giant cactus and rare creatures, at Saguaro National Park. Go canoeing down Shenandoah’s many streams (or the river, of course!); and pay a visit to the unique Petrified Forest National Park, one of the world’s largest concentrations of mineralised wood.

Eager for more? Don’t worry; there are plenty of parks to choose from. All it needs is plenty of time and loads of enthusiasm- which isn’t difficult to summon up when it comes to this. Welcome to wild America.

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