I’m very grateful for the traveling I have gotten to do and the ability to see so much of our amazingly beautiful country! I am very impressed with how well our National Parks are maintained and the wonderful programs that they offer. I am slowly checking off the parks I’ve been to and hope to one day see them all.
So far I’ve been to:
- Hawai’i Volcanoes
- The Grand Canyon
- Carlsbad Caverns
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison
- Great Sand Dunes
- Rocky Mountain
- Mesa Verde
- Grand Teton
…And also the Dinosaur National Monument
One of the things I’ve recently found is how much fun becoming a junior ranger is. The program is designed for kids usually 12 and under, however it’s actually a lot of fun to do as an adult! All you have to do is ask a park ranger for a booklet at a visitor’s center. Many of the national parks have very interesting geological formations and the junior ranger booklets can teach you about how the park was formed through fun activities. Mesa Verde National Park is known for it’s cliff dwellings and I learned all about what the people who had lived in them ate, wore and what kind of tools and art they had created. Even though all of that information is always on signs and in visitor’s centers, it’s easy to pass over it without thoroughly reading everything. The booklet is a great way to retain the information because you have to find answers to all the questions! Once you complete the booklet you get to turn it back into a park ranger and you get sworn in as a junior park ranger! This can be quite comical to do as an adult because sometimes you have to promise to clean your room and eat your vegetables…
It’s always fun to start a collection, and something I’ve been collecting that is relatively inexpensive are patches! I always pick one up from the visitor’s centers and anywhere else that I happen to see one even if it isn’t a national park. They are the perfect memorabilia for traveling because they are lightweight, easy to store and usually only cost between $3-$5.
If you are interested in visiting a national park here are some tips!
- If you know you will be visiting 4 or more parks or national monuments in a year you should pick up a national parks pass! You can purchase one at a national parks entrance, online at www.store.usgs.gov or at your local REI! They cost $80 and will let you into any park or monument for a year from your date of purchase. It pays for itself in about 4 visits.
- If you want to camp in a national park know that you are going to need to make reservations on the government website many months in advance unless you are going in the off-season. It usually costs about $15 a night for a camp spot with amenities and some parks have hotels or cabins you can rent as well. If you are like me and don’t always know when you will be somewhere, you can always get on www.freecampsites.net to find the closest free campsite to the park. You can usually find something that isn’t too far!
- Know that you can’t have your dog with you on any hiking trails in a national park. So plan accordingly so that you don’t have to miss out on some great hiking!
- Always have plenty of water and make sure you have a full tank of gas. Some parks have a couple stores and gas stations but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
- While it’s usually worth seeing the main attractions, I like to get away from the touristy spots and do some back country hiking. If you are into overnight backpacking you can pick up a permit from a park ranger to do multiday hikes. Or if you want to just know a good hike for your abilities talk to a park ranger about what might be good for you. Also, REI just came out with a new national parks app that has all the best hikes, gems and maps for many of the parks so download it for free and do some research before you go!
- Lots of parks are great to visit in the off season. You can check calendars online to see when the off season starts for individual parks. Parks in Utah like Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches are all better to see around fall and winter anyways because of the heat in the summer. It is always nice to have parks be less crowded and get to have more of that beautiful nature to yourself!
- Always make sure to pack out what you pack in and leave no trace! Don't take rocks or pick up flowers, stay on the trail and throw trash into trash cans! Respect our parks, they get a lot of traffic and we want to make sure they stay as pristine as possible.
I really encourage everyone to get out and make a trip out to whatever national park you would like to visit. I hope you enjoy the pictures and get out to take some of your own! Also make sure to check out the national parks service site for details on individual parks and planning your visit!