USA’s Wildest National Parks – 21 of America’s Finest Wild Spaces
Territory: American Samoa
Area: 55 sq km
Best for… Polynesia, marine life, paradise
Why go? Spanning three south-west Pacific islands (Tutuila, Ofu and Ta’u), the National Park of American Samoa is the only US park that lies south of the equator. The emphasis here is on protecting Polynesian culture as well as the mountainous, volcanic, rainforest-draped, reef-laced, wildlife-rich landscapes.
Access is time-consuming and facilities are limited, but natural wonders are in abundance. For instance, you’ll need to bring your own snorkel/ dive gear, but the rewards are pristine corals, over 950 species of fish plus whales and green turtles. For the best cultural interaction, use the park’s homestay programme: sleep in a traditional fale guesthouse, eat Samoan specialties, catch fish and learn to weave mats from pandanus leaves.
When to go: Open year-round. May- September is the driest period. Humpbacks may be seen August-November.
Plan your trip: Hawaiian Airlines flies direct to American Samoa’s Tutuila Island from Honolulu. More airlines fly to Western Samoa, from where connections are available. Small planes serve Ta’u; local boats link Ta’u to Ofu.
Area: 349 sq km
Best for… climbing, hiking, birding
Why go? Guadalupe Mountains is an ‘island in the desert’, a Permian-era reef rearing over 1,500m out of the now dusty wilderness. It’s home to marine fossils, three major ecosystems, eight species of hummingbird and the highest peak in Texas.
Pull on your walking boots and take to the 13.5km Guadalupe Peak Trail, which leads to the summit of the 2,667m Guadalupe Peak – the ‘Top of Texas’ – for panoramic views of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are also routes through limestone canyons, maple and oak woodlands, and coniferous forests of Douglas fir or pinyon pine; many of the trails are open to horse-riders too. Birders should head for Frijole Ranch and McKittrick Canyon.
When to go: Open year-round. Visit in spring, when flowers are blossoming, or autumn, for fall colours.
Plan your trip: Guadalupe Mountains is 180km from El Paso. It is also close to Carlsbad Caverns, making it easy to combine the two. If you have two weeks, consider flying into Las Vegas, heading to the Grand Canyon, and then veering east into New Mexico and Texas for Guadalupe.