PARK YOURSELF RIGHT HERE
Travellers visit Europe to see castles, cathedrals and monuments with incredible historical importance. But America is a relatively new country, so the places we’re able to protect are those that are actually untouched by humans,” Stirling Weir says. As a chief experience officer (CEO) – as they’re called at adventure travel company G Adventures – for the past three years, Stirling says America’s national parks are, “naturally occurring amusement parks that will leave your soul feeling fulfilled with a greater appreciation for the planet, and your place within it”.
These are his tips for exploring them.
BEST WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS
Yosemite is well known for bears, the Grand Canyon is a great spot to see elk, but the unequivocally best place for wildlife viewing is in Yellowstone National Park.
Elk and deer have vast meadows, rivers and streams to feed in and you’re likely to get stuck in a traffic jam as American bison cross the road.
Grizzly and black bears feast on berries and fish, while beavers create dams that form estuaries for fish that, in turn, attract hawks, osprey and the occasional bald eagle. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
MOST BEAUTIFUL PARK YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF
The most famous parks – Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon – are famous for a reason. And they’re certainly no less impressive because you’ve heard their names before.
But the United States is full of gems that can be astounding for the sheer fact you haven’t heard of them.
On my first tour ever, while I was driving through Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, we turned a corner, the trees cleared, and the Teton mountain range was revealed.
The snow-capped peaks towered above a glistening glacial lake like a scene from a Peter Jackson movie, and I remember being overcome with a sense of awe. I had no idea that it was going to be that beautiful.
THE HOTTEST EXPERIENCE
I love driving people through Death Valley, just outside Las Vegas. Mid-summer temperatures often reach well over 45C, but if you can suffer through it you’ll be rewarded with some of the most outstanding desert scenery in the Southwest.
The rocky mountain walls of the valley are swirled with colour, and the vast salt flats draw out your perspective to leave you wondering just how large this park actually is.
GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR VISIT
Every park has a bevy of rangers, staff and park lovers who are bursting with knowledge.
They’re the ones who can direct you to the hidden spots you might not be able to find on your own. And of course, there’s always your trusty tour guide.
I’ll usually be able to assess what each person wants from their park experience, that way I can direct a group to the bike rentals, another group to the visitor centre, and a third group to the eight-hour, grit-and-grind, kick-your-butt hike that makes them feel like they’ve conquered the world.
WHEN YOU NEED A REALITY CHECK
I always love when people put away their phones and just take a moment, however brief, to appreciate their surroundings. I have a rule when I show my travellers the Grand Canyon for the first time: no phones, no photos until I say so. For the first few minutes my passengers just have to marvel in peace.
I watch as they wander off, finding a quiet rock to sit on. I see the serenity pass over their face as they invariably forget about my “rule”, and I know I’ve done my job.