Having grown up in a lush and green Singapore, visiting cities of tall, imposing architecture can leave us wanting for some nature. Fortunately, national parks that rival the size of our entire country provide the perfect escape while overseas.

National parks are aplenty around the world. There’s no definite answer to which one is the best among the few thousand, but these eight remain steady favourites among nature lovers and travellers alike.

1. Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

For the first national park on this list, we’re starting at a place a little closer to home. Seoraksan, or Mount Seorak, is the third-highest mountain in South Korea, located within the Seoraksan National Park. It’s one of the country’s most famous tourist destinations, and it was also South Korea’s first UNESCO biosphere reserve — vast integrated preservation areas meant for sustainable development with people.  

It’s pretty popular among hikers, with the stunning and dramatic scenery it offers — tall peaks piercing the skies, deep plunging valleys and jagged ridges all around. That’s not forgetting the different colours each season paints the foliage in. 

There are a good deal of attractions such as Buddhist temples to check out along the way too. There’s a bronze Buddha statue at Sinheungsa Temple, the hollowed Geumganggul Cave with a stone-sitting Buddga, the dragon-looking Biryongpokpo Falls, incredible views at Ulsanbawi Rock, the Gwongeumseong Fortress and more. 

If you’re not in the mood for climbing – or aren’t able to do it otherwise – you could always take a cable car to the peak. It’s equally breathtaking, in a different way. 

Best time to visit: Spring, for its cherry blossoms foliage, or in Autumn when maple trees dye the canopies red.

2. Bandhavgarh National Park, India

If you love the outdoors and like to be close to wildlife, this national park is for you. Bandhavgarh National Park is more like a wildlife safari, best known for having the densest population of Royal Bengal Tigers in the world. White tigers, leopards and deer can also be spotted hiding deep within the grasslands, or simply behind trees in the forest.

Jeep tours are available for those who’d like to get (somewhat) closer to the animals in a safe and controlled manner. A safari guide will be there to assist you throughout the journey, and also to help spot the animals in the grass. They’re also there to make sure visitors don’t do anything dangerous and prevent them from getting lost. 

The best time to go on a safari ride is either from sunrise till 10am, or from 4pm till sunset. Other attractions within the national park include bird watching — there are over 150 species — and the ancient Bandhavgarh Fort. 

Best time to visit: November to March, if you want to avoid the summer heat. Otherwise, tiger sightings are more common between March to May when the weather is dry.

3. Kakadu National Park, Australia

Kakadu National Park is Australia’s biggest national park, and nothing else comes close. 

Kakadu doesn’t just have stunning scenery, spanning wetlands, waterfalls, rivers, and sandstone cliffs – it also has tonnes of Aboriginal rock art, more than anywhere else in the world. Some of them are up to 20,000 years old, giving visitors a rare insight into Aboriginal life. We recommend visiting the sites with a guide, so that you can better appreciate the significance and historical context surrounding the rock art.

One of its biggest draws is the saltwater crocodile viewing tours. Kakadu National Park is, after all, nestled within Australia’s Northern Territory. You can go on 4WD tours, boat tours, birding tours, culture tours, and even scenic flight tours. 

Regardless of how you choose to explore Kakadu National Park, you’re sure to have a good time. 

Best time to visit: May to October, when the weather is dry hence low risk of flooding that may cause certain parts of the park to be closed.

4. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Fiordland National Park isn’t just your average park, it’s also a World Heritage Site where you can find Milford Sound - commonly regarded as the eighth wonder of the world due to its breathtaking sights. 

While the park features 14 whole fiords – underwater valleys carved out from glaciers – Milford Sound is the most impressive of them all, with its towering peaks and thundering waterfalls.

There’s even a floating underwater observatory where you get to be in an enclosure, while the fur seals and other marine animals swim free all around you. The opposite of your regular aquarium!

If you’d like to see all 14 of the fiords, scenic cruises and flights that bring you around the entire Fiordland National Park are available for hire. You can also kayak and hike around the park if you’re looking for an adventure.

Best time to visit: June to October. Winter months mean scenic snow-capped mountains.

5. Yellowstone National Park, the United States of America

The United States of America (USA) has tonnes of national parks — 63 in total — among which include the likes of Yosemite National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Rocky Mountains National Park. However, we can’t talk about national parks without mentioning the OG — Yellowstone National Park. 

Ever since Yellowstone National Park was instituted in 1872, other national parks have been established across the USA, resulting in the ongoing protection and conservation of countless wildlife species. 

The park sits atop a volcano hotspot, which results in it having an amazing collection of geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots. Accessible by car year-round, Mammoth Hot Springs is one of the most popular destinations for visitors.

There are about 2,000 campsites on its grounds — perfect for nature lovers looking to really immerse themselves in the wilderness.

Best time to visit: Late April to May and September to early October, when the temperature is mild enough to enjoy the environment.

6. Grand Canyon National Park, the United States of America

Just like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon is a widely-cherished national park — not just in the USA, but also in the entire world. 

The red rock formations show a natural phenomenon that still leaves geologists puzzled to this day, and there are fossils dotted around the area. None are dinosaur bones, though. There are plenty of viewpoints along the park too — Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, even a Lookout Studio and a Desert View Watchtower.

Considering the size of the park, camping is pretty popular among those who’d like to explore the entire place. Campsites are available on both sides of the park, while those who’d prefer not to rough it out in the open can book lodging cabins at both North and South rims as well as at Phantom Range. 

Best time to visit: March to May, when it’s not scorching hot during the day, and it’s not as crowded.

7. Joshua Tree National Park, the United States of America

Deserts aren’t all the same. Here at Joshua Tree National Park, you get to see two distinctly different desert ecosystems meet. There are the famous Joshua trees (hence the park’s namesake), with their tall twisted branches juxtaposed against Teddy Bear Cholla cacti (which are anything but teddy bear-like). 

Most people come here to hike, since it’s conveniently located just an hour outside of Palm Springs. There are three different trails — Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Barker Dam Trail and Ryan Mountain Trail — of different difficulty levels to challenge. Each offers vastly different views, from deserts to dams and mountain peaks.

That said, there are a plethora of activities to engage in like rock climbing, horseback riding and even stargazing. If you’re looking to spot Orion’s belt and more, do bring loads of food and water, extra layers of warm clothing and red lights (instead of bright white lights) in your backpack

Best to visit: March to May and October to November, as the temperature range in the desert can get rather extreme depending on the time of year.

8. Banff National Park, Canada

Banff National Park is probably what every postcard portrays a dream national park to be: with snow-capped mountainous terrain, dense alpine forests and glittering turquoise waters of Lake Louise. It’s no wonder millions of people travel from across the world just to visit this park every year. 

With over 1,500 kilometres of hiking trails and countless scenic spots across the entire park, it’s recommended to spend at least three to five days in Banff just to fully appreciate the park.

Even if hiking isn’t for you, there are other ways to experience the national park. There are luxury sightseeing trains that take you from Vancouver to Banff, a gondola that takes you to the summit through the mountain range, and even hot springs to unwind at.

Best time to visit: All year round. The scenery drastically changes depending on the time of year, offering something new to visitors every visit.

Exploring nature’s wonders closer to home

Listing all these national parks has us green with envy, but alas Singapore is too small to have such grand scenery. Still, it’s alright if you can’t travel out of the country for now though, there are still plenty of smaller nature trails and even cycling routes to check out in Singapore.


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