National Geographic Traveler
All travel, All the time

from July/August 2005
Authentic Shopping Guide

Photo: Indian shoes

Find authentic handcrafted items from around the world.
» Click Here

Ultimate Travel Library

Photo: travel books

Take a globe-spanning literary ramble with the world's best travel books.
» Click Here

Photo of the Week

Photo: Boats on the Douro River, Portugal

Brighten your workday! Download a new Traveler photo every week . . . free.
» Get Wallpaper

North Pole Photo Gallery

Photo: North Pole expedition

Learn how to enjoy the Eternal City's rich history, culture, and art without spending a single euro.
» Click Here

WorldWise Trivia Quiz

Photo: Marula fruit as a headdress

Test your geography IQ with our interactive quiz.
» Play Now

A*List: Best of Travel Newsletter

Photo: Vlissingen, Netherlands

Sign up for our newsletter packed with tried-and-true travel tips, exclusive deals, book discounts, and more!
» Click Here

51 Ways to Cut Vacation Costs

Photo: Los Angeles International Airport

Don't get caught in a tourist money trap. Learn how to avoid hidden charges, and get expert money-saving tips.
» Click Here


National Parks Rated

Read More of What Our Panelists Had to Say

Click on a part of North America to read a sample of our judges' comments.

Eastern/Atlantic U.S. and Canada
Central U.S. and Canada
Rocky Mountains, U.S. and Canada
Western/Pacific U.S. and Canada

Eastern/Atlantic U.S. and Canada

Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.

Acadia National Park, MAINE
Score 64

"The rocky Maine shores are wonderful. Unfortunately the town of Bar Harbor is just not that enjoyable. The little towns of Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor fit into the landscape and offer every amenity."

"Some strip commercial development detracts from the scenic quality of the area. Bar Harbor is an intensely developed commercial town, but it retains some of its historic character."

"This incredibly inspiring park suffers from massive over-use throughout the summer and at specific locations, e.g., visitor center, Cadillac summit, and Jordan Pond."

"Some of its more isolated areas are relatively unspoiled. Car pollution, excessive tourism, and not enough large parcels of pristine land."

"The park has faced many challenges, but when I recently revisited Schoonic Point after many years, I found it in better condition, with well-established trails and less litter."

Antietam National Battlefield, MARYLAND
Score 66

"The park and its environs are amazingly bucolic considering how close it is to the greater Washington megalopolis. The town of Sharpsburg is a lovely walkable community with locally owned coffee shops and stores that seem to be prospering without being overwhelmed."

"An outstanding example of cooperative efforts with the state and private sector to preserve the historic setting of a park."

"Extremely well-run and preserved park. Park interpreters give an excellent overview of past and current status of the historic homesteads, battlefield, and surrounding community."

"The site is special despite the suburban encroachment that is engulfing it."

"A true 'sense of place'."

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, NOVA SCOTIA
Score 78

"Tourism benefits the local people—most businesses are operated and owned by locals."

"Cape Breton has done an excellent job developing sustainable tourism by using its musical heritage to spread tourism into the fall months [Celtic Colors Festival] and seeking to build a winter tourism trade."

"The Cabot Trail and the communities near Cape Breton Highlands National Park offer a great visitor experience. Still relatively uncrowded."

"Locals still seem genuinely happy to see tourists. That's a good sign."

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NORTH CAROLINA
Score 50

"Development to the north is so intense that [keeping] some unrelieved open space is critical."

"At one point the beach itself devolves into a highway for 4x4s. It's actually dangerous to lie in the sand for fear of being run over."

"More needs to be done in the region to control the size and impact of housing."

"The National Seashore, which is itself in pretty good shape, stands in stark contrast to the gateway area to the north, which is grossly overdeveloped and becoming quite congested."

Colonial National Historical Park (York/Jamestown), VIRGINIA
Score 59

"In general in good shape, but surrounding real estate development makes the park's integrity uncertain."·

"Although a heavily managed area, the existing environment appears to be sustainable. Outstanding heritage resources. Surprisingly aesthetic region."

"Area is threatened by suburban and exurban development, while the visitor experience is degraded by increasing traffic."

"The buffer areas really need to be expanded and protected."

Cumberland Island National Seashore, GEORGIA
Score 62

"Very protected with a limit of 300 visitors a day. This has caused some controversy over the 'wilderness' designation, which some in the community feel restricts access to local people. St. Mary's, GA, the embarkation site for the NPS boat, is still an authentic little fishing town with local eating places, stores, and some shrimp boats."

"Perhaps the best wild beach experience available to the general public along the entire Atlantic Coast. The solitude is wonderful."

"The story of the early African American dwellings and churches on the end of the island is marginal, if told at all."

"This park is in great shape except for a proposal to destroy historic buildings in the park. That would be a very bad thing."

Everglades National Park/Big Cypress National Preserve, FLORIDA
Score 34

"The threats to these areas are too great to count. Perhaps the most serious is the flagging interest in financing and implementing the Everglades Restoration program. Ecologically, these parks are on life support."

"The urban environment has covered both coasts and forced expansion toward the interior of Florida. The Everglades are becoming an island ecosystem cut off from central Florida."

"Encroachment by housing and retail development has thrown the precious ecosystem into a tailspin, and if man doesn't back off, there will be nothing left of one of this country's most amazing treasures."

"Tourism development in the gateway region is totally unplanned and unsustainable."

"The larger problem is the park's intensely compromised water flow from highly developed areas some distance away."

"Everglades is a wonderful park, but heavily impacted by mismanagement of the water regime 'upstream,' with the sugar industry primarily to blame, followed by the large metropolitan areas and their demands for water."

"A natural treasure, but it is undervalued, the victim of the rape of south Florida."

"The Everglades is surrounded by practically every encroachment, e.g., suburbanization, run-off from urban and agriculture, growing numbers of exotic plants and animals, slow progress in returning natural water flows."

Fundy National Park, NEW BRUNSWICK
Score 68

"The environment, heritage, culture, and aesthetics are doing fine. Tourism is being developed well and maintained within the capacity of the area."

"The gateway town is a popular stopping point for tourists and could be more linked with the park, as by buses, to protect the park's ecosystem over the long term."

"Fundy NP has ecological integrity problems, particularly because of forestry development in the region. The north boundary, in particular, has large areas of clear-cut right up to the boundary road. Manicured lawns, lawn bowling, and golf in the park near the Alma entrance are inappropriate."

Gettysburg National Military Park, PENNSYLVANIA
Score 51

"Used to be the most overcommercialized national military park, but it is getting better. Inappropriate development in and around the battlefield is being removed."

"The Steinweir Avenue has improved, but it is still a prime example of commercial development that detracts from the quality of visitor experience."

"The town should enact stiff sign controls and ban construction of all new billboards."

"Gettysburg was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered List in 1992. Sprawl and development around the park continue to be an issue."

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NORTH CAROLINA, TENNESSEE
Score 40

"Too many people, too many cars, too much pollution, not only from car exhaust, but from coal-burning power plants to the west."

"The National Parks Conservation Association's State of the Park report shows that the park's air pollution has greatly reduced visibility, from an average of 113 miles under natural conditions to an annual average of 25 miles. Nonnative pests and diseases are killing Fraser firs, hemlocks, and beech trees in the park's forests. Each year more than two million people tour popular Cades Cove, creating traffic congestion and causing damage."

"Great park, wonderful hiking, superb historic buildings and landscapes, but this is all degraded by the distasteful tourist schlock presented by Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Cherokee, and other gateway towns."

"Great Smoky Mountains are beautiful. The visitor centers are heavily visited. Many of the trails are heavily impacted. The gateways into the park are glorified amusement parks."

Gros Morne National Park, NEWFOUNDLAND
Score 78

"A model of the collaborative actions between local communities and the park management. Authentic and unspoiled, and given the approach to interpretation and management, is likely to stay so."

"Gros Morne is spectacular. Limit snowmobiling, and try to support private sector tour operators."

"High environmental and social integrity. However, the increasing development of second homes and resorts may lead to substantially increased visitor pressure."

Shenandoah National Park, VIRGINIA
Score 48

"It is a beautiful place, spoiled by the amount of cars that drive through. Cars need to be regulated!"

"Increasing number of day visitors from Washington, DC, use the parkway and popular trails and then leave without giving anything back to the region."

"High visitation, and the aesthetic condition in gateway areas is stressed by the poorly planned and developed tourism."

"The National Parks Conservation Association's "State of the Parks" assessment shows that the park's average visibility has been reduced from 115 miles to 25 miles, with visibility as low as 1 mile on some days, the third worst summer visibility of any national park monitored. The wooly adelgid, a nonnative beetle from Asia, is destroying the park's hemlock forests; 20 percent of plant species in the park are now nonnative. Gone from the park are bison, elk, river otter, timber wolf, cougar, red fox, and gray fox; restored are the white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey and bobcat."

Central U.S. and Canada

Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WISCONSIN
Score 78

"Bayfield is a delightful gateway community providing authentic Great Lakes atmosphere. Visitation to the Apostle Islands is limited to boats or other small watercraft, keeping them in natural, pristine condition. The aesthetic appeal of the land and water interaction is both dramatic and comforting. Local heritage and culture, (town of Bayfield, etc.) remains intact and appropriate."

"This IS the future of sustainability in terms of park issues right now."

Hot Springs National Park, ARKANSAS
Score 55

"There is a lot of touristic development in the vicinity of the park, but it does not really detract too much from the historic district preserved within the park."

"The National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Bathhouse Row on the Eleven Most Endangered List for 2003. A number of the buildings have been mothballed, but there is a need to find ways to redevelop the bathhouses in a sensitive way and find viable adaptive reuse strategies."

"Without strong, enlightened local leadership, the city and the park will continue to flounder. The city needs a comprehensive preservation plan, and the park needs to be at the core of such a plan."

Mammoth Cave National Park, KENTUCKY
Score 58

"The site itself is beautiful and interesting, but the surrounding development is really encroaching on it."

"Mammoth Cave NP is threatened by poor air quality (acid rain) and exotic/invasive species that threaten the numerous endemic species that live there (aquatic and terrestrial). However, they have proactive leadership and are moving to address these problems."

"Visitation in the cave is well managed. Cave tours are readily available. Interpretation is generally very good."

"Local development is distracting and out of step with the purpose and intent of the park. Cooperation and partnering with local government to plan and control development, design, and signage is needed."

Mount Rushmore National Memorial/Badlands National Park, SOUTH DAKOTA
Score 54

"Changes around Mt. Rushmore have made the cultural setting more attractive. Ecological compromises have been made, but for a cultural/historical monument, that might be expected. In contrast, the Badlands appear almost like you would expect they would 200 years ago."

"Far too many retail outlets sell 'commodities' rather than authentic products."

"The Badlands are awesome, a massive expanse of rolling hills and dunes that lead into South Dakota's Black Hills. Largely ignored by most tourists to the Black Hills and virtually uninhabited by humans, this ecological system appears to be quite healthy. On the other hand, Mt. Rushmore is an aesthetically unappealing tourist trap stuck in the middle of the Black Hills."

"… Badlands is relatively remote/unspoiled; Mt. Rushmore is like a destination/shopping mall. I'm concerned about both areas, however, because of energy development proliferating upwind."

"A proliferation of tourist 'joints' surrounds Mt. Rushmore. Badlands lacks financial backing."

Point Pelee National Park, ONTARIO
Score 53

"A day-use area for tourists and a wildlife staging area for migratory birds."

"Ecological integrity is always in question because of Point Pelee's small size and the surrounding farmland and urban development."

"The gateway community of Leamington provides day-trippers and tourists with an interesting variety of shops and restaurants."

"Severe visitor stress during periods of peak birder visitation."

"An island in a sea of rural agricultural development."

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MICHIGAN
Score 60

"Getting more crowded every summer as the Traverse City area booms."

"Resort developments like the Homestead, as well as other encroachments that do not recognize the dynamic quality of dune landscapes, makes for a low score on sustainability. There appears to be no end in sight to the demand for second homes, retirement communities, and vacation estates for northwest Michigan."

"The diversity of habitats on the mainland and the islands is extraordinary. It is a young park with many areas in need of active restoration."

"There's a lot more to enjoy than the Dunes. Great cultural resources, but my last visit showed no improvement in the interpretive effort at the main visitor center."

Tallgrass Prairie National Park, KANSAS
Score 63

"A tiny piece of what once was middle America. The area is too small to do justice to the ecology, but it is certainly better than nothing."

"The tallgrass prairie and the associated ranch structures make for increased appreciation of what was once an expansive ecosystem."

"Hopefully the park will encourage broader protection of rare prairie resources. The landscape is breathtaking."

"All that is needed is more of everything, more land protected, more history in the local communities, more of what the NPS and the National Park Trust are trying to do."

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, NORTH DAKOTA
Score 69

"The remoteness of this national park has allowed it to maintain its environmental, cultural, and aesthetic integrity."

"The gateway community of Medora, though small by comparison with many gateway towns, is not developing in a way that encourages a contemplative visit."

"Medora is attractive, if filled with tourist shops and without good restaurants. The main part of the park is largely unspoiled and the North Unit is superb."

"The NPS needs to spend some money to provide decent access and interpretation of Roosevelt's ranch site—a shame it's not afforded more attention given his importance to conservation."

Rocky Mountains, U.S. and Canada

Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.

Arches & Canyonlands National Parks, UTAH
Score 62

"Arches is more visited. Canyonlands is more pristine and remote."

"Moab, the gateway city, has gone through a tremendous metamorphosis; most of the old mining-town image has been replaced by modern urbana."

"The still largely magnificent and untrammeled backcountry in Arches and Canyonlands is threatened by dramatic shifts toward industrial tourism. Tourism limits or mass transportation should be considered at Arches."

"The appealing wild west beauty of towns like Moab, Green River, Blanding, Monticello, or Bluff is giving way to hotel chains, fast foods and inauthentic souvenir shops."

"Spectacular yet fragile area, with serious off-road use issues."

"Due to the sensitivity of the soils, the area is very easily impacted by visitors and is very difficult to restore [to good] ecological conditions."

"The National Parks Conservation Association's State of the Parks report for Canyonlands shows that it has some of the darkest night skies in the National Park System in the lower 48 states and some of the lowest levels of ambient noise. Seventy-one percent of the park's historic structures are suffering from structural deterioration. Without action, many of these could be lost in the next two to five years. Non-native tamarisk chokes rivers and riparian areas, and non-native fish have taken over the park's rivers. Oil and gas production outside the park could threaten the park's renowned natural quiet, dark night skies, and unparalleled view sheds."

"Moab is an unfortunate example of gateway community sprawl. Look for it to get worse rather than better."

Banff National Park, ALBERTA
Score 55

"Banff is a wonderful paradox: aesthetically beautiful, ecologically resilient, and facing extreme social and ecological challenges."

"Current planning and management efforts now strive for sustainability, particularly in the case of Banff townsite/municipal government via the Banff Community Plan."

"The major issue for Banff is external—managing growth in the Bow River Valley."

"Most of the park is unspoiled, but there is extensive and inappropriate development in the rare riparian habitat in and near the Banff townsite. Also, the trans-Canada highway occupies a large amount of this critical habitat, detracts from the scenery, and results in a large amount of roadkill."

"There are a few common threads: the commercialization, the highway and railway, heavy summer crowding, as well as honest attempts to deal with these issues through planning and restrictions."

Big Bend National Park, TEXAS
Score 69

"Recent tightening of border security diminishes the social experience, although many historical features remain worthy attractions. Chisos Basin is somewhat overdeveloped, but this sacrifice probably preserves wild character elsewhere."

"Air quality in this national park is declining rapidly due to emissions from both sides of the border."

"Issues of illegal immigration, drug trade routes, and poverty need to be considered in its future development."

"The gateway communities are very small and have great character. The wildlife populations are doing well, as is the vegetation. It's a very positive visitor experience."

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park, COLORADO
Score 65

"Awesome views enable a visitor to simultaneously see the snow-capped Colorado peaks and hot deserts below."

"The surrounding communities are all small yet appear to be relatively prepared for increased visitation."

"Public land managers and local counties and municipalities in this area need to collaborate much more effectively."

"The surrender of federal water rights and the potential for water diversion poses a grave threat to the integrity of this natural area."

Bryce Canyon National Park, UTAH
Score 65

"Bryce is one of those Utah wonderlands—the front country is crowded and the overlooks are a mess, but the backcountry canyons and washes are among the most beautiful."

"A shuttle system initiated in 2000 could benefit from a better-identified contact area outside the park."

"In summer and early fall, Bryce can be crowded (almost like Disneyland), and the development at the park's gateway detracts from the special quality of the place."

"The area needs better, more attractive, and eco-friendly lodging."

"Inside the park it is still a magical fairyland."

"Location of park downwind of Vegas and energy development areas gives rise to concern about future integrity of natural systems and visibility."

"People feed the birds and chipmunks until they are fat as little furry dough-boys."

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NEW MEXICO
Score 53

"The surrounding community has developed into glitzy tourist attractions not at all suited to the landscape."

"The visitor cave complex is highly developed, and is no more natural than a shopping mall."

"Cave is well interpreted but I'd like to see more emphasis on the land above."

"It gets almost as noisy in the Big Room as it does at an Angels game. Use the Natural Entrance Route instead of the elevator if you want to get at least some of the 'cave experience.'"

Chaco Culture National Historic Park, NEW MEXICO
Score 72

"An archaeological pearl. Environmental and ecological quality appear to be sustained as well as possible considering mineral exploration, development, and grazing impacts on adjacent lands."

"A truly unique and moving place; there is an almost intangible power to the landscape. It's hard to reach and there are few nearby amenities. Keep it that way."

"It is still possible to envision the Anasazi life and find quiet moments of solitude. On the other hand, the environment is so fragile that any increase in visitors could be a harsh blow if not well-monitored and controlled."

"This is a very special place ecologically, archaeologically, and culturally. Its remoteness is a plus. It probably does not have the resources to deal with increased visitation."

Glacier National Park, MONTANA
Score 66

"The National Parks Conservation Association's "State of the Parks" assessment for Glacier documents an exceptionally large number of external threats to the park, including: proposed highway expansion, conversion of ranch and forest lands to commercial and residential developments, clear cutting forests, a growing number of low-level and noisy sightseeing air tours over the park, invasions of non-native species, and potential extraction of coal, oil, and gas resources.  Due to global warming, all 37 named glaciers in the park have receded since the mid-19th century, and less than one-third of glaciers present in 1850 exist today."

"Glacier has struggled with plans to repair the Going-to-the-Sun road."

"Environmental quality is maintained at a relatively high level. The level of tourism development is moderate for such an outstanding park."

"The number one problem facing Glacier is the spreading of noxious weeds. Also, the continued harassment of overflights that impact wildlife and diminish the quality of visitor experiences."

"Most of the areas surrounding the park are depressed and consist of low-grade tourist attractions. Farther away, cities such as Kalispell and Glacier do benefit from the park, but the small towns at the park's entrances offer only low-paying jobs with no future."

"Tourism development inside the park is appropriate in scale and character, but increasingly there is tourism development of inappropriate character outside the park."

"Tourism development in the gateway communities is tasteful and in harmony with the character of the park. However, population growth pressure, poor growth management strategies, and inappropriate energy extraction schemes outside the park pose significant long-term threats to the integrity of the park."

"In the main visitor season it is often impossible to find a trailhead or viewpoint parking. This park cries out for better public transportation."

Jasper National Park, ALBERTA
Score 71

"High quality natural and aesthetic environment, rich and varied wildlife viewing. Less developed townsite than Banff, with a more 'local' feel."

"In many ways the greatest Canadian Rocky Mountain park. Large and wild."

"The greatest threats to Jasper are the ongoing developments in the regions of Alberta adjacent to the park (forestry, oil and gas, mining)."

"High ecological integrity, but the Athabasca Valley and Columbia Icefields area have been heavily developed, not always appropriately."

Mesa Verde National Park, COLORADO
Score 63

"Too little funding restricts the park's capability to maintain the ruins. The world-class artifact collection is poorly housed in an old temporary building."

"Owing to serious wildfire problems and damage over the past decade or more, the environmental and ecological qualities of the park have been compromised. The condition of built heritage, especially archaeological, is in danger."

"Park authorities must continue to guard against the threat of visitor numbers. Long waits are better than damage/destruction of priceless heritage."

"For a park of such significance—and a World Heritage Site—the facilities of Mesa Verde are pretty shabby."

"Cortez as a gateway still has a true western feel."

"I was appalled to see two billboards on adjacent Native American lands facing into the park."

Rocky Mountain National Park, COLORADO
Score 56

"Attempts to better-manage traffic flow to and from Bear Lake are critical to protecting the high country landscape, but will quieter and less-polluting shuttles or masses of cars dominate the road after reconstruction? Estes Park, of course, continues to exemplify what gateway communities should avoid."

"Another crowded, well-loved park that tells the story of its physical grandeur with minor attention to the peoples who once inhabited it."

"Neighboring communities are becoming overcrowded and geared mainly to serving the tourist trade. This is robbing them of their authentic character."

"The National Parks Conservation Association's State of the Park assessment shows that the park's top predators are gone, which has led to very high elk populations and overgrazing of certain plant communities important to beaver and other species. Decades of fire suppression have caused a great increase in fuel loads. Nonnative species edge out many native species. Visibility in the park is somewhat impaired 90 percent of the time, although views still can be dramatic."

Waterton Lakes National Park, ALBERTA
Score 72

"The town of Waterton is touristy in content, but still reads like a quite dignified Victorian resort community."

"Waterton Lakes is relatively unknown given its fabulous alpine resource. It is one of the most scenic areas in Canada."

"Cute, windy, and international. The area gives visitors a chance to enjoy it without being disturbed. The logging and the infrastructure are well hidden from the main viewpoints."

"Certainly some ongoing concerns with subdivisions and ski resort development in neighboring areas."

"Visitor services in Waterton town site are largely in harmony with the character of the park."

Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks, IDAHO, MONTANA, WYOMING
Score 51

"From bison and elk management to snowmobile use and airport runway expansion, these parks face myriad challenges."

"The landscape, the peoples, and the story of their influence in creating the national park system still rings in our ears, despite snowmobiles, RV crowds, and diesel fumes."

"Eliminate snowmobiling. Snow machines pack trails in the high mountains. Coyotes and wolves now use these travel ways to access prey such as goats and mule deer that used to be protected by deep snow."

"Jackson Hole and other communities seem to be thriving, but sprawling across the unprotected land."

"Yellowstone is increasingly confronted by a wide variety of conflicting interests and concerns, including snowmobile management, endangered species, and appropriate levels of development."

"I was surprised that the town outside the park didn't have more to offer than T-shirt shops and bad cafes."

"Threats to the ecosystem, ranging from the development of private lands to the introduction of lake trout in Yellowstone Lake, show that acreage alone is not enough to ensure an area's sustainability."

"The environmental and ecological quality is excellent beyond the front country, but suspect in the front country. It is very difficult to keep three million visitors on the boardwalks!"

"Teton is doing better than Yellowstone, even with the highway and airport. The proposed snowmobile compromise was a good one—keep the Skidoos on the trails by forcing them to go with outfitters."

Zion National Park, UTAH
Score 68

"Springdale is one of the outstanding examples of a gateway community that tries to be part of the park experience, and recognizes that a sound local economy can be enhanced by managing scenic impacts and maintaining community character compatible with park values."

"Very high environmental quality and aesthetic appeal. The restriction on private autos in the canyon has improved the visitor experience immeasurably."

"Zion must identify new ways to work with out-of-control Springdale development and high visitor use, but it appears the park is making tough decisions to improve the overall quality."

"Truly amazing landscape. However it was the wonderful transit system that really impressed me. I just loved the quiet clean nature of accessing the main valley."

"An example of how even parks with enormous visitation can remain visitor-friendly and untouched at the same time."

"The gateway towns are attractive but lack a cultural appeal."

Western/Pacific U.S. and Canada

Panelists exchanged comments, which were kept anonymous to maintain survey neutrality during the rating process. These excerpts offer a glimpse of panelists' varied points of view and the reasoning behind each score. They are not the views of the National Geographic Society.

Crater Lake National Park, OREGON
Score 72

"Blueish lake that makes you just stand and stare … Mount Mazama sure did a great job."

"A wonderful park with excellent staff and good interpretive services."

"Seasonally there are crowds, especially at the lodge, but the vistas and the setting are definitely worth it."

"Development has been controlled both on-site and through the gateway region, but much needs to be done to further interpret both the cultural aspects of the Native Americans and the history of the geological uniqueness of this, one of the worlds greatest geological oddities."

Death Valley National Park, CALIFORNIA
Score 67

"The cultural heritage of the Timbasha Shoshone is underrepresented in park interpretation.  Smog from Los Angeles is a near-constant threat to the visual quality of the park."

"The remoteness and harsh conditions protect this unit to some degree. Nevertheless, water resources, native vegetation, and some geological resources are threatened by overuse and irresponsible visitor actions."

"With Las Vegas just hours away, the visitor pressure is up and will continue to grow."

"The use of off-road vehicles must be severely limited. This will require collaboration with local and state governments."

Denali National Park & Preserve, ALASKA
Score 71

"The secrets of Denali are well protected and the bus systems keep the hordes at bay. When Denali decides to peek out from the clouds, the sweeping vistas are largely intact."

"The gateway to Denali is a mess and getting worse, but the park is so big it almost doesn't matter."

"The landscape overcomes everything."

"Undoubtedly, Denali provides one of the premier wildlife viewing experiences in the world. The mandatory shuttle bus system on the main park road facilitates an opportunity to closely and safely view bears, wolves, caribou, moose, and other great mammals in a magnificent natural setting. A true delight!"

"A hundred steps from the road the most fundamental wilderness journey begins. The wildlife in the park is unequaled and the backcountry visit is managed very, very well."

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, ALASKA
Score 71

"Backcountry side needs to have flight-seeing discontinued."

"The move to limit the number of cruise ships was a good one. Need to direct even more use away from the main routes."

"The Hoonajh Tlingit story of 11,000 years of adaptation is also not being told.  There is a wonderful diversity of important information to be obtained from this park that is currently not being delivered."

"Cruise ship and private boat traffic on the main bay precludes a wilderness experience, but otherwise this is a truly amazing park. Efforts to protect the park waters from commercial fishing must be lauded."

"Look beyond the tourist routes of the cruise ships. The rest of the park is a gem."

Grand Canyon National Park, ARIZONA
Score 53

"It's hard not to be awed by the amazing scenery and geology, but the crowds, almost constant noise (from airplanes and other visitors), unscripted development (in and outside the park), and visible air pollution make it difficult to find peace and renewal."

"The gateway region looks unattractive, filled with fast-foods and hotel chains with no sense of place at all."

"Try to keep helicopters down to a dull roar."

"What should be one of the greatest park experiences is suffering from tourism over-development, inadequate cultural interpretation, and a lack of connection between visitors and the wider ecological resources of the park."

"I felt I was in a Disney-fied theme park. It was too crowded, polluted, with noise levels unbearable during the peak season."

"Issues surrounding the management of the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam and management of river rafting are contentious and highly political. Visitor crowding on the South Rim will get worse. Although much of the Canyon is and will continue to be in fine shape, the visitor experience for most folks has deteriorated over the years."

"The whole river system is seriously threatened by the operation of the Glen Canyon dam."

Great Basin National Park, NEVADA
Score 77

"Very high quality montane environment with light use. Minor threats of erosion in developed areas. Tourism is sustainable here under current and even higher levels."

"Great Basin contains Mt. Wheeler, the highest peak in Nevada. Camping out at 10,000 feet is fantastic; the bristlecone pine forests are worth the hike."

"There are still opportunities to manage the park and the region in a manner that is more sustainable than most other parks in the lower 48."

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Score 88

"One of the most spectacular parks in all of Canada—unique in the co-management with the Haida Nation and their well-developed watchman programs."

"Thankfully it's soggy and remote enough to keep visitation low."

"Perhaps one of the best examples in Canada of a mutually beneficial relationship between the government and local indigenous peoples—the Haida Nation."

"The strong co-management of the park with the Haida people has significantly improved the management of this park, and it largely retains its wilderness character and cultural significance. Tourists undertake some cultural education before they enter the area."

"One of the most beautiful, bountiful, and unbelievably hard places to access I've ever visited. South Moresby Island and Archipelago are a natural paradise. They should remain as is forever."

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HAWAII
Score 75

"Authentic, unspoiled, but in danger of rapid development around it. The park has excellent preservation and interpretive qualities for volcano, native forest, and Hawaiian culture. The adjacent coastline has been discovered and developers are starting to purchase thousands of acres. This was seen to be Hawaii's unofficial National Seashore because of its isolation, but unless it is preserved, it will be the last open space along the coast to be developed."

"The biggest threats are from the introduction of exotic/weedy plants and introduced animals in this delicate and unique island environment."

"The aesthetic appeal of Volcanoes Park is excellent due to the stark and amazing natural structures, as well as the rare opportunity to view a live volcano."

Joshua Tree National Park, CALIFORNIA
Score 63

"Air quality issues and haze generated from Palm Springs and Los Angeles often impact the visitor experience."

"Joshua Tree remains beautiful, breathtaking, and hot."

"Encroaching suburbia will turn this park into an urban playground."

"Still awaiting resolution to litigation attempting to stop the Eagle Mountain Landfill that would significantly impact the southeast boundary of the park."

Kenai Fjords National Park, ALASKA
Score 70

"The character of the places is quite touristy. However, they can be attractive and do incorporate environmental education centers, museums, and other information into the national park experience."

"So far there don't seem to be too many boats, and the park is an incredible place to see marine wildlife and seabirds. Seward is a nice community from which to launch, and they have embraced the park."

Kootenay/Yoho National Parks, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Score 77

"The challenge is working with adjacent land management agencies to increase the broader conservation and recreation values of the park."

"Virtually unspoiled. I'd head here before Banff or Jasper. Great day hiking, good campgrounds, and tiny gateway towns."

"Surrounding areas are being developed to create buffer zones to ensure that impact on wildlife is mitigated."

"Environmental quality in these parks remains very high. Tourism development thus far is appropriate, although more aesthetically pleasing buildings should be a focus for the future."

Mount Rainier National Park, WASHINGTON
Score 63

"Spending a winter's day in a traffic backlog to get to 'paradise' for a day of crowded skiing was not the image I like to cherish about a unit of the National Park Service!"

"A very well managed park that is struggling to retain its unique attraction in the face of suburban sprawl."

"Gateway community development is a severe threat, but the level of concern among park visitors is also high."

"Benefits to local communities appear limited."

North Cascades National Park, WASHINGTON
Score 65

"Access and development are closely associated with the cross-Cascades highway. Mountain scenery is excellent. Relationship with local communities is limited."

"Combined natural and artificial beauty of lakes, dams, road passes, peaks, and viewpoints make it an enjoyable ride. The neglected trailer communities on the outskirts are a bad introduction. The latter is slightly improved when reaching Winthrop."

"A good park, but the Forest Service areas beyond it are more appealing. Needs more day hiking opportunities and a better trail network."

Olympic National Park, WASHINGTON
Score 69

"One of the great jewels of the Pacific Northwest, threatened by the large amount of logging on the nearby National Forests and private timber lands."

"A reinvestment in park visitor infrastructure, both at the portals (into campgrounds) and along the interior access trails, is needed to maintain a strong positive visitor experience."

"Need to get off the beaten path to appreciate."

"Interpretation facilities were among the best encountered."

"Water, vegetation, glaciers, and ocean all combine to make this park a rare experience."

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Score 65

"Gateway communities of Tofino and Ucluelet are facing heavy development pressures with escalating house prices and problems of affordable employee housing."

"The introduction of a quota system has largely maintained the quality of the recreational and aesthetic experiences in the park. However, the small size and narrow shape of the park, and the extractive activities—particularly logging—surrounding the area are major problems."

"Stunning, wild, and beautiful place. Getting crowded and less remote."

"Most impressive national park for its variety of habitats and units. However, two main problems: increasing demands for services and forestry occurring too close to park boundaries."

Petrified Forest National Park, ARIZONA
Score 64

"This park's austere beauty is underappreciated."

"Theft and disturbance of Native American artifacts continues, as does disturbance of petrified wood deposits."

"I-40 cuts through the park like a knife through a visitor's heart. Only the colorful vistas of Painted Desert repair slightly what the interstate damages."

"The recent expansion is a major victory for sustainability, for both the park and the neighboring communities. The interstate highway and theft remain major concerns."

Point Reyes National Seashore, CALIFORNIA
Score 72

"The National Parks Conservation Association's State of the Park report for Point Reyes shows very high biodiversity—over 1,500 plant and animal species, including 100 plant and animal species considered rare. About 45 percent of the park is congressionally designated wilderness. Nonnative invasive species are a problem. Diseases afflict elk and deer. Sudden Oak Death may be on the verge of infecting numerous species. The park has an excellent environmental education program for schools."

"Gateway region is still limited to a few locally owned oyster bars and B&Bs off Hwy 1. Approach to Point Reyes is an uncluttered detour off Hwy 1, to an excellent visitor center set away from the shoreline. Point Reyes remains an unspoiled stretch of coastline bordered by ranchland and farms."

"Point Reyes National Seashore, even with the numbers of tourists and area residents who flock there throughout the year, manages to retain its mystery and beauty."

"It never ceases to amaze me that this gorgeous park remains in such good shape even though it is within easy day-tripping range of a huge population in one of America's most heavily developed urban regions."

Redwood National and State Parks, CALIFORNIA
Score 68

"The parks are a patchwork of public and private land. Tourism development on the public lands is appropriate in scale and character, but on private lands is often shoddy or altogether lacking."

"A nice balance of the touristic infrastructure and natural attraction. The disturbing thing was the traffic on Highway 1."

"This is a well managed set of parks and communities. The test will be the challenge of maintaining and enforcing existing land-use and zoning regulations."

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CALIFORNIA
Score 62

"Smog is the killer here, and reconciling this is a state/federal problem."

"The experience in these two parks is still dazzling, but the impact of heavy visitation is also clear in worn paths, markings on trees, etc."

"The roads and campgrounds are congested, but the backcountry trails are still well managed and regulated."

Wrangell–St Elias National Park & Preserve, ALASKA
Score 77

"Great environment. Leave it as it is. Develop better access to front country and leave the wilderness wild."

"The cruise boat industry is rapidly moving in with buses that take pictures but leave the Athna peoples totally forgotten and completely overlooked."

"One of the great protected areas on the planet. One brilliant point: There is no ONE concessionaire, but rather many approved and monitored ones."

"A fascinating park on all levels, with very little in the way of tourism development. The sheer size and ruggedness of the park limit development and thus keep it in good shape."

Yosemite National Park, CALIFORNIA
Score 56

"Yosemite is two-faced: Skiing the backcountry does not prepare one for the front country, and vice versa. The development that plagues the valley disappears into the mist from skiing the backcountry."

"Overcrowded—too much day use, campsites erode riverbanks, air and noise pollution cause habitat loss and affect aesthetic appeal. The gateway region suffers from an excess of construction without any connection to the park, such as casino development, new housing projects, etc."

"Yosemite is a great park; Yosemite Valley is a tragedy."

"More effort with gateway communities in terms of planning, design, and marketing needs to occur."

"Where to begin? Complete the Yosemite Plan with the bus system extended to the entire valley, no roadside parking, and the former lower and upper river campgrounds should be completely restored."

Meet Our Panelists

Stewart Allen, Environmental psychologist                                            
Nan Anderson, Architect
Arden Anderson, Recreation specialist
Harry E. Antoniou, Tour operator
Dr. Greg Ashworth, Geographer
Wanetta Ayers, Economic development specialist
Kenneth F. Backman, Ph.D., Tourism professor
Randal G. Baker, Tourism geographer
Dr. Seyhmus Baloglu, Professor
Dr. Michal Bardecki, Geographer
Brenda Barrett, Heritage area coordinator
Dr. Sue Beeton, Tourism lecturer
Paul Bennett, Writer
Wendy M. Berhman, Environmental manager
Rajiv Bhartari, Forester
Phillip Bimstein, Composer/Former mayor
Norman A. Bishop, Interpretive naturalist
Kevin Blake, Geographer
Michael A. Blazey, Ph.D., Educator
Suzanne E. Bott, PhD., AICP, Land planner
Dr. Gillian Bowser, Ecologist
Kelly S. Bricker, PhD., Tourism researcher
Robert S. Bristow, Geographer
Warren Lee Brown, Park planner
G. Wesley Burnett, Geographer
Bob Burns CEC, AAC, Culinary professional
Lisa M. Butler Harrington, Geographer
Dave Butler, RPBio, RPF, Sustainable tourism specialist
Linda Damron Caldwell, Cultural tourism specialist
Gabriela Chavarria, Biologist
Joseph S Chen, Professor
Doug Clark, Former park warden
Tom Clynes, Author and journalist
Jeffrey H. Cohen, Cultural anthropologist
David Cole, Wilderness researcher
Jim Collinson, Strategy consultant
John Colton, Sustainable tourism specialist
Douglas C. Comer, Ph.D., Archaeologist
Dr. John Confer, Tourism Professor
Jay Cooke, Travel editor
Suzanne Copping, Heritage conservationist
Kevin Crockett, Tourism planner
Dr. Stephen F. Cunha, Geographer
Brenda Davidson-Shaddox, Writer/photographer
Danita Delimont, Travel photography specialist
Christine B. Denny, Environmental communications consultant

Keith Dewar, Professor of tourism
Jerry Dick, Heritage planner
Dr Robert Dilley, University professor
Joseph Domask, Educator
George Duffy, Tour operator
Steve Durrant, Landscape architect
David L. Edgell, Sr., PhD., Tourism specialist/consultant
Deborah L. Elliott-Fisk, Biogeographer
Marcus L. Endicott, Travel writer
Belinda Esham, Forestry consultant
Donald A. Falvey, Park manager
Virginia Fay, Economist
Evan Ferrari, Parks program director
Thor Flognfeldt, Geographer
Dr. Joseph P. Flood, Recreation professor
Charles Flynn, Riverfront redevelopment expert
Lee Foster, Travel writer/photographer
Bob Garrison, Nature tourism consultant
Raymond Gehman, Freelance photographer
Maurizio Giannone, Tourism geographer
Alison M. Gill, Geographer
Charlene Glacy, Travel photography
Charles Goeldner, Tourism consultant
Brian Goodall, Geographer
William L. Graf, Professor of geography
Dr. Jim Gramann, Social scientist
Marcus Grant, Landscape architect
Steven M. Graves, Geography professor
Andrej Gregorc, MA., Geographer
Stephen Griswold, Landscape architect
Sven Haakanson, Ph.D., Cultural museum studies
C. Michael Hall, Geographer/mobility specialist
Cheryl Hargrove, Tourism consultant
John Harrington, Jr., Geographer
Dr. Donald E. Hawkins, Tourism planner
Robert G. Healy, Economist
Gregory Heming, Ph.D., Literary ecologist
David Herbert, Geographer
Ronald Hiebert, Ecologist
Joseph M. Hnatiuk, Ecologist
Kirk Hoessle, Tour operator
Peter R. Hoffman, Ph.D., Geographer/planner
Steven Hollenhorst, Professor
Gary Hovinen, Geographer/tourism specialist
John Hull, Ph D., Tourism consultant
Dr. John D. Hunt, Tourism specialist/consultant
Glen Hvenegaard, Geography professor
Dimitri Ioannides, Planning professor
Thomas J. Iverson, Ph.D., Economist
Edward L. Jackiewicz, Geographer
Kanneth Johnson, Biologist (tour operator)
Karen L. Johnson, Travel consultant
Russell Johnson, Travel journalist, consultant
Russell Johnson, Tourism media producer
Kenneth Anthony Johnson Diaz, HidroBiologist
Claudia Jurowski, PhD., Tourism professor
Jerold D Kappel CFRE, Sustainable tourism facilitator
Sabra Kauka, Cultural specialist
Roger Kaye, Wilderness specialist
Maryam Khan Ph.D., Educator-professor
Dr Audrey Kobayashi, Geographer
Rhonda Kranz, Ecologist
Paul Labovitz, Conservation planner
Kristin M. Lamoureux, Tourism educator
Sam Lankford, Tourism planner/educator
Dr. Laura Jane Lawton, Tourism specialist
Raynald Harvey Lemelin, Environmental sociologist
Sarah Leonard, Ecotourism consultant
Andrew Lepp, University professor
David W. Lime, Geographer
Patrick Long, Professor of sustainable tourism
Dr. Edward W. Manning, Sustainable tourism consultant
Dr A M Mannion, Geographer, author
Lawal M. Marafa, Ph.D., Geographer, tourism scholar
Steven R. Martin, Professor (resource recreation)
Galen R. Martin, Geographer
Lisa Mastny, Environmental editor
Shelley S. Mastran, Geographer
Colleen May, Travel marketing researcher
Kyle McCarthy, Tourism consultant
Stephen F. McCool, University scientist
Daisann McLane, Travel writer
Ed McMahon, Community planner
Dr. Barbara McNicol, Geography instructor
Bill Meade, Consultant
Mary C. Means, Heritage tourism development
Michael Melford, Photographer
Cynthia C. Messer, Tourism specialist
Mike Meyer, Travel writer
Klaus J. Meyer-Arendt, Coastal geographer
Nicholas P. Miller, Noise control consultant
Mark Miller, Travel writer
Simon Milne, Tourism professor
Lisle S. Mitchell, Geographer
Dr. Christian Montes, Geographer
Duarte B. Morais, University professor
Thomas More, Recreation researcher
Kathy Moyer Dragon, Tour operator
Neil Munro, Forester/Geographer
Tracy John Mullins, Geographer
Larry Neal, Consultant - leisure education
Sanjay K. Nepal, Tourism geographer
Christian Newman, M.S., M.B.A., Environmental consultant
Norma Nickerson, Ph.D., Tourism researcher
Ronald Nickerson, PhD., Recreation professor
Eileen Nivera, Park Planner
Reed F. Noss, Ph.D., Conservation biologist
Arq. Eduardo J. Nycander v.M., Ecotourism tour operator
Andrew Dean Nystrom, Adventure travel consultant
Bob O'Connor, CTP., Travel planner
Duane K. Okamoto, Economic development consultant
Cynthia Orlando, Park Manager
Dr. James M. Parrent, Archaeologist
Carol Patterson, Tourism consultant
Joe Pavelka, College instructor
Sally Pearce, Historian
Gordon Phillips, Tourism consultant
John H. Plantinga, Tourism management educator
Claudia A. Polley, Museum planning consultant
Dr Julianna Priskin, Geographer
Paul Pritchard, Park advocate
Luther Propst, Conservationist
Jeff Rennicke, Travel writer
Bob Reynolds, Retired park manager
Daniel M. Rice, Non-Profit CEO
J. Michael Robbins, Tourism consultant
Betsy Robinson, Ecologist
Polly Rodriguez, Tourism education
Abigail Rome, Ecotourism consultant
Hugh Rose, Photographer
Alvin Rosenbaum, Tourism consultant
Joel Sartore, Photographer
Nancy Schamu, Historic preservation
Ingrid E. Schneider, Professor
Dr. Daniel Scott, Geographer
Rick Searle, Geographer
Martin Segger, Art historian
Indriani Setiawati, Ecotourism specialist
Douglas K. Shifflet, Market research-travel
Craig R. Sholley, Wildlife conservationist
John Shores, Biodiversity specialist
Scott Slocombe, Environmental planner
Richard B. Smith, Protected area consultant
John M. Snyder, Tourism specialist
John Splettstoesser, Tourism consultant
Scott W. Standish, Tourism planner
Taylor V. Stein, Associate professor
William Stewart, Park planning academic
Patricia A. Stokowski, PH.D., Social Scientist
Harold Stone, Environmental planning professor
Jamie Sweeting, Conservation tourism specialist
Dixie Swenson, Heritage development consultant
Dr. Guy S. Swinnerton, Parks specialist
Ronald R. Switzer, Park ranger - superintendent
Peter Tarlow, Tourism specialist
Lisa Testoni, Environmental planner
Dallen J. Timothy, PhD., Geographer
Russell K. Tippett, Educator
Ron Tipton, Parks advocate
William Trousdale, Sustainable-tourism planner
Dr. David Truly, Tourism geographer
Jacquelyn Tuxill, Conservation consultant
Dr Louise Twining-Ward, Tourism resource consultants
Muzaffer Uysal, Tourism specialist
Carroll Van West, Historian
David L. Wall, Geographer
Tim Wallace, Applied anthropologist
Grace A. Wang, Natural resource policy
David Weaver, Tourism specialist
Mr. Jonathan Wessell, Geographer/traveler
Duane West, Park Manager
Tom Wheaton, RPA, Archaeologist
Dr. Dave White, Environmental studies professor
Kim Whytock, Sustainability strategist
Ed Wiken, Ecologist
Carolyn Wild, Ecotourism consultant
Jennifer J. Wilhoit, Ph.D., Researcher/educator
Paul F. Wilkinson, Tourism geographer
Dr. Christopher Wilkinson, Geographer
Mark Willuhn, Tourism specialist
Cary Wolinsky, National Geographic photographer
Lochen Wood, Geographer/planner
Pamela Wright, Parks educator
Terence Young, Geographer
Harry C. Zinn, Park management educator

Traveler Subscription Offer

Our Picks

Center for Sustainable Destinations

Learn how to preserve the authenticity of the places you love.

» Click Here

National Geographic Traveler Places of a Lifetime
Our guides lead you to the best in ten world-class cities with photo galleries, walking tours, and what to know before you go.

Click Here

The National Geographic Traveler Reader Panel

Are you a real traveler? Someone who cares about authenticity? Who has a point of view about where we should travel—and how? Then tell us what you think and be eligible to win a trip to almost anywhere in the United States.

» Click Here