Рanorama of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, with forest in the background - one of the best virtual national parks in the US
Outdoors and Active

17 US National Parks to visit virtually

There are few countries where you can see glaciers calving and volcanoes glowing on a tropical island, spot alligators and bears as well as geysers, and experience some of the most punishingly hot temperatures on earth.

But not only do the US national parks include that astonishing variety of landscapes and wildlife, you can also see them without travelling thousands of miles (or spending a cent) with a string of virtual national parks.

As well as dozens of US National Parks to visit virtually, with 360-degree videos and VR tours, you can also discover live cams and even a library of sound effects to transport yourself to countless different states.

From Alaska to Hawaii, the dramatic views of the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone and Yosemite, the swampy Everglades to the searing rocks of Death Valley, here is our pick with 17 of the best virtual national parks in the US.

Yellowstone, Wyoming

Whether visitors are watching or not, Old Faithful continues to erupt in Yellowstone National Park – and as well as the famous geyser, you can see more of the highlights from the world’s first national park without leaving home.

There are nine separate webcams, including one which live streams and a map to show you their locations if you don’t know the park well. You’ll also fine predictions of when Old Faithful is next due to erupt.

Or you can take a VR tour of Yellowstone with information on some of its key sites (including a chance to plan a real-life visit at some point).

There’s also a chance to learn more about the other unique geothermal features of the park, including the hot springs and fumaroles, not to mention the fabulous colours at the Grand Prismatic Spring caused by heat-loving bacteria which makes its home there.

Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska

This huge park – covering over 6.3 million square miles – protects thousands of years of human history. But it’s the bears which are the big attraction for most visitors, including those looking for a virtual visit to Alaska.

Katmai National Park has six webcams, with some regularly letting you spot bears, especially Brooks Falls and the Riffles. In July, as many as 25 bears have been spotted at Brooks Falls fishing for salmon.

The Lower River cam is a great one to see cubs, again during July, although you can see bears into the autumn here, plus occasional snorkelling bears in the River Watch cam with a highlights reel for those months when the bears are unlikely to make an appearance.

Or soak up the views – the Dumpling Mountain Cam looks out over Naknek Lake to the volcanoes surrounding the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Copyright NPS/Katmai National Park and Preserve

Grand Canyon, Arizona

One of the world’s great bucket list destinations, the Grand Canyon is also the perfect place for a VR tour with a variety of different ways to experience the dramatic scenery, including virtual tours, virtual treks and a choice of different viewpoints on both the north and south rims, as well as in the river valley.

Start with this Google Earth virtual tour of the Grand Canyon with 18 separate stops to virtually walk you through the park. There are also 360-degree panoramic photos letting you virtually hike the Bright Angel trail.

If you’re not sure where to start, the Grand Canyon National Park Service has its own series of videos including an overview of the best ways to visit in less than four hours which gives you a whistlestop look around.

Yosemite, California

First protected by President Lincoln in 1864 and one of the earliest national parks, this beautiful slice of California is as gorgeous now as it was then – and you can gaze out onto the rocks, the waterfalls, the trees without moving from your armchair.

Look out across the Yosemite Valley with the El Capital webcam or watch the Yosemite falls crashing 2,452 ft via a live webcam.

There’s also a Google Earth virtual tour of Yosemite National Park including the chance to marvel at the towering sequoias, discover more viewpoints and lakes.

For more astonishing sequoias, the state’s Sequoia National Park is home to the tree considered the world’s largest – aka General Sherman

View of the Merced river in Yosemite National Park - one of the US National parks to visit virtually
Copyright NPS/Yosemite National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes, Hawaii

Take a virtual visit to Hawaii for a special video documentary tour of Hawaii Volcanoes, one of five chosen by Google for their arts and culture tours.

Home to two volcanoes, not least Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on earth, the park on the Big Island is around 523 square miles – almost as big as the whole of Oahu. And with 360-degree videos, there are several spots to virtually explore including the Nahuku lava tube, as well as getting closer to the bubbling lava elsewhere than you could ever in real life

One of eight national parks across the islands, 90% of the 1,000 species found in Hawaii’s parks are found nowhere else on earth!

Arches National Park, Utah

Famous for its natural rock arch formations in Utah’s high desert, Arches National Park has some of the most striking views of any of the US parks – so striking that Delicate Arch found its way onto coins a few years back.

With 20 stops on the tour, start by virtually walking up to North Window to look out across the park before being whisked past more of the best known arches (including Delicate Arch) to Balanced Rock and Devil’s Garden

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Who better to show you around a national park than its rangers, who know every inch well?

Great Basin National Park in Nevada has created a series of short videos lasting around three to four minutes, covering topics from ancient bristlecone pine groves to astronomy, all from the park’s own Rangers.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Discover the astonishing carpet of constellations in one of the darkest skies of the US, on a virtual tour of Bryce Canyon through the day – guided by a park ranger, you can watch the sun set, stargaze, and listen to the sounds of the canyon.

Or saddle up and take a horse ride through the national park, past red rock and down twisting paths before learning how the hoodoos are formed, the thin pinnacles of rock which distinguish the park.

Everglades National Park, Florida

This fascinating landscape is not only a US national park but also a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, home to rare and endangered species and the country’s largest tropical wilderness.

You’ll find 36 different protected or endangered creatures here, including manatees, American crocodiles and the elusive Florida panther. There are six stops on this Google Earth tour including the chance to see alligators as well as to virtually walk the Anhinga Trail.

Zion National Park, Utah

Get one of the best views across Zion National Park from its webcam, showing one of the park’s most famous views, The Temples and Tower of the Virgin.

Home to Zion canyon – around 2,000 feet deep – and The Narrows, those well-named stretches which shrink to 20 feet wide, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Zion National Park Facebook page for occasional extra livestream videos including a sunrise option.

Channel Islands National Park, California 

Head under the sea for a US national park with a difference and a virtual national park tour like no other, at Channel Islands National Park, five islands off the coast of southern California.

Check out the live ocean webcam in the landing cover on Anacapa Island – almost 1,000 marine species have been seen so far, so keep popping back to discover how many you spot.

Kenai Fjords, Alaska

Climb into a glacier crevasse at Kenai Fjorda National Park with one of the special 360-degree videos from Google Arts & Culture, which lets you peek into Exit Glacier – one of a few accessible by road in the park.

There are more than 40 in the Harding Icefield and you can explore further through the frozen landscape to discover icebergs and glacier melt along the way.

For more Alaskan scenery, you can also take a virtual walking tour of Denali National Park.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Among the snow-capped mountain peaks and the wide open spaces of Grand Teton National Park, you can discover historic buildings along with the wonderful views.

In this 14-stop tour you can see the Tetons reflected in the water at Snake River, as well as the Snake River Overlook, famously photographed by Ansel Adams. Or watch the live webcam feed.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Home to one of the deepest lakes in the world – and the deepest in the entire US – Crater Lake National Park has been a protected area for almost 120 years. Now you can visit with a 360-degree video from one of the park rangers with the park’s highlights, including sunrise over Garfield Peak and the chance to cruise around  Phantom Ship rock formation.

There’s also a live webcam of the lake itself, which updates every 10 minutes – on a clear day, you’ll see Wizard Island.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Experience life as a bat, flying in the deep darkness of the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico as well as the fragile rock formations of the caves, with new rooms still being discovered.

Trek through the lower cave and get a close-up view of the strange shapes and textures of the rocks which have formed so slowly over centuries

Death Valley, California

It’s hard to imagine the crippling temperatures of Death Valley – which registered at a high of 134F  or 57C back in 1913, taking the unenviable record of hottest place on earth. Fortunately you can explore the stark, dramatic landscape without melting via this 360-degree video tour.

Look out across the dry parched badlands, explore a canyon trail and enjoy the viewpoints – Star Wars fans will recognise one otherworldly spot.

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Venture beneath the waves and explore the protected reef life of the Dry Tortugas in Florida – take a swim over the coral reef, so realistic you’ll be surprised your feet aren’t wet.

Or dive the Windjammer shipwreck, shoals of stripy and brightly coloured reef fish flitting around the wreckage before heading back to dry land to see Fort Jefferson, the huge unfinished brick fortress which sits in the heart of these turquoise waters.

Glacier National Park, Montana

With one of the largest populations of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, not to mention covering more than a million acres, Glacier National park in Montana is perfect for wildlife lovers.

There’s no view more associated with it than the mirror still reflections of Lake McDonald, the high peaks along the Continental Divide sharp and clear in the water of the lake, carved out through glacier activity. Start by gazing out via the live webcam before taking the virtual tour for a walk under the cedars and the evocatively named Going to The Sun Road.

For more virtual national parks

There are 360-degree tours of 113 national parks sites from Google Earth including historic sites and monuments as well as 31 parks, so you can also discover Alcatraz, Ellis Island and Mount Rushmore, along with coast and nature.

If you want to spirit yourself away to one of the National Parks without taking a full virtual tour, check out the library of park sounds from the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division, from bird sounds and animals calls to other natural sounds. Just don’t do it in the parks themselves if you visit later!

And check out more posts with some of the world’s best virtual outdoor experiences, including wildlife and beaches

Main image courtesy of Depositphotos, all others as credited

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1 Comment

  • Reply Armchair Travel: 45 Fun Ideas to "Travel" Without Leaving Home – Wild Junket Adventure Travel Blog 15 April 2020 at 2:50 pm

    […] Google Earth has rolled out virtual tours of some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States. The map and satellite imagery masters at Google Earth have put together a series of guided virtual tours of 31 national parks around the country. […]

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