Best National Park Islands Around the World
If secluded beaches and untamed nature speak to your inner adventurist, an island adventure might be for you. But where to start?
How about the best national park islands around the world. These islands are snapshots of perfectly preserved ecosystems and communities that date back hundreds and thousands of years. From the far reaches of the South Pacific and the Northeast of the United States, to 600 miles off of Ecuador and the coasts of Okinawa, there are so many spectacular islands that are not only visually stunning and diverse in scenery, but integral to the study of biodiversity.
Some of these islands are well-known and easily accessible to travelers, while others are far more remote and offer a complete escape from the rest of the world. No matter if you need a quick day trip from your Caribbean vacation, or want to disappear off the map entirely, Robinson Crusoe style, these are the best national park islands around the world.
Whitsunday Islands National Park, Australia
Close your eyes and picture heaven. Odds are you’re picturing Whitsunday Islands National Park without even realizing it. Lush, verdant islands ringed in powder white sand slope gently out of an aquamarine sea.
The islands sit off the coast of Queensland and are famous around the world for their translucent waters, secret beaches, and eye popping coral reefs. The park protects 32 islands, including the eponymous Whitsunday Island, known for Whitehaven Beach and its white silica sand.
What to do when you get there? Lace up hiking boots and hit one of the many miles of trails, or strap on a snorkel mask and peruse the brilliant coral reefs, which are protected by the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Visitors can access the park via private boat or commercial boats, which depart from Airlie Beach or Shute Harbour in Queensland.
Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica
Leave the mainland of Costa Rica behind and enter a veritable, real life Jurassic Park. More than 350 miles from Puntarenas on the Pacific coast, Cocos Island commands attention as the jungled rock face juts out from the sea.
The entire island is a humming haven for tropical animals, birds, and marine species. And because of its isolation, visitors will feel as if they've left the modern world altogether.
Cocos Island National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the only island in the eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest. Visitors can immerse themselves in the spectacular diving (as it is one of the best places in the world to view sharks, stingrays, tuna, and dolphins). The island is only reachable by boat and is only open for day tours. Boats leave from Puntarenas.
U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands
You don’t need to travel to the ends of the earth to find epic island beauty. You don’t even need a passport. The U.S. Virgin Islands National Park is a slice of aquamarine heaven that is entirely our own.
Beyond beautiful beaches (which are spectacular, to say the least), there are ruins of former plantations, petroglyphs carved by the indigenous Taino people, coral reefs for snorkeling, and a home base for monitoring endangered sea turtles.
The park covers about 60 percent of St. John Island, and is crisscrossed with more than 20 hiking trails and unspoiled beaches like Hawksnest Bay and Trunk Bay. To reach St. John, take a ferry from Red Hook, St. Thomas.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Epic sunrises greet rugged, craggy coastal landscapes blanketed with towering pine forests. Acadia National Park in Maine is predominantly located on Mount Desert Island, with the rest of Isle au Haut, a smaller island 20 miles south of Mount Desert.
For more than 100 years the park has been a favorite pilgrimage for leaf peepers because come mid-September the forests erupt in oranges, yellows, and reds. A 27-mile Park Loop traverses the island’s lakes, forests, and seven mountains. There are also more than 150 miles of hiking trails and 50 miles of carriage roads. Be sure to snap a shot of the famous lighthouse.
Channel Islands National Park, California
Whale watching, kayaking through rock caves, amazing wildlife, and hiking over towering cliffs that tumble down to the sea — this is what you can expect when you visit Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Ventura.
The park is made up of five islands, which were formed thousands of years ago. Home to blue whales, seals, sea lions, and the largest colonies of seabirds in Southern California, Channel Islands National Park is a wealth of biodiversity. Visitors can take the day trip across the Santa Barbara Channel to explore the islands.
Overnighters can book a campsite on all five of the islands, as well. Painted Cave is popular for adventurous sea kayakers, as it is one of the world's largest sea caves at nearly a quarter mile long.
Christmas Island National Park, Australia
Officially part of Australia, but in actuality closer to Java, Indonesia, Christmas Island National Park is a visual wonderland in the Indian Ocean.
Sixty-three percent of the island is protected by national park, but most of the world knows the island as a place for people seeking asylum. It's a melange of cultures, from Chinese, Malays, Sikhs, English and Australian. But the island's biggest population belongs to the red crab. Tens of millions of red crabs live on the island and are an integral part of its ecosystem as they help in recycling nutrients of the rainforest.
The island's greatest site is the migration of the red crabs, as millions of them scuttle down to the beaches to lay their eggs, usually between October and December. It's a brilliant parade of crimson and orange as the crowd shivers with the movement of this great natural phenomenon.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Be prepared to test out your sea legs when visiting this national park. Seventy miles off the coast of Key West is this remote, aquatic national park, where less than 1 percent of the park is actually on dry land.
Seven small islands lie in the middle of pristine, Caribbean-colored waters teeming with coral reef and marine life. There are also shipwrecks and a moat wall waiting to be discovered below the water's surface. The park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, but camping is available on Garden Key.
Here you'll also find Fort Jefferson, which was used a prison during the Civil War.
Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica
Misty mountains disappear underneath lush tropical forest, while majestic waterfalls tumble from towering cliffs in the distance. Volcanoes sleep on the rim of canyons, while the surface of lakes bubble at boiling temperatures. This other world paradise is Morne Trois Pitons National Park on the island of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles.
The centerpiece of the park is Morne Trois Pitons, a volcano that reaches 4,402 feet high— part of the highest mountains in the Caribbean. Other landmarks include hot springs, three freshwater lakes, and Boiling Lake, which, as its name suggests, reaches boiling temperatures near the center.
Travelers can reach Dominica via air from Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, or St. Martin.
Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Unleash your inner Khaleesi on Komodo Island and discover the real-life Komodo dragons. These reptilian giants traverse the mossy mountains, wandering down to sandy beaches that outline stunning blue waters. The island, part of the Indonesian archipelago, was developed a national park in 1980 with the purpose of preserving its mythological resident, the Komodo dragon.
Today the park has been expanded to protect all of its wildlife on both land and sea. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and comprises three islands: Komodo, Rinca, and Padar, which are between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Divers love Komodo for its epic dive sites, as well.
The best time to visit Komodo is April through December. The island has a few resorts, as well. Most people visit the park through Labuan Bajo in Flores or Bima in Sumbawa. But the main point of departure is Bali.
Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
Prepare to visit the ultimate Mighty Kingdom. The Galapagos Islands are some of the most sought after islands in the world for biodiversity and sheer natural beauty. Six hundred miles off the coast of mainland Ecuador, there are 13 major islands and seven smaller ones that make up the archipelago.
Originally the islands were formed from volcanic rock, and today is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. Charles Darwin was one of the first to visit the islands to study its natural history. It was from this journey that he began to form his theory of evolution.
See albatrosses, Sally Lightfoot crabs, Frigate birds, sea lions, and more. Another selling point of the Galapagos? It has year-round good weather so there's truly no bad time to visit. Flights depart from Guayaquil or Quito daily.
Kerama Shoto National Park, Japan
Off the coast of Okinawa is a tropical island paradise. The Kerama Islands are jewels of Japan that rise up from crystal clear Caribbean-esque waters. Forty miles from Okinawa, Kerama Islands feel like a completely different world.
There are more than 30 islets and a few rock reefs that make up the entire park. It's one of the best spots in Japan for whale watching and snorkeling. Ferries stop on the larger islands: Tokashiki, Zamami, and Aka.
On these islands, and the smaller surrounding ones, explore local villages, walking routes, mountain hikes, and beautiful brightly colored flora.
National Park of American Samoa
Dubbed the "Islands of Sacred Earth," it's not a stretch of the imagination to see why. This park is one of the most unique parks in the United States — probably because it's located nowhere near the United States.
American Samoa is a territory in the South Pacific, and the national park is nothing short of an iconic tropical paradise. More than 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, this is the most remote national park in the country, so bear in mind that means usual U.S. Parks services should not be expected. Instead, visitors will find an authenticity unparalleled anywhere else, from remote villages to coral sand beaches, and rare flora and fauna.
The park is on three islands, Tutuila, Ta'u, and Ofu, all of which are wrapped with tropical rainforest. Another 4,000 acres of the national park is underwater. Currently the only way to reach American Samoa is via Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu, or from flights via Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.
Keppel Bay Islands National Park, Australia
Surrounded by the magnificent Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, these 13 islands off the coast of Queensland not only form Keppel Bay Islands National Park, but are the home to the indigenous Konami-Woppaburra people.
Highlights of the park include private beaches and bays, mesmerizing cliffs, and playful sea turtles that breed around the islands. Seven of the Keppel Islands are outfitted for camping, and others have picnic facilities for those who plan to make it a day trip.
Prince Edward Island National Park, Canada
Purple skies, cobalt water, and fiery orange rock are just a few of the visuals that you'll take away from Prince Edward Island National Park. The park sits on the island's North Shore, with seven beaches and more than 25 miles of hiking and biking trails.
A portion of the park, which was added in 1998, has archaeological findings that date back 10,000 years. Lovers of the childhood book series "Anne of Green Gables" can explore the world of author Lucy Maud Montgomery, as well, as the island was the inspiration for the beloved series.
Explore Green Gables Heritage Place, which has the original house of Lucy Maud Montgomery, gardens, farm, and a historic forest trail.
Lucayan National Park, Grand Bahama, Bahamas
Want the beauty of the Bahamas minus all the people? Skip the tourist trail and head to this spectacular slice of natural beauty.
Lucayan National Park, on Grand Bahama, is a 40 acre park that has one of the longest underground cave systems in the world, which can be viewed via a short footpath. Diving is only granted with specific permission so as to preserve the ecosystem.
Explore the secretive mangrove forest by kayak, or lay out on the pristine Gold Rock Beach. The park is 25 miles east of Freeport.