For people who are indoors but yearn to be outdoors and visit a national park, Google has teamed up with the National Park Service to give us a Virtual Guide to five fantastic, and incredibly diverse parks.
Take a hike from your computer and view stunning videos that make it appear you are actually walking on a park trail.
In these virtual tours, you walk alongside an experienced park ranger who provides a trail’s eye view through five national parks along with an interesting narrative about the location.
With high-def cameras and drone footage from above, you and your mouse can climb into an ice-blue crevasse, hike through a volcanic tunnel or swim along coral reefs, all on your computer (or, if you want to be fully immersed, on your wide-screen TV).
These videos can certainly be used as a family-oriented adventure. Not only will your family be thrilled to view the incredible scenery, but hopefully they will be motivated to visit these parks in person.
Take a virtual tour of these five parks
Here’s the list of the five national park tours offered by Google Arts and Culture:
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park – this park on the island of Hawaii covers not one, but TWO active volcanoes. With the Google guide, you can learn how the Hawaiian Islands were first formed by volcanoes. There is even a video from 1959 showing one of the volcanoes erupting.
Dry Tortugas National Park – if you feel like cooling off with a virtual swim after your visit to the hot volcanic terrain, head to this park next. This national park is a series of islands about 70 miles west of Key West. First, it’s a park that features the massive Fort Jefferson, built in 1846. This incredible masonry structure is the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and was built with 16 million bricks. A tour of this amazing fort is certainly a treat. But what’s even more amazing, is that the fort only takes up 1% of the national park area. Most of it is underwater. Dive with a ranger through crystal-clear waters filled with beautiful reefs and vibrant tropical fish.
Kenai Fjords National Park – of course, spending time close to the equator can work up a sweat. So if you want to really cool off, steer your mouse to this park in south-central Alaska. Kenai park is so big, 669,984 acres, it could be its own country. But it’s not. It’s an immense stretch of incredible mountains, glaciers, fjords, and lakes owned by all Americans. The virtual Google tour takes you to Exit Glacier, one of 38 glaciers in the park. While there you can see what’s it’s like to climb down into a crack in one of those immense ice fields.
Bryce Canyon National Park – if you are in the mood to hike online through some very strange terrain, certainly click on the tour for this next park. Bryce Canyon is located in southwest Utah and is not a canyon, but what rangers refer to as an “amphitheater.” The landscape consists of an open area filled with strange rock formations called “hoodoos.” What more can we say? You have to see it for yourself.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park – after hiking in the interesting open spaces of Bryce Canyon, consider going underground. The place to be – Carlsbad Caverns in southeast New Mexico. There your park ranger will walk you through this incredible cave system. Now, you might think a cave would be small and confining.
But what’s unique about Carlsbad Cavern is that there is a limestone chamber inside that is 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide AND 255 feet in height at its highest point. They aptly call this section, the “Big Room.” It’s the fifth-largest cave chamber in North America and the 28th largest in the world.
This is one place you want to check out from your couch, so you can get excited about someday exploring those underground spaces for real.
Check out the NPS website for all sorts of goodies
If you want to explore ALL of this country’s parks and historic sites, head on over to the National Park Service website – www.nps.gov.
For each site, you can find an array of things to check out:
- Educational items
- Kids’ Section
By the way, if you want to include shopping on your trip, most large parks and sites also have a web e-commerce store. These online stores offer some interesting gift ideas (and a way to support your National Park Service.)
We also found a couple of streaming sites where you can visit Yellowstone or Yosemite national parks in real-time:
Yellowstone geysers – https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm?sf174893829=1
Yosemite waterfalls – https://yosemite.org/webcams/yosemite-falls/
This “Salmon Cam” takes you to a stream where bears hang out. (If the salmon are not running, it might not be live. But the highlight clips of the bears are precious).
Here’s a webcam with a live bird’s eye view of a bird’s nest with that most spectacular of American birds – the bald eagle.
Explore a park from above on Google maps
Another option to consider for virtual park adventures is to visit Google Maps.
When you go there and choose a park, click on the “satellite” image. From there you can see an aerial photograph of all the park features.
For a street view, click on that little yellow figure to the right. It’s called “Pegman.”
Deposit the “Pegman” on one of the highlighted roads. From there you can enjoy a ground-level, 360-view of many parks.
This feature can actually place you right in the middle of a park. For example, if you click on the blue line in Grand Canyon National Park, you will find yourself sitting in a boat floating down the Colorado River, surrounded by those majestic canyon walls.
Also, Google has driven its bug-eyed camera car through many state and local parks. Check them out. Maybe you will find some exciting features that get you excited about visiting that park. Or, check out a park that you like. With the satellite view, perhaps there are some trails or lakes that you were not aware of and can now put on your list when you venture outdoors.
(Note: to experience a fun, hidden Google Easter Egg, drag the “Pegman” over the ocean. The figure changes shape).
Make the transition from indoor digital to outside reality
Now as you can imagine the point of these virtual experiences on your computer screen is not to cross these awesome locations off your bucket list. They are meant to inspire you to add these parks to YOUR LIST.
While the videos are incredible, you can’t compare them to seeing these sights with your own eyes: smelling the fresh, nature-scented air, feeling that dirt trail under your feet and cool breezes from a waterfall on your skin. A virtual tour will never compare to watching the different colors of a canyon or forest change as the sun cascades down the horizon.
If you are stuck at home, take time to surf some parks. For families, perhaps get a sheet and set up a tent in your living room, turn your couch into a park bench and your coffee table into a picnic table.
Create an indoor trail around the house with stairs for mountains and a hike around the dining room table which ends with smores and granola bars.
Check out the NPS website. Start planning your next park adventure.
Many times, when it comes to vacations, people can’t decide where to go. You can always count on your national, state and local parks for a fun holiday.
Hopefully, these virtual tours will help you find a place to point those hiking boots when you’re ready to take them out of the closet.