Top 10 National Parks: Yosemite to Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon

#7: Crater Lake National Park One of the most unique national parks is in southern Oregon on the crest of the Cascade Mountain range, 100 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. The heart of Crater Lake National Park is the lake, which sits inside a caldera, or volcanic basin, created when the 12,000-foot Mount Mazama collapsed 7,700 years ago following a large eruption.

No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in color; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost 2,000 feet high; two picturesque islands and a violent volcanic past.

Generous amounts of winter snow, averaging 533 inches per year, supply the lake with water. There are no inlets or outlets to the lake. Crater Lake, at 1,943 feet deep, is the seventh deepest lake in the world and the deepest in the United States. Evaporation and seepage prevent the lake from becoming any deeper.

There are also abundant squirrels and chipmunks throughout the park. Bald eagles are seen fairly often in the summer – especially from the boats. Golden Eagles are more rare, but usually make an appearance a couple times a year.

The water is so blue because there is hardly anything else in it – just water. It's not pure water, but it's close. But because of the lake's depth, that water is cold. The average temperature --below 300 feet deep -- is 38 degrees. In the summer, the surface can warm to 55 or 56 degrees.

Yosemite National Park

#6: Yosemite National Park No park is probably more iconic of the national park system or America's rugged wilderness than Yosemite National Park. It is truly one of the country's grandest parks.

Yosemite was one of the first wilderness parks in the United States and is best known for its waterfalls. But within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.

Visitors can drive cars into and around Yosemite but the massive amounts of crowds that visit the park have led the National Park Service to strongly encourage people to use the free shuttle bus system. (The only reason Yosemite isn't higher on our list is because of these very crowds. It is a spectacular place, but in peak season sometimes you struggle to escape from your fellow visitors.)

But back to the attractions.

Yosemite is home to countless waterfalls. The best time to see waterfalls is during spring, when most of the snowmelt occurs. Peak runoff typically occurs in May or June, with some waterfalls (including Yosemite Falls) often only a trickle or completely dry by August. Other famous falls include Bridalveil, Wapama and Ribbon.

Half Dome is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Yosemite. Rising nearly 5,000 feet above the Valley floor, it is one of the most sought-after landmarks in Yosemite. Some people even hike or rock-climb to the top.

El Capitan is a favorite for experienced rock climbers. Rising more than 3,000 feet above the Valley floor, it is the largest monolith of granite in the world.

The park also has giant sequoias, also known as Sierra redwoods that are a must for any visitor.

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