Enjoy incredible stargazing above the red rock formations of Wadi Rum © Elena Liseykina / Getty Images
When you connect to the land, you can connect more deeply to a place. Although Jordan is small, opportunities to experience the culture, learn the history and engage with local people through outdoor adventures are plentiful.
You can trek through forests in the north, splash and climb through canyons near the Dead Sea, spot endangered wildlife less than two hours from the capital city, herd goats with a Bedouin shepherd in the largest national park, admire the architectural feats of Petra and cross the vast desert dunes of Wadi Rum all within Jordan’s borders.
Here are six of the best national parks in Jordan.
Yarmouk Forest Reserve
Best national park off the beaten track
If you’re wondering whether Jordan has forests, you’ll find your answer in several tree-filled reserves in the northern part of the country. Yarmouk Forest Reserve is the most northern national park in Jordan where grassy mountains are speckled with the country’s national tree, the deciduous oak, and you’re afforded incomparable panoramic views of nearby Syria, Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.
Almost 30% of Jordan’s birds make their home here, so this national park is also good for birdwatchers. Springtime is the ultimate treat in northern Jordan when brightly colored wildflowers bloom.
To get a full picture of the history of this region, enlist the expertise of a Baraka Destinations local guide. While Yarmouk Forest Reserve is off the beaten path for most travelers, it is in close proximity to Umm Qais. where you can also join locally led experiences such as foraging and beekeeping as well as visit the Greco-Roman ruins of Gadara.
If you don’t want to choose just one forest reserve on your trip to Jordan, you can pass through a few on the Umm Qais to Ajloun section of the Jordan Trail.
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Keep an eye out for Sinai agama (pictured), Arabian oryx and birdlife in Jordan's national parks © Cat Downie / Shutterstock
Shaumari Wildlife Reserve
Best national park for wildlife
An easy day trip from Amman, the 22-sq-km (8.5-sq-mile) Shaumari Wildlife Reserve is home to some of Jordan’s most endangered species including Dorcas gazelles and Arabian oryx.
The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) initially established this conservation project – the country’s first wildlife protection reserve – in an effort to breed and reintroduce highly endangered and locally extinct animals. Now, with the addition of a rescue program and visitor center, local and international visitors have the opportunity to learn more about the biodiversity of the area and see some of the region's rarest species. In addition to the endangered wildlife on site, nearly 200 species of flora, six species of carnivores including the jackal and striped hyena, and birds such as the imperial eagle have been spotted here.
Stop by the visitor center to view wildlife in the enclosures before setting out on a jeep safari with a knowledgeable local guide. If you’re looking for kid-friendly activities to do in Jordan, Shaumari Wildlife Reserve should be on your list. Contact the RSCN or stop by Wild Jordan in Amman to arrange a tour.
Mujib Biosphere Reserve
Best national park for canyoning
The 220-sq-km (85-sq-mile) Mujib Biosphere Reserve, located near the Dead Sea, is best known for Wadi Mujib, the gorge that cuts through its heart. The rugged terrain, colorful cliffs and fresh water that flows through Wadi Mujib make the “Grand Canyon of Jordan” a popular place for adventurous travelers and locals. Choose from shorter self-guided trails or longer RSCN-guided hikes (participants must be 18 and older because of the challenging terrain and water flow). Be prepared to get wet: you’ll be clambering, scrambling, sliding and splashing your way around this natural waterpark.
If Wadi Mujib is on your list, you’ll want to visit Jordan in the spring, summer or early fall. Winter rains can cause flash flooding, and the site is closed during the wet and colder months.
Beyond Wadi Mujib, the reserve is also significant for its biodiversity. More than 400 species of plants and 24 species of mammals are found here. Mujib Biosphere Reserve’s location along the Rift Valley, an important migration route between Europe and Africa, means that many resident and migratory birds (more than 150 species) also live and pass through here.
Hike in the desert of Wadi Feynan, part of the Dana Biosphere Reserve © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet
Dana Biosphere Reserve
Best national park for immersive experiences
If you’re looking for a place that brings together all that makes Jordan special – epic views, archeological sites, hiking, history, ecology, Arab culture and cuisine – head for Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest national park. Visit Dana Village, occupied since around 4000 BCE, where you can see restored traditional stone houses and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Wadi Dana (and a home-cooked Jordanian meal at Dana Tower Hotel) before descending into the valley. Tread lightly and keep your eyes peeled; 36 reptile species and more than 40 species of mammals (over half of which are endangered) including ibex, sand cats and caracals, traverse these lands.
The Feynan area within Dana Biosphere Reserve possesses a rich and long history and one of the longest sequences of human settlement on the planet. Take a guided tour of the archeological ruins and learn from locals – how to shepherd goats, make coffee and bread over a fire, and identify medicinal plants – through Bedouin- and community-led experiences arranged by Feynan Ecolodge.
A section of the Jordan Trail also passes through Dana Biosphere Reserve, so if you’re searching for some of the best hikes in Jordan, whether a one-day hike or a multi-day hike, you’ll find some here.
The ancient city of Petra attracts around one million visitors annually © Anastasiia Shavshyna / Getty Images
Best national park for history
Arguably Jordan’s most famous national park, this ancient “Rose Red City” cut from sandstone rocks attracts around one million visitors annually. The appeal is obvious from the moment you start down the Siq trail, where cliff carvings, temples and what remains of the Nabateans’ innovative irrigation systems whisper stories of an ancient civilization.
Petra is massive. Avoid the overwhelm of racing around upon arrival and instead, make a plan beforehand and consider getting a multi-day Petra pass (or opt for the Jordan Pass which includes up to three days entrance into Petra) to allow ample time for wandering the unexpected sites and trails as well.
One of the best ways to see Petra is through the eyes of someone born here. Book a guided tour through Experience Jordan or Global Tribes for a chance to dive deeper into the history and culture of the place and people.
As well as hiking, camping and stargazing, you can book a guided rock-climbing tour at Wadi Rum © outcast85 / Getty Images
Wadi Rum Protected Area
Best national park for stargazing
You’ll be seeing red when you visit Wadi Rum Protected Area where the rugged rock formations and rust-colored dunes transport you to another planet. Although 4×4 tours are popular in this national park, if you’re able to go by foot and off the well-trodden trail, you’ll have an opportunity to slow down, get away from the crowds, and experience the balance of strength and stillness here.
The desert landscapes are mesmerizing, but it is still a wild place, and the weather and terrain can be extreme. Bring plenty of water and sun protection, and unless you’re highly experienced in navigating desert conditions, hire a local guide. Rock-climbers can book guided tours with local-owned Shabab Sahra, and hikers can arrange multi-day treks that cross through Wadi Rum along the Petra to Wadi Rum or Petra to Red Sea sections of the Jordan Trail.
Wadi Rum is Jordan’s best national park for stargazing, so plan to stay at least one night and enjoy a Bedouin barbecue, storytelling and songs around the campfire, and a good night’s sleep under the stars.