In the past couple of weeks, The Volunteer State has seen its fair share of dangerous conditions as wildfires continue to sweep across the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge areas with help from high wind conditions that have continued to threaten homes, businesses and, of course, local tourist resorts. The Great Smoky Mountains, which straddle the border between Tennessee and North Carolina are also feeling the heat of endless smoke, as the otherwise gorgeous and sprawling landscapes of lush forests, wildflower meadows, streams, rivers, and waterfalls in the region have been deemed off-limits to vacationers until further notice.
If you’re one of the many nature enthusiasts who had been planning to hike, bike, and savor the natural scenery of the Smokies this holiday, here’s a list of other fire-free spots to plan your vacation at. We present six beautiful alternative places to go besides the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Visit These 6 Beautiful National Parks On Your Next Trip
1. Yosemite National Park – California
Head westward towards California, where you’ll find yourself in the crown jewel of all national parks: Yosemite. There are numerous fantastic views to experience within the 1,200-square-mile—full of surging waterfalls, imposing granite cliffs, and giant sequoia and oak trees that meld perfectly into a wildlife-rich valley.
Do some climbing at infamous points such as The Half Dome and El Capitan peaks, or stare in awe at North America’s highest waterfall. There’s also Mariposa Grove, featuring Yosemite's largest stand of towering giant sequoias, as well as Glacier Point Road, which leads to the most spectacular vista in any national park in the nation, and the Tuolumne Meadows, which are fabulous for hikers hoping for a challenging and memorable trek.
2. Acadia National Park - Maine
Nearly 50,000-acres in total and tucked neatly along Maine's southern coast, this picturesque New England park boasts everything from meadows bursting with colorful wildflowers and wind-swept beaches, to forests featuring rolling mountain tops and rocky coastlines with crashing waves below. It’s one of the best spots to savor any sort of fall foliage, especially on the 27-mile-lonh Park Loop Road, which leads to wonders such as the half-submerged cave Thunder Hole or the warm sands of Sand Beach.
Don’t forget to climb atop Cadillac Mountain, where you can gawk over the sun rising (or setting) over an array of tiny islands dotting the Atlantic Ocean, as well as hike through over one hundred twenty miles of trails offering spectacular panoramic views. As the oldest national park east of the Mississippi (and the largest tourist attraction in Maine!), Acadia is for sure one of Mother Nature’s finest gifts to man.
3. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park – Hawaii
With not one, but two active volcanoes, including one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea, as well as one of the world’s most active subaerial volcanoes, Mauna Loa, this 500-square mile park is home to lava fields and surprise eruptions galore—it’s also a worldwide geologic research site where one can best simultaneously witness both beauty and volatility on the Big Island. Along with its fierce wonders, the park boasts an array of rain forests, deserts, and fragile ecosystems worthy of exploring as well, along with the chance to watch colorful reds and purples streak across a deep-blue sky at sunset behind Halema'uma'u Crater amid ongoing gas eruptions courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey observatory adjoining the Jaggar Museum.
Visitors can also get a beachier experience on the palm-fringed coastline south of Hilo. Hikers will definitely love taking on Kīlauea Iki Trail, which winds through lush, bird-rich rain forests before descending into the steamy Kīlauea Iki crater.
4. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
Probably the most recognizable national park in America, this Arizona wonder is so much more than just a humungous hole in the ground. It’s an adventure waiting to happen, as you can trek either to the North or South Rim, soak up the gorgeous sights midair on the Skywalk observation deck, raft through the challenging rapids of the Colorado River, plan a two-day hike from the top of the canyon to the bottom, or just spend the entire day relaxing and figuring out what to do in the middle of deep desert.
The entire canyon is 277 miles long, 10 miles wide, and a mile deep, and each year, nearly five million people flock over to see the famous national gorge. It ranks as the second most visited national park and will definitely be a nature-infused trip that the entire family will positively remember. Take an easy hike down the flat, paved Rim Trail or a more strenuous trek on the almost ten-mile Bright Angel Trail. There’s also Yavapai Point, a must-visit near the South Rim visitor area that offers a stunning, unobstructed, up-and-down panorama view of the inner canyon.
5. Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming
Designated back in 1872, this vast volcanic playground in northwest Wyoming was the first national park to ever exist and is home to the world’s most amazing concentration of thermal features — more than 10,000 — including hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots, and geysers. There, of course, is the iconic Old Faithful, the area’s most famous landmark, as well as other wonders like a magnificent V-shaped Canyon, North America’s highest altitude lake (Yellowstone Lake), some of the world’s largest petrified forests, and sights of the grandiose peaks of the Great Rocky Mountains.
And let’s not forget the abundance of wildlife in the area, as Yellowstone was nicknamed the “American Serengeti,” and boasts the biggest concentration of mammals in the continental U S of A. Get friendly with mule, deer, moose, elk, black bears, buffalo, bison, grizzly bears, grey wolves, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn, just to name a few.
6. Olympic National Park – Washington
A Washington-state wonder all on its own, this fifth-most-visited national park in the nation borders the town of Forks and contains the only temperate rainforest in the contiguous United States. It’s also filled with tons of active tide pools and the ever-so-mighty Olympic Mountain range. Seriously, there’s pristine beauty to be found all throughout the area-- whether it’s mountain, rainforest, or coastline—including snowcapped peaks towering more than 7,000 ft., eleven major rivers, as well as flowery meadows, trout-filled lakes, and sparking waterfalls.
On top of that, you’ll have the chance to explore the dripping rain forests of both Hoh and Quinault, where you can find moss and fern among centuries-old trees as tall as twenty stories high (some 500 years old!), or stroll through over seventy miles of Pacific coastline. Discover driftwood-strewn beaches, peek into tide pools, and get up close and personal with sea lions, seals, bald eagles, and Western gulls. Make sure to check out the terrific views from the 5,200-ft Hurricane Ridge and to trek through one of many trailheads like Hurricane Hill, which wanders along alpine meadows offering more natural beauty than anyone can ask for. There are also tons of rambunctious mountain goats standing around, so watch out!
This article was written by Pamela Chan.