8 of Italy's Top National Parks
Although Italy’s national parks can’t rival the size of those in North America, they can still compete for grandeur, offering visitors a chance to experience nature not too far from the country’s iconic cities and famous landmarks. Whether it’s UNESCO-listed wine-growing islands, trails rolling through the Italian Alps, or royal hunting grounds turned wildlife preserves, Italy’s national parks are truly unique. Although Italy has 25 national parks, these are our top eight favorites, from Sardinia to Trentino–Alto Adige to Calabria and beyond.
Parco Nazionale Isola de Pantelleria
Halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, the island of Pantelleria is home to Italy’s youngest national park. Agricultural traditions like vite ad alberello (special grape vine cultivation methods performed in harsh climatic conditions) have earned the park UNESCO World Heritage status. Traverse the windswept landscapes dotted with terraced vineyards and dammusi, lava rock houses erected for millennia. Hike or mountain bike along old donkey paths, tour markets hawking bounties of local produce, explore Bronze Age funereal archeological sites, and bathe in the restorative mud and waters of Lago di Venere, a crater lake fed by volcanic hot springs.
Related: 8 Underrated Wine Regions in Italy That Should Be on Your Radar
Parco Nazionale dell’ Asinara
Named after the asini bianchi (white donkeys) that call this island park their home, Asinara is a former quarantine station and maximum security prison that’s now a national park and marine reserve. Reach Asinara on boat charters or private catamaran cruises from the Sardinian coast to explore the haven of protected beaches, historic ruins, and waterside hiking trails. Once on the island, visitors have limited transportation options but can explore independently or with guided tours organized by the park itself. Those who are feeling more daring can climb aboard 4WD vehicles for day-long, off-road excursions.
Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso
Valle d'Aosta Torino
Italy’s first king created the Gran Paradiso royal hunting grounds to protect endangered alpine ibex. Eventually, those grounds became Italy’s first national park, set today primarily within the Aosta Valley region. The park is an aptly-named paradise of hiking trails, mountain villages, and protected wildlife—with prospering ibex herds thanks to the royal decree made nearly two centuries ago. In summer, visitors can see native flora and butterflies on guided walks through the Paradisia Alpine Botanic Garden (Giardino Alpino Paradisia).
Parco Nazionale del Gargano
Gargano is the “spur” on the “boot” of Italy, a peninsula that juts out into the Adriatic Sea. The area’s secluded beaches and coves are best explored by boat, but the main draw is the Umbra Forest, complete with millennial beech trees and a deer reserve in the heart of the national park. Guided hiking trips depart from Foggia or Bari, while wine-tasting tours cover vineyards in Vieste at the foot of the forest. Travelers interested in easing off their hiking boots can explore the alleyways and cobblestone streets of Vico del Gargano, known as the village of love.
Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio, e Molise
Abruzzo remains relatively untouched by tourism—which is why it’s home to what some say is Italy’s last remaining area of true wilderness. Endangered Italian (or Apennine) wolves, Marsican brown bears, and native chamois prowl through Abruzzo National Park, which, together with the nearby Gran Sasso and Maiella parks, comprise more protected land than anywhere else in Italy. Tours of Abruzzo from Rome tend to visit the park, but travelers are better served by posting up in L’Aquila or near the park headquarters in Pescasseroli to explore independently. Magical moonlit horseback rides over the park’s bygone sheepherding trails are available year-round.
Parco Nazionale del Pollino
Cosenza, Matera, and Potenza
Straddling the Pollino massif between Basilicata and Calabria, this national park is a sanctuary to the eldest tree in Europe, a Heldreich’s pine thought to be on planet earth for roughly 1200 years. A UNESCO-listed geopark and World Heritage Site, Pollino is a playing field of boundless gorges, waterfalls, and rivers seemingly perfect for canyoning and river rafting. Civita is a lovely hill town within the park founded by 15th-century Albanian refugees. It’s also where a one-of-a-kind falconry center offers educational workshops on native birds of prey.
Parco Nazionale dell'Arcipelago di La Maddalena
La Maddalena, Sassari
Established in 1996, this national park comprises seven islands and a handful of islets off Sardinia’s northeastern coast. Outside of the stray resort and minor settlement, La Maddalena is the only inhabited island in the archipelago—the park’s last remaining resident was famously evicted in 2020. Beaches and watersports are the games in town here: snorkeling, sailing, and boating trips depart in droves from Palau across the water on the Costa Smeralda.
Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio
A trip to Italy isn’t complete without visiting the magnificent Alps. Bordering Switzerland to the east and the Dolomite Mountains to the west, Stelvio covers roughly 1,400 square miles (3625 square kilometers) of the Trentino-Alto Adige region (and some of Lombardy), making it one of the largest protected areas in the Alps mountain chain. Laced with marked trails, sentieri, between mountain huts, rifugi, the park is popular with hikers looking for alternatives to the strenuous Alta Via trails in the neighboring Dolomites. Monte Cevedale guards over glacier lakes several thousand meters above sea level that are best explored on day-long trekking tours.