The International A-List
|Trekking at the rooftop of the world (Corbis)|
This park's literal highpoint certainly gets enough attention, but the parkland surrounding Everest should not be overshadowed. In the heart of the Himalayan highlands, Sagarmatha National Park contains three out of the world's ten highest peaks (Everest, Lhotse, and Cho Oyu) and unfolds from a relatively measely 9,335 feet to the world-topping 29,035-foot tip of Everest. Two- to three-mile-long retreating glaciers and deep, vibrant valleys complete the picture. The rugged terrain and high altitude limit the park's visitors to mostly experienced trekkers, and this relative inaccessibility makes the views and summits all the more rewarding. UNESCO granted the park World Heritage status in 1979 for its wilderness (the park protects rare animals like snow leopards and the Himalayan red panda), as well as its Sherpa culture. Sherpas, revered as some of the strongest and most agile climbers in the world, view these great mountains as the realm of gods and goddesses; ascents were considered blasphemous, but these days superstition is infused with an equal dose of enterprising pragmatism.
Gateway City: From Kathmandu fly to Lukla. Then it's a two-day walk.
Size/Acreage: 283,680 acres
When to Go: Sagarmatha is warmest and driest in the spring; monsoon season makes travel difficult from June through September.
Prime Activities: Trekking, climbing, camping
Inside Scoop: Tengboche monks perform the Dumje Festival (late June to early July) in Namche Bazaar and Khumjung (a monastery that also offers resplendent views of Everest on clear days).
More on Sagarmatha:
Trek to Everest Base Camp (from Away.com)
Nepal's Dept. of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation
Yellow Dragon Scenic Area/Huanglong (China)
Yellow Dragon's valley is veiled in a calcium-carbonate sediment that creates the illusion of a golden dragon winding its way through a ravine. Beyond the glowing valley, the park's 270 square miles encapsulate snow-covered peaks, waterfalls, gorges, primeval forests, and hot springs. It gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 1992 for its abundant forest ecosystems and population of endangered animals, including the giant panda and the Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey. The park, located in the northwest of Sichuan Province, is only accessible from May until late autumn due to heavy snowfall.
Gateway City: Chengdu (northwest Sichuan Province)
Size/Acreage: 172,980 acres
When to Go: Peak season climate-wise is from July through September, the warmest time, but also its rainiest. Spring and fall bring drier conditions and more comfortable daytime temps, but night can be very cold.
Prime Activities: Hiking, wildlife viewing
Inside Scoop: The park's Xishen Pabu, or "Body Washing Waterfall," is said to have healing properties for bathers (especially to cure infertility).
More on Huanglong:
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication