When you see a beautiful landscape, the natural impulse is to whip out your camera to capture it immediately and forever. This rings true especially among the pristine wilderness of 58 national parks scattered across 52 million acres of the United States. After all, this is where Ansel Adams got his start at age 14, in 1916, exploring Yosemite with a Box Brownie camera.
Countless photographers have followed in Adams’s footsteps, including many nature-loving members of Travel + Leisure’s community who uploaded their photos of national parks—and inspired us to present the most beautiful. The results are a reminder of the diversity of our national park system; you’re bound to find a landscape that appeals to you, from the Great Smoky Mountains to Death Valley.
Looking to get lost in a lush world of greenery? Head to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, ME. The first of the national parks east of the Mississippi is thriving with plants and animals, all of which are protected by law. Become one with nature by biking along historic carriage roads, hiking to the top of one of the many granite peaks, or just sitting back and taking in the breathtaking scenery.
If you’re in the mood for a more rugged retreat, set your sights on Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, part of the Hawaiian island chain created, once upon a time, by underwater volcanoes. You’ll get to witness firsthand two of the most active volcanoes in the world—and come back with dramatic photographic proof.
Up for taking the heat, but looking for something a little less…fiery? Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes might be the place for you. Enjoy the contrasting landscape of desert sand dunes against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains. Need to cool off a bit? There are even a few oases to rinse off in.
But let’s be real: when it comes to these national parks, we can describe their natural features and vivid colors until we’re blue in the face, but that still won’t do them justice. To get the full effect, you need to see them firsthand, starting with these beautiful photographs.