Best national parks: Western United States

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Best National Parks- Western USA
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Best national parks: Western United States

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - JULY 20: Visitors look out at Yosemite National Park from Glacier Point on July 21, 2014 in Yosemite National Park, California. Yosemite is among California's biggest tourist destinaitons.

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Yosemite Valley, California

(photo credit: Ronin Dusette)

One of wonderful ancient sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove of Yosemite National Park.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Olympic National Park, Washington

(Photo: thor_mark/Flickr)

Olympic National Park, Washington

(Photo: MiguelVieira/Flickr)

Crater Lake, Oregon

(Photo: Sara Winter)

Milking way captured in Crater Lake, Oregon

(Photo: Wilson Lee)

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon 

(Photo: Getty Images)

Lehman Cave, Great Basin National Park, Nevada

(photo: findoffenseinreason/Flickr)

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

(Photo: Alaskan Dude/Flickr)

Denali National Park, Alaska

(Photo: Getty Images)

Denali National Park, Alaska 

(Photo: Michael Wilson/500px)

Denali National Park, Alaska

(Photo: Richard Pryde/500px)

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

(Photo: Getty Images)

 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

(Photo: Ed Suominen/Flickr)

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

(Photo: Vincent Ma/Flickr)

Grand Canyon, Arizona

(Photo: Getty Images)

Grand Canyon, Arizona

(Photo: Jan Paul Schrage) 

Grand Canyon, Arizona

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

(Photo: the1secondfilm/Flickr)

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

(Photo: LarryB08/Flickr)

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

(Photo: the1secondfilm/Flickr)

Zion National Park, Utah

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Zion National Park, Utah

(Photo: OneEighteen/Flickr)

Zion National Park, Utah

(Photo: JasonBechtel/Flickr)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado 

(Photo: Steven Bratman/Flickr)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

(Photo: 12thSonofLama/Flickr)

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado 

(Photo: DaveTBear/Flickr)

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

(Photo: Getty Images)

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

(Photo: Getty Images)

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

(Photo: mypubliclands/Flickr)

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

(Photo: Timelapsed/Flickr)

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

(Photo: gus_the_mouse/Flickr)

Glacier National Park, Montana

(Photo: thor_mark/Flickr)

Glacier National Park, Montana

(Photo: thor_mark/Flickr)

Glacier National Park, Montana

(Photo: Stuck in Customs/Flickr)

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By LISA KIRSHNER and MAGDALENA GUILLEN

Summer is officially here -- and that means summer vacation.

Whether you escape the hectic workweek with a weekend getaway or have the opportunity to take a longer break, summer is all about exploring the outdoors and connecting with mother nature.

If you are a thrill seeker, water adventurer, camping or hiking type, we have the perfect national park for you to explore. Below, we will be highlighting some of our favorite destinations, but click through the slideshow above to see more parks you can visit this summer.

So let's start our journey through some of America's greatest national parks! Our first stop: The wild west.

Yosemite National Park, California

The most popular and arguably most stunning park in the west, Yosemite is best known for its breathtaking, plunging waterfalls, majestic mountains and high elevation river valleys. Going into fall, the park will be commemorating its 125th anniversary of establishment, celebrating years of preserving America's crown jewel.

Include these on your to-do list:
  • Walk through Mariposa Grove Road and take in what are perhaps Earth's oldest living things. The giant ancient sequoias (also known as Sierra redwoods) are located near the park's south entrance.
  • Plan a day hike or walk a smaller trail to reach the majestic waterfalls Yosemite is internationally known for. Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Falls and Bridalveil Fall flow all throughout the summer. If you get tired of hiking, Glacier Point is a popular tourist destination accessible by car, giving you an exhilarating view of Yosemite Valley.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

A paradise for relaxing and swimming in gorgeous, clear blue waters, Hawaii is also home to one of Earth's greatest wonders -- volcanoes. These land builders created the Hawaiian Island chain, and are still adding islands. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is accessible by car for day exploration or if you want to do some serious in-depth exploring, you can check out the hiking trails over several days on foot.

Include these on your to-do list:
  • The Crater Rim Drive Tour lets you explore the active volcanoes by car, with stopping points overlooking some of the island's most scenic views. Make sure to include a stop at Keanakāko'i Crater (less than a mile hike from the road) to view fissures and smoking fumaroles from the 1974 eruption. On a clear day it makes a great vantage point for viewing Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea's summit, decorated with some of the world's largest astronomical observatories.
  • Hungry? The Kīlauea Overlook not only makes for a great picnic spot but also has a spectacular view of Kīlauea Caldera and Halema'uma'u Crater on the Crater Rim Drive Tour. Lunch can't be beat with this incredible view!
  • For the thrill-seeker -- bike through rain forests, past craters and rift zones for dramatic views of the volcanic landscapes. Biking in the park is suitable for all ages and is one of the most popular attractions on the island.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Explore the nation's first national park and the world's largest collection of geysers! A mountain wonderland, this park is home to many incredible creatures including herds of bison and elk, grizzly bears and wolves. What is so great about Yellowstone is that there is something to do no matter what your age is.

Include these on your to-do list:
  • Fishing and Fisheries Science is a major visitor attraction. Due to the park's primary purpose to preserve natural environments and native species of fish, make sure to review Yellowstone's fishing regulations.
  • Yellowstone has many trails for the adventurous skier or snowshoer, but be warned, these trails are not for beginners.
  • Last but not least, what's the point of visiting Yosemite if you don't camp over night? Spend the night under the glittering stars and beautiful back country in their designated campsite.
What are some other parks in the west you've visited? Tell us in the comments below.
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