So many national parks burst with beauty that it’s almost impossible to have a favorite…and yet, that is the exact task we’ve set for our photographers. Because we love competition for the sake of competition and bragging rights, and inspired by the NCAA basketball tournament currently going on, we have compiled a list of 16 (of the 60 eligible) National Parks, seeded them, put them head to head and let our photographers decide. Which one will emerge as Champion?
In the play-in round, the majesty and awe-inspiring epic landscapes of Banff and Yoho barely eked by Pacific Rim park. Hailing from Canada’s west coast, Pacific Rim National Park is Chris Kimmel’s favorite national park. “The rare coupling of old growth temperate rainforest and rugged Pacific coastline make it a magical destination for surfing, kayaking, hiking, beach-combing, and storm watching.”
However, as Marko Radovanovic put it, “there is no place like these two parks, where you can feel like you’re living in a postcard. At times I wonder, is this real?”
SWEET SIXTEEN, LEFT SIDE:
#1 Seed Yosemite beats #8 Seed Saguaro
Saguaro National Park was unique for me coming originally from the east coast. I was on assignment for NatGeo, and I had never been around that many prickly things before. Unlike the soft grassy-roll-around-in landscape I came from, this landscape seemed to attack at every turn. But at night it is magic! – Joanna B. Pinneo
There won’t be any #1 upsets in our bracket…Yosemite, the 3rd most popular park by yearly visitors, and enjoying plenty of movie stardom thanks to a film about Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s epic and historic climb of Dawn Wall, moves on to the next round, where they’ll be facing….
#4 Seed Joshua Tree defeats #5 Seed Death Valley
Death Valley is my favorite park because i got married there (or will in 1 week). – Colin Meagher
Joshua Tree National Park has it all for me with world class rock climbing, camping among huge boulders and desert hiking in an incredibly interesting arid ecosystem. I love the solitude you can find without much effort by wandering the maze of trails in the evocatively named ‘Wonderland of Rocks’. – Andrew Peacock
Sentimental favorite Death Valley can’t compete with the varied yet alien landscapes of Joshua Tree. Plus, U2.
#3 Seed Glacier, unhappy with it’s low seeding, easily defeats #6 Seed North Cascades
North Cascades National Park – Because its the most beautiful park no one knows about… Wait on second thought I really like another park more. Death Valley, or Yellowstone. Yea, Yellowstone everyone should go there. – Alasdair Turner
Unfortunately, no one visits North Cascades, ever, to see it’s beauty, so Glacier National Park, which straddles the continental divide and is the home to glaciers and grizzly bears.
#2 Seed Yellowstone faces a surprising upset against #7 Seed Grand Teton
I would say that having spend several months exploring Gran Teton National Park for a National Geographic assignment makes that place special. You will have a hard time beating the views of the mountains as they rise from the valley floor, the backcountry rock climbing, or the herd of elk in the chill of the autumn mist as they migrate south and of course, the Snake River and it’s native cut throat trout. – Jose Azel
Despite being the first national park, established on March 1st, 1872, being the home to incredible sights AND grizzly bears, and the fictional home of Yogi Bear, the huge crowds of tourists drive our photographers out to the quieter but still spectacular Grand Tetons.
SWEET SIXTEEN, RIGHT SIDE:
#1 Seed Denali easily defeats #8 Seed Everglades, despite great pun work
Denali, because the scale is just so vastly different from anything in the lower 48. It’s BIG. On my first trip there, we were told we had to hike 3 or 4 miles from the road AND be out of sight of it. We figured that couldn’t be that difficult, but wow, was it ever! We hiked all day and eventually found a little hill to pitch our tent behind and due to the heavy fog that descended, we couldn’t see the road. But in the morning, we discovered that on the other side of the hill was a (thankfully unoccupied) bear den. – Dan Shugar
Everglades…BECAUSE IT’S MARSH MADNESS, BABY!!!#sorrynotsorry – Mike Basher
#4 Seed Arches loses in the battle of ‘A’s to #5 Seed Acadia
Acadia is my favorite National Park because it has some of the darkest skies on the east coast, and the fall colors are spectacular! – Adam Woodworth
The Utah desert in general is a pretty exciting place to go, especially when you are trying to get a bit of warmer weather either early in the spring of late in the fall. However the way the rock arches have formed at Arches National are intriguing and absolutely stunning to take in and definitely make it one of my favorites – Ben Girardi
#3 Seed Grand Canyon upset by #6 Seed Canyonlands, in the battle of….Canyons
My favorite national park is the Grand Canyon, because of its sheer enormousness and beauty. I love the fact that it holds some of the most complicated and unaccessible terrain in the lower 48, yet at the same time the canyon’s beauty is highly accessible to the general public through the developed sections of both the rims. Oh AND I love it because it’s where I first truly, madly fell in love with the great outdoors when my parents took me to visit the South Rim at age 12 – it absolutely took my breath away back then, and still does today. – Sunny Stroeer
I think Canyonlands needs an honorable mention. Its a quieter park, but because its broken into a few different districts there is a ton to explore, especially if you like 4×4 wheeling. Don’t take the part for granted though, its raw, untouched and unforgiving. It will eat you up and spit you out if you aren’t careful and heed ranger advice, but that’s what makes Canyonlands special. It’s vast and doesn’t have the Disneyland effect a lot of other parks have in the summer. Also, its an International Dark Sky Park. From the park’s website, “The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has granted Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park status to Canyonlands National Park, an honor reserved for the darkest of dark skies and most stunning starscapes.” Yeah, its pretty amazing. – Matt Andrew
Again, the sentimental favorite, and 2nd most visited National Park, loses to the park from Utah. Better luck next year, Grand Canyon!
#2 Seed Hawai’i Volcanoes says “Aloha, and aloha” to #7 Seed Banff / Yoho
Despite being the location Instagrammers flock to in droves, Banff and Yoho are both eliminated, simply because this was supposed to be a US National Parks contest. Canada, stop interfering in foreign countries contests!
With the bar not being set too high, all Hawai’i needed to advance was this vote from Sean Davey: “You can see live lava flowing, and, well, it’s the only one of these that I’ve ever been to!”
Come back next week to see the results of the Elite Eight, Final Four and find out which National Park is crowned Champion! While you’re waiting, be sure to check out some of our favorite national parks images here!