10 Perfect Views


The national parks offer some of the finest scenery in all of America. But which spots are the absolute, hands-down best? We put that question to photographers who make their livings walking the trails and seeking out the top views. What follows are their picks for the holy of holies: perfection written in rock, water, and air.

30 of #NPS 100: Toroweap Overlook

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Rim to river in one plunging vista—it’s one of the few views of its type in a park known for depth and distance. “Looking over the 3,000-foot drop to the river is breathtaking—and very nerve wracking,” says photographer Dan Ballard. Better yet: You can camp here after a difficult high-clearance-vehicle trip over 60 miles of some of the roughest roads in the park. Hardship has a way of sweetening the reward. Camping here has a way of locking those rewards into permanent memories. Explore the area on the 6-mile Tuckup Trail, which departs from campsite 10. Trailhead 36.864927, -112.700243; east of Pipe Spring National Monument Season April to November Permit required; $10/permit plus $8/group per night Contact nps.gov/grca

29 of #NPS 100: Jordan Pond

Acadia National Park, ME

This lookout point offers the right mix of fresh water, seawater, and something you don’t see much in this popular Northeast park: emptiness. While the crowds are taking in the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, opt for the 2.6-mile North Bubble Loop to the open granite ledges looking south over clear-water Jordan Pond to the Cranberry Islands in the Atlantic. Time it for mid-October to see the leaves turning from green to glow. Trailhead 44.338556, -68.273335; on Park Loop Rd. Season April to December; October for foliage Contact nps.gov/acad

IMAGE | Ethan Welty

28 of #NPS 100: Forbidden Peak

North Cascades National Park, WA

You can find good mountain views all over the park system, but this 8,815-foot summit puts you in the scene, afloat on a stormy sea of snow and stone. Even more impressive: the view on a moonlit night, which photographer Ethan Welty shot from a bivy ledge just below the summit, looking south to 10,541-foot Glacier Peak (center) and Mt. Rainier (distant right). The technical, fullday climb on the West Ridge is considered an American classic. Get a guide or get the skills. Trailhead 48.489344, -121.090272; off Cascade River Rd. Season June to September Guide Various companies offer trips for around $1,000/person. Permit free; in-person only Contact nps.gov/noca

27 of #NPS 100: The Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO

Witness the winds grinding the mountains into sand then resurrecting them as the country’s tallest dunes and you will understand how the earth measures time. Climb high in the 30-square-mile dunefield—you only need to hike 1.5 miles into the trailless expanse—and set up camp on the soft and shifting sands. As the sun sets, it lends warm light to the dunes and the snow-marbled peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range, as photographer Jack Brauer found in May. Pack in all your water and avoid high winds. Trailhead 37.738362, -105.516504; off County Road 150 Season Spring and fall Permit free; first-come, first-serve Contact nps.gov/grsa

IMAGE | Jon Cornforth

26 of #NPS 100: Johns Hopkins Inlet

Glacier Bay National Park, AK

Stranded icebergs become unlikely sunbathers on the banks of the Johns Hopkins Inlet when the tide rolls back. Photographer Jon Cornforth captured these at the inlet’s mouth during one of Alaska’s long summer dawns. Each tide rearranges the ice, making this view ever-changing. Load your kayak onto Glacier Bay Lodge’s daily tour boat ($105/adult, one way; reserve ahead) and ride 65 miles to the Ptarmigan drop-off. Disembark, glide among the icebergs, and find a shoreline campsite with your own private views of the scenery in motion. (Caution: Tidal exchanges are massive here.) Enjoy the soundtrack of cracking from two calving glaciers. Trailhead Glacier Bay Lodge; visitglacierbay.com Season June to September Guide various; itineraries starting around $2,000 Rental glacierbayseakayaks.com; $45-60/boat per day Permit free at Bartlett Cove Contact nps.gov/glba

25 of #NPS 100: Hickman Bridge

Capitol Reef National Park, UT

The Southwest is riddled with erosion-carved geology and everyone knows it. That's what makes sleepers like 133-foot-long Hickman Bridge such a treat. It sits at the end of a rocky, 1-mile trail, but even during the busiest times, it's quieter than Delicate Arch on a winter weekday. “Of all the national parks in Utah,” says photographer Austin Cronnelly, “this one still has the most undiscovered feel.” Trailhead 38.265141, -111.231251; off UT 24 Season year-round Contact nps.gov/care

IMAGE | Greg Vaughn

24 of #NPS 100: Point of Arches

Olympic National Park, WA

These sea stacks, lonely figures rising from Shi Shi Beach, are iconic in their own right. But when the tide withdraws, the watery foreground transforms into a secret garden teeming with fish, seaweed, and mollusks—the closer you get, the more you’ll see. “I was really happy to find the tide pools so healthy,” says photographer Greg Vaughn, “because I’d documented the effects of an oil spill along this coast a number of years ago.” Combined with the horizon stretching into the Pacific, this spot offers the most wide-ranging view in the park. Get there via rainforest and beach from the Makah Indian Reservation. Trailhead 36.160328, -109.476963 Season May to September Permit Makah Rec. Pass, $10/vehicle; camping, $5/person per night, reserve ahead Contact nps.gov/olym

23 of #NPS 100: Tall Trees Grove

Redwood National Park, CA

You may want to lie down for this one. That’s the best way to take in these coastal behemoths, including the tallest living thing that’s location is public, 368-foot-tall Libby Tree. Embark on the 4-mile lollipop loop from the Tall Trees trailhead. After gently descending 1.7 miles , you’ll reach the grove along Redwood Creek. “In summer months, the ferns are green and a dense fog gives way to beautiful sun streaks,” says photographer Tom Kirkendell. Meander the flat loop trail, being thankful that easy footing means more time to look up—or lie down. Trailhead 41.208130, -123.993094; off Bald Hill Rd. Season year-round Permit free at Kuchel Visitor Center Contact nps.gov/redw

22 of #NPS 100: Taft Point

Yosemite National Park, CA

Yosemite is to views what museums are to fine art. And few places showcase the sun-streaked granite like this aerie, 3,000 feet up. Hike 1.1 miles here from the Taft Point trailhead, which ensures smaller crowds than drive-to Glacier Point. “If aiming for sunset, leave earlier than you think,” says photographer Aidan LynnKlimenko. “The drive up from the valley floor is long and winding.” Trailhead 37.712244, -119.586489; on Glacier Point Rd. Contact nps.gov/yose

21 of #NPS 100: Thunder Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Wild Basin holds the park’s best secrets: miles of river-tracing trail leading to views of the Continental Divide that are often overlooked for the more showy (and easier to access) peaks near Bear Lake. You’ll love the 6.2-mile hike to Thunder Lake, through forest and past a series of waterfalls. Then, says photographer Erik Stensland, “the trees stand aside to reveal this stunning view of Pilot Mountain (left) and 13,310-foot Mount Alice.” Sometimes, regardless of the journey, the destination really is the reward. Trailhead 40.234198, -105.654402 off County Highway 115 Season year-round Permit required; $26 Contact nps.gov/romo


The First 100 Years

In 1917, Glacier National Park officials laid out plans for an audacious road that would cross the Continental Divide and connect the park’s eastern and western boundaries, opening vast swaths of scenery to the nascent boom of automotive tourism. Happy byproduct: better trailhead access. Constructing the 48.7-mile Goingto-the-Sun Road would become one of the most impressive engineering feats in NPS history. Surveyors working near 6,646-foot Logan Pass had to climb 2,700 vertical feet up goat trails each morning just to get to their work sites. Completed in 1933, the road offers hairpin turns and gaspinducing views of Jackson Glacier and other park highlights.

The Next 100 Years

Coming soon: “CSI: NPS”? It’s less farfetched than you might think now that biologists are using the latest DNA-sequencing technology to protect flora and fauna species that belong while aggressively targeting those that don’t. In 2014, Everglades National Park officials launched a pilot program designed to track invasive Burmese pythons by using distinctive genetic material left behind in the environment (such as dead skin cells) to study the intruders’ range and develop better control methods. Meanwhile, wildlife officials in Colorado identified the last “true” strain of native cutthroat trout when researchers used new DNA modeling to compare modernday specimens to their 150-year-old forebears. Up next: untangling the genetic lineage of Yellowstone’s bison herd descendants, which were recently discovered in Utah’s Henry Mountains.

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