Every April, the US National Parks Foundation hosts National Park Week to celebrate America's natural treasures. With free-entry days, themed activities and nature-orientated workshops, the event aims to encourage people to get out there and explore some of the country's most beautiful reserves.
With more than 400 parks in the vast sprawling nation, even if you live there your chances of visiting them all are slim, and even less so if you're only on American soil for a holiday. However, this year, Google is making park visits a little bit easier by pairing up with the National Park Service to help bring 31 of the country's best bits into homes around the globe through guided Google Earth tours.
Spend an hour basking in the breathtaking vistas of the Shenandoah Valley or take some time out to island hop in the far-flung Virgin Islands. As well as reminding you how stunning Earth really is, you'll get some trip-spiration for your next holiday, as, no matter how detailed Google Earth’s tours are, nothing beats exploring the wonders for yourself.
Here are a few of the highlights bound to get you trip-planning.
Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Despite its name, this place, which lies 113 kilometres off of Florida’s Key West, is anything but dry and is accessible only by boat, seaplane, or Google Earth’s new virtual tour. Visit the historic Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th-century forts in the US, of which the most infamous resident was Dr Samuel Mudd, held there after being convicted for conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. Elsewhere, check out the island’s brick furnace that was used to heat cannonballs or virtually stroll along the boat pier and its white sandy beaches.
Death Valley National Park – California and Nevada
This is one of the hottest, driest, lowest places on Earth, and now you can visit the ghost towns of Death Valley National Park from the comfort of your home. Explore the ruins of the abandoned Rhyolite town, which had a population of thousands during its gold-mining heyday. Drop into street-view to see Stetson-topped silhouetted photographs that will really make you feel like you’re wandering the Wild West.
Virgin Islands National Park – Virgin Islands
Island-hoppers will love swiping around on this remote piece of Caribbean paradise. Explore the three-kilometre Reef Bay trail that winds through tropical forests and past ruins of sugar plantations. Check out ancient basalt rock carvings by Taino Indians and marvel at Trunk Bay’s white sandy beaches, renowned for its colourful coral reefs.
Shenandoah National Park – Virginia
The sprawling Shenandoah National Park is known for its Blue Ridge Mountains. Start at Calf Mountain Overlook for hardwood forest-filled views, then sample the vistas from Crimora Lake with a backdrop of Wildcat Ridge peaks. Spitler Knoll Overlook is the spot for sun-drenched virtual views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, before winding up your online visit with a stop at the multi-tiered drop at Dark Hollow Falls.
Yosemite National Park – California
It’s hard to talk about America’s National Parks without thinking about the mighty Yosemite. Start at Tunnel View for iconic panoramas of the valley, framed by waterfalls and the granite giants of El Capitan and Half Dome. El Capitan is more than 1,000 metres tall and is a haven for rockclimbers. Even on Google Earth it’s impressive. Meanwhile, the Insta-famous sight of Mirror Lake perfectly reflecting the Tenaya Canyon and the rushing 181-metre Nevada Fall are also bound to inspire a visit.