There are 30 national parks across Vietnam dotted from north to south, coast to border region. A lot of time and money has been invested into regenerating forests and safeguarding biodiversity, especially after the destruction of the 1960s and 70s.
Some incredible community-run initiatives have been established to bring ecotourism to Vietnam’s wild spaces and showcase the cultural treasures of the ethnic minority communities who have lived in these remote corners for centuries.
From hiking, caving and kayaking to easy walks, visiting conservation centers and experiencing village hospitality, Vietnam national parks offer some of the most rewarding travel experiences in the region.
If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, I highly recommend working at least a few of these national parks into your itinerary.
Most are easy to reach from the big cities, while the few hidden gems that require a bit more effort are well worth traveling off the beaten path for.
1. CUC PHUONG NATIONAL PARK
Cuc Phuong is the oldest national park in Vietnam, having been established in 1962. If you’re visiting Northern Vietnam, it’s an easy addition to your itinerary and a perfect stop if you want to get lost in nature.
The park lies roughly 60 km east of Ninh Binh, so it’s no surprise that this protected area is among Ninh Binh’s top day trips. The unmatched scenery here ranges from prehistoric caves and ancient trees, to manicured botanical gardens and a few wildlife conservation centers.
It’s also possible to visit Cuc Phuong on an extended day trip from Hanoi. However, an overnight excursion with jungle trekking and wildlife spotting is much more rewarding.
The landscape here combines dense tropical forest and limestone grottoes, making it a cool and refreshing place to trek. Cuc Phuong is a great destination for animal lovers, housing the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre and Turtle Conservation Centre.
Kids will love discovering the Cave of Prehistoric Man, an excavation site where some of the earliest discoveries of human habitation in Vietnam were made.
2. PU LUONG NATURE RESERVE
Pu Luong Nature Reserve is a true hidden gem in Northern Vietnam. Over the past few years, it’s found its way into the spotlight as one of the country’s top ecotourism destinations.
Sustainable tourism is well structured here. Ethnic minority communities who dwell inside the park are actively involved in homestays and trekking, and there are many programs in place to protect the flora and fauna.
Pu Luong is a charming landscape of misty mountains, hamlets with wooden houses, and grand terraced rice fields. Bamboo water wheels that bring life-giving water from the streams to the paddies are a classic feature of the park. No matter which corner you visit, you’re in for some spectacular and quintessentially ‘rural Vietnam’ views.
Pu Luong is a bit more difficult to access, so it retains its off-the-beaten-track feel. Accommodation in the park ranges from humble village homestays to luxury eco-lodges – the ideal place to relax after a day spent hiking through the rice terraces or rafting down the park’s Cham river.
3. BA BE NATIONAL PARK
Tucked away in the far northern province of Bac Kan, roughly 230 km from Hanoi or two-thirds of the way between the capital and Ha Giang, Ba Be is the largest natural lake in Vietnam.
The lake and surrounding national park boasts an amazing ecosystem of fauna and flora. An estimated 65 species of mammals and more than 1,260 species of birds call this sublime slice of forest home. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most popular birding sites in the country.
Floating on the lake at dusk with views of the park’s quaint villages, rising peaks and plateaus is incredibly moving. As well as cultural encounters (the area is home to many ethnic minority groups), visitors to the national park can take boat trips to explore the lake, hike through the vast rainforests that edge the water, or even cycle around to take in the beautiful panorama.
For a unique experience of Ba Be National Park, set aside at least three days for a caving and hill-tribe trekking tour.
4. CAT BA NATIONAL PARK
Located off the coast of Hai Phong in Lan Ha Bay (adjacent to Halong Bay), Cat Ba is the largest of the 367 islands that make up the Cat Ba archipelago. The area is synonymous with boat trips and water activities – but not many people realize the island also features a leafy national park in its interior.
Limestone mountains, deep caves and mangrove forests set against a backdrop of jade-green waters makes Cat Ba National Park one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam. Trekking or mountain biking is the best way to soak up the views and see the wildlife, including the critically endangered Cat Ba Langur, which is only found on the island.
Accommodation inside the park is limited, so it’s best to stay near the port. From here, you can enjoy the other activities Cat Ba has to offer, including kayaking on the Gulf of Tonkin and climbing Ngu Lam peak (the view is simply mind-blowing).
Cat Ba is a beguiling destination for any Vietnam Tour if you want an insight into local life and access to a quieter, less-touristy alternative sailing route to Halong Bay.
5. BA VI NATIONAL PARK
Nestled 60 km west of Hanoi, Ba Vi is a perfect place for a quick city getaway. The park is important to local history and spirituality – inside, you’ll find an 11th century shrine at Tan Vien Peak, which in Vietnamese mythology is the home of Son Tinh, the mountain god.
There’s wonderful trekking inside the park, and depending on the season, birdwatchers can catch a glimpse of some of the 115 bird species that nest in Ba Vi. The forest here also serves as a home to 23 rare animals mentioned on the Red List.
Ba Vi is popular with local families but not really on the radar for foreign visitors. While it can be a fun motorbike trip from Hanoi, it’s a good idea to go with a guide if you want to make the most of your visit. Make a weekend of it by spending the night in one of the exquisite lodges within the park.