Most Unique Geology: Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah
High on a plateau at the top of Grand Staircase, Bryce Canyon is home to the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. The recognizable columns of orangey-red rock were formed by erosion of the Paria River, a tributary to the Colorado River. The geological process also created fluted cliffs, columns, spires, windows, and arches in the limestone. Every year the park hosts the Annual Geology Festival, featuring talks, plein air painting, and guided hikes. Snap an obligatory photo at Bryce Point, a lookout over the park’s amphitheater that’s best at dawn and dusk. Or venture into the canyon on one of the many trails, like the pet-friendly and paved Sunset to Sunrise Trail or the strenuous-but-rewarding, 8-mile Fairyland Loop Trail.
Prime Wildlife Spotting: Channel Islands National Park in Southern California
Dubbed the “Galapagos of North America,” the five islands that make up this park are teeming with life on land and in the sea. And because of the park’s remoteness, researchers have identified 23 endemic terrestrial animals, like the island fox and deer, that are subspecies. On land, look for hummingbirds, bald eagles, ravens, lizards, tree frogs, and bats. Scan the waters for sea lions, harbor seals, otters, and lobsters, and if you’re lucky, dolphins and whales. Hike, camp, surf, tidepool, boat, fish, snorkel, or dive. There is no fee to enter this particular park, but before you go, make reservations for boat transportation to the islands as well as backcountry and frontcountry camping if you plan to stay the night.