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18 Wild Places to Fall in Love

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By National Wildlife Federation Staff

In honor of Valentine's Day, National Wildlife Federation staff members shared favorite wild places and hidden gems—from national parks to national forests to wildlife refuges.

As naturalist David Mizejewski said, "What a gift."

Not only do they inspire and amaze millions of visitors, America's wild public lands provide habitat for an extraordinary range of rare and vulnerable wildlife species.

Explore some of these special places through the eyes of National Wildlife Federation naturalists, scientists and educators. Go ahead and fall in love!

1. Channel Islands National Park (California)

Island fox.Tim Coonan / National Park Service

My family has visited many national parks over the years, but one of my favorites is Channel Islands National Park off the southern California coast. It's a true gem for many reasons and since you can only get there by boat or small plane, it's one of the least visited national parks. Special memories from our day trip include taking a guided hike which led to stunning coastal views, along with a snorkeling adventure and several sightings of the island fox, only found on the Channel Islands.

—Kath Race, K-12 program coordinator, education

2. Mojave National Preserve (California)

Black-tailed jackrabbit at Mohave National Preserve.National Park Service

My favorite national park is the Mojave National Preserve, California. Why? Hole-in-the-Wall Rings Loop Trail and group campsite. It's a short hike, compared to most. Nevertheless, magic surrounds its trail and it's transformative. I remember my first visit, walking through a small valley and its walls filled with holes. Over millions of years, eruptions spewed layers of lava and uneven cooling and gases captured during the eruption formed the "holes." They make for great photos. Looking at pictures, I came to realize that I don't have a favorite park, but that I have a favorite realization. On my first visit, I came to realize the power of the wild. The wild brings us together and surrounds us like a warm embrace.

—Tony Bautista, California environmental education manager

3. Yosemite National Park (California)

Gallison Lake.Beth Pratt / National Wildlife Federation.

I call Yosemite my North Star—it's a place that always centers and guides me and has since I first stepped foot in the park almost thirty years ago. I worked in the park for over a decade, got engaged and married there and have explored much of its 1,169 square miles. Half Dome and Yosemite Falls usually dominate the scenic photos you see of the park, but the most beautiful place in Yosemite for me sits far in the backcountry, a lovely turquoise gem of a lake placed within the glacier-carved setting of the Cathedral Range. I've never known such absolute peace as when I relaxed in the embrace of its soft meadows, gazing at the rich blue Sierra sky and listening to the chirping of my favorite critter, the pika, echo off the rocks.

—Beth Pratt, California executive director

4. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Hawai'i)

Masked boobies, a species unique to Papahānaumokuākea.Kaleomanuiwa Wong / NOAA

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the largest protected areas in the world—encompassing 583,000 square miles of ocean waters, including 10 islands—and there's no other place like it. The Native Hawaiian people consider it the place where life begins. It is also part of the seascape used by wayfarers in traditional ocean voyaging by canoe. As a protected area, it helps to preserve top predators such as sharks and jacks. It includes the migratory routes of many threatened and endangered marine species, including whales, Hawaiian monk seals, sharks, sea turtles and seabirds. Its rich biodiversity is amazing and new species are discovered every time scientists explore the area. It is truly a world heritage site set aside for our children and generations to come.

—Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of NWF affiliate Conservation Council for Hawai'i

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