The multitaskers: Yellowstone, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
Why: Not only do you get to roam wilderness across three of the nation’s 50 states (check-check-check), you have a whole host of varied landscapes and biomes (more boxes checked), from stone canyons to lush subalpine forests to extraordinary geothermal geysers, among them Old Faithful, the world’s most famous (extra points for that) and the Beartooth Highway, which puts the majesty in American myth. There are more than 1,000 miles of trails, and backcountry campsites reachable only on foot or horseback.
The fauna: …is exceptional. Yellowstone is regarded as the continental US’s finest megafauna environment; there are 60 mammal species alone—from grizzly bears, cougars and wolves to heroic American bison to tens of thousands of elk—and more than 300 endemic birds.
Perfect for you if…: You’ve got one shot at the whole National Park thing and want to leverage it for everything it’s got, Big Five-style.
What to pack: Your check list, not that you go anywhere without that. And a star chart (the skies here are famous for superlative gazing).
Social-media overachievers: Arches, Utah
Why: The most spectacular, and photogenic, rock formations in North America, in prodigious numbers (around 73,000 of them that qualify as arches, meaning they measure more than three feet across). Among them are Balanced Rock, Landscape Arch—the longest in the park, and the country, it’s incredibly delicate—and the Windows Arches (north and south). There are also the improbable stands of drip castle-like cliff formations in Devil’s Garden, and the sheer carved red cliffs of what’s known as Park Avenue.
The fauna: Mule deer, porcupines, loads of songbirds at dawn and dusk.
Perfect for you if…: you regularly, knowingly put yourself in physical danger in the interest of getting a #FOMO-generating shot for your social media.
What to pack: the latest Lululemon to layer (it’s high desert, so temperatures can vary by 40 degrees in a day); a crash helmet, if you’re really going for the YOLO moment.
Aspiring rock stars/closeted shamans: Joshua Tree, California
Why: Besides the weirdly beautiful trees from which the park takes its name, there is Skull Rock, the self-explanatory massive granite outcropping; the spectacular cleft of the San Andreas Fault from Keys View; and the raw-food/free love vibe in the cafes of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree Town. It’s become a hive of art and music culture, and even some spirituality, with Coachella attendees often repairing to its numerous camp sites for post-festival mind expansion and revelry. Ask about the curious burial rite of Gram Parsons, who was a Joshua Tree regular.
The fauna: Coyote, lynx, black-tailed jackrabbits, and bighorn sheep. And the odd rattlesnake, so don’t stick your hands or feet anywhere you can’t see what’s going on.
Perfect for you if…: You have ever seriously considered one of the following: 1) purchasing a Fender Telecaster even though you don’t play guitar; 2) having your soul retrieved on a Bolivian salt flat.
What to pack: Your Coachella best—Minnetonka boots, a Nick Fouquet hat. A CamelPak. Very high SPF sunscreen.
The Yankee doodle dandies: Acadia, Maine
Why: It was the first national park created east of the Mississippi, and is the only one in New England. It’s the natural habitat of the old-school Yank—pine-covered islands and coastline, deep blue ocean inlets, a lighthouse or two, and half of Mount Desert Island. The views from atop Cadillac Mountain are world-famous; the handful of beaches, including Sand Beach, are far more hidden but worth the hikes to reach them. And can you see Bar Harbor from there, mother? Oh, ayuh.
The fauna: Ranges from smallish and nicely furred (fox, mink, otter) to extremely sizable (moose).
Perfect for you if…: An ocean sail, a mountain hike and a lobster roll in a single day is your idea of heaven; you actually put pennies in your penny loafers.
What to pack: Your oldest Nantucket reds if you’re a guy; women, visors or a white baseball cap; Tevas or hiking boots; braided leather belts; a polo.
The water babies: Everglades, Florida
Why: Its size, to start with—a whopping 1.5 million acres of sub-tropical and tropical wetland, only about an hour from Miami. It’s designated both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve. There are entire stretches of it only explorable by kayak, skiff, or what fans call ‘the slough slog’—off-trail hikes through the wetland. (For water views rather than water immersion, the elevated Anhinga boardwalk trail is your best bet.)
The fauna: Rare and fabulous, from manatees (the aquatic herbivore mammal which sailors of old, going back to Christopher Columbus, mistook for mermaids) to American alligators (the males can grow to 15 feet long) to the very hard to spot Florida panther, of which only about 100 still exist.
Perfect for you if…: Scaling peaks has nothing on a nice long wading session, to your mind; balmy humid air is your preferred habitat.
What to pack: Bug repellent and every long-sleeved lightweight top in your repertory. Possibly your Wellies; definitely your swimsuit.
Maria Shollenbarger is the longtime travel editor at the Financial Times’ How To Spend It magazine. She also writes for Travel + Leisure, The Australian’s WISH magazine, and the FTWeekend. She lives in London and Italy.