2. National Park of American Samoa
The only U.S. national park south of the equator
Graced with magnificent sand beaches and pristine coral reefs, bordered by tropical rainforest islands ringed with impressive cliffs, the National Park of American Samoa is one of the most beautiful of the parks. The only reason this paradise is one of the least-visited national parks is that it is the most distant of all. American Samoa, the southernmost U.S. territory, is in the Southern Hemisphere and right in the center of Polynesia. Getting there from California required a 10-hour flight with a stopover midway in Hawaii. You will not find the usual facilities in this little-developed park, but intrepid explorers will discover that it has much to offer despite its small size and will enjoy the opportunities to learn about Samoan culture. Since American Samoa is 14 degrees south of the equator, a tropical climate prevails, with warm and humid weather year-round, and day and night temperatures ranging from 80° to 90° Fahrenheit.
The park comprises parts of three islands: Tutuila, Ta‘u and Ofu. Tutuila, served by a few commercial flights, is the only island with common travel amenities such as motels and car rentals. A 7-mile round-trip trail takes you to the summit of Mount Alava. At sea level, Route 006 enters the national park area past the village of Afono. In the early morning, I stopped along that scenic road for views over the water from the bluff. At the end of the road, after a short stroll, I found a beach with large, round pebbles and a closer view of the lush sea-cliffs of Pola Island and returned there for a great sunrise.
The two groups of Manu‘a Islands, Ta‘u and Ofu-Olosega, are 60 miles east of Tutuila, and getting there can be an adventure. Tau is the wildest of the three islands. Your reward for reaching Ofu is one of the most beautiful tropical beaches you’ll ever see, bordered by a shallow lagoon with one of the most pristine coral reefs in the South Pacific. What made my visit to this crown jewel of the park such a unique experience is that I had the mile-long, pristine South Beach to myself.