Explore National Parks from Home
America’s 62 national parks dazzle millions of visitors each year, showcasing exciting wonders found only within their borders. But even if you can’t experience them in person, you can still take virtual national park tours. Hike trails, climb mountains peaks, swim under the sea and see historic sites — all without leaving your couch.
From the desert yuccas of Joshua Tree to the molten lava landscapes of Hawai‘i Volcanoes, you can be transported to six of America’s natural treasures.
Joshua Tree National Park
Where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert, you will find Joshua Tree National Park. Its 800,000 acres are just an hour from Palm Springs and protect fragile ecosystems like sandy dunes and rocky mountains. The wild desert yucca trees and large boulder formations draw crowds, with dark skies showcasing brilliant Milky Way views.
A robust Google Earth™ virtual tour will take you to nine park locations, including the Barker Dam Nature Trail, where you can amble past desert cacti, petroglyphs and the park’s namesake trees. You can pitch a virtual tent at Jumbo Rocks Campground, or take a ranger-led video tour of historic Keys Ranch where 1900s homesteaders lived. Short on time? Get a quick dose of the outdoors from one-minute nature videos.
Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Big Island, Hawai‘i
Ranging in elevation from sea level to 13,667 feet, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park protects two of the world’s most active volcanoes and other ever-changing landscapes — thanks to eruptions and lava flows.
See these lava-formed landscapes on a 360-degree Google Arts & Culture virtual tour, The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks, that’s so immersive, it almost feels real. A native ranger and resident narrates the tour as you explore the rainforest, walk the underground Nahuku Lava Tubes, fly over an active volcano, and cruise new coastal cliffs formed by molten lava.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, Colorado
The high alpine escape of Rocky Mountain National Park protects more than 100 high peaks showcased on Trail Ridge Road, North America’s highest continuously paved highway, which tops out at 12,000 feet. Take in alpine wonderland views, see the Continental Divide and access 300 miles of trails from this central road.
With Google Earth as your guide, see Rocky Mountain sites you may never dare explore, like the treacherous, snow-covered summit of 14,259-foot Longs Peak or the challenging hike to Chasm Lake. Immerse yourself in nature with NPR’s virtual reality geology showcase, which uses 360-degree video, real sounds and overlapping audio to tell the park’s origin story.
Virgin Islands National Park
An impressive two-thirds of the island of St. John is dedicated as national park land, and Virgin Islands National Park encompasses much of the island’s lush greenery, sandy beaches and swaying palms. The park also includes the vibrant marine life teeming in and around its coral reefs.
Embark on a robust virtual tour of its historic windmills and sugar plantations, as well as a 3D tour of the historic Annaberg Sugar Plantation, noted for its Danish Colonial Era agriculture.
Everglades National Park
Escape to Florida’s native wetlands in Everglades National Park. This swampy preserve is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. at 1.5 million acres, and just an hour from Miami. It protects endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and Florida panther, plus natural landscapes mostly lost to development.
Skip the gator encounters and explore the Everglades’ marshes with a realistic, humidity-free amble down Anhinga Trail boardwalk on Google Earth, or see the park’s 45-foot tall Shark Valley Observatory Tower virtually — without the long shuttle ride.
Grand Canyon National Park
As one of the world’s deepest gorges, the Grand Canyon wows in its magnitude and diverse recreational opportunities. The powerful Colorado River carved this 277-mile long, mile-deep canyon over millennia. These days, however, 90 percent of visitors come just to peer over the South Rim.
Venture beyond and take a Google Earth trek down to the Colorado River on the 7.9-mile Bright Angel Trail, or explore ancient ruins on a 360-degree archaeological tour. This virtual tour is the only way to see these ancient structures, as all were reburied after excavation for protection.
Congaree National Park
Hopkins, South Carolina
See the past come to life on 25 miles of hiking trails and a wilderness canoe trail through the country’s largest remaining tract of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest. Witness the might of nature in lightning- and hurricane-damaged trees and see Southern plants like switch canes and loblolly pines.
When you can’t visit, take a virtual Boardwalk Tour beginning at Harry Hampton Visitor Center to learn about the area’s history and biodiversity, or surround yourself with nature in a 360-degree video tour. Join park rangers on Facebook for a South Carolina virtual campout with camping classes and indoor activities for the whole family.
More National Park Wonders
After virtually discovering (or rediscovering) the beauty of these national parks, there are still so many at-home options to explore. See Washington, D.C.’s flowering cherry blossom trees, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Memorial and more via live webcam. Drop in on Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve’s furry locals via the park’s three “bear cams.” And, speaking of furry friends, the National Park Foundation has great information and adorable videos of some our national parks’ cutest baby animals in the wild.
You can pair your national park virtual tours with curated Spotify playlists from ethical apparel maker Parks Project. Share your online adventures with free tools from the National Park Service’s Find Your “Virtual” Park campaign. And don’t forget to bookmark these parks for a future vacation — and real-world explorations.
This article was written by a paid contributor.