U.S. national parks and the spectacular vistas they preserve have been called “America’s best idea.” Four million online viewers saw why in a 2014 photo contest.

The Share the Experience contest is sponsored by the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money and support for the government-run National Park Service.

Eligible amateur U.S. photographers submitted 22,000 images in the 2014 contest, and the foundation announced the winners April 30.

(C. Teller, NPF Share the Experience 2014)

Cameron Teller’s portrait of a polar bear mother and cub in the stark landscape of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge took first place. Her photograph will be featured on an annual pass used by 500,000 visitors to federally owned recreational lands.

The image is timely, coming as the United States has taken chairmanship of the eight-government Arctic Council. At the same time, scientific researchers and the public increasingly recognize the region as a unique ecosystem and an indicator of Earth’s changing climate.

Californian Eric DaBreo won second place with a view of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge links a thriving city to a recreation area, home to forests, beaches and historical sites. The photo demonstrates how urban dwellers can remain connected to natural areas.

The third-place image, an American bison in a mountain landscape, captures the country’s sometimes tempestuous relationship with nature. Jordan Moore of Texas submitted a photo of a lone bison in front of Yellowstone Lake, flanked by snow-capped mountains.

(J. Moore, NPF Share the Experience 2014)

Massive herds of bison thundered across Western plains in the 19th century until overzealous hunters decimated the population, and early settlers plowed and fenced the land the buffalo roamed to survive. The hunting stopped more than a century ago, and a number of groups are now working to conserve and restore American bison populations. Their sparse numbers remind us that reckless land use can cause irreversible damage.

See other top national park images of 2014 and earlier winning images from the Share the Experience contest.

And if you’re inspired to visit the United States yourself, there’s plenty of information online to help you make preparations,  choose travel destinations and apply for tourist visas.