Once upon a time (1872), in a faraway place (Washington, DC), there lived a mediocre looking prince named Ulysses S Grant. He was the President of the United States. At this time and a bit before, there was a group of people that had explored the Yellowstone area of Wyoming and convinced congress and the president that the area needed to be protected and also made accessible to the American people. With that (and a whole lot more work) Yellowstone became the first national park in the world. Following the creation of a national park in the United States, other countries followed suit and started to set aside lands as such too, Australia being the first with Royal National Park.
As Yellowstone grew in popularity and its importance became clearer, more and more public lands were set aside as parks, monuments, seashores and more. Today, there are 59 National Parks in the United States and its territories, with 408 sites managed by the National Park Service.
Why is this important – the earth is ours to protect and enjoy; the National Park Service (NPS) manages and protects super special places. Because of the NPS, we get to enjoy many places just as they’ve been for thousands of years (or with minimal human impact). Enjoyment. That sounds selfish. It’s not. When we talk about enjoying a National Park, we’re talking about seeing our kids in nature, being awed by wildlife all around them. We’re talking about teaching our kids to be stewards of the land and to understand its importance. We’re also talking about getting away from city life and bringing some calm back into our worlds.
How can we enjoy the Parks – we have found that the best way to enjoy and really understand each National Park is by camping and hiking. Not every place manned by the NPS is a park for camping, but there are plenty that are. Many National Monuments provide excellent hiking trails or boat tours to get you into the thick of the park. There are National Park Lodges for those that don’t camp. There are tours into the parks leaving from major cities, giving the day-tripper access when they mightn’t normally try to venture out. The possibilities are endless when it comes to finding a way to enjoy the Parks.
Our favorite parks – it’s a difficult task when somebody asked what the most amazing sight we’ve seen is, or where the most beautiful sunset happens. It’s the same with a favorite National Park. For me it’s Denali NP in Alaska. For Chris, it’s Glacier NP in Montana. For the kids, well, Olympic National Park is close to us…and it has beaches.
Below is our list of top ten Parks/NPS sites and why.
Yellowstone National Park – the wildlife and geothermic activity cannot be compared to anything. You’re immersed in herds or bison and elk. You watch the earth spew boiling water 100 feet into the air. The canyons, valleys and lakes are unlike any other. It’s amazing. Take a look at our recommendations for geysers, wildlife, picnics and camping tips: family album blog posts
Glacier National Park – a story to explain: we were hiking in Swiftcurrent Pass once and had to decide if we wanted to walk towards a bighorn sheep ram that was on our trail, stay put as a mother bear and two cubs came closer, or run down the trail towards two bull moose. Such a decision. It really brought out the survivalists in us. We got to take the kids there in July of 2015 and had more wonderful experiences…even though we were trapped in one portion of the park due to fires. We have some great stories and tips though: family album blog posts
Zion National Park – until you’ve been walking along the canyon floor and been caught in a momentary rainstorm and then seen hundreds of pristine waterfalls appear out of nowhere, you can’t understand. We’ll be venturing here in May of 2016; blog posts and pics to follow!
Denali National Park – I’ve gotten to see the tundra come alive, bloom, turn red and then get covered in snow all in a few months. I’ve seen fox families playing in a river bed while a herd of caribou meanders by. I’ve seen a lynx running through the snow ten feet from me. It’s all too much to believe until you’re there.
Kenai Fjords National Park – Have you ever been looking off in the distance when a humpback whale just jumped out of the water and disappeared? Have you made eye contact with a family of dolphins as they play next to your boat? Watched a glacier calve off into the sea? That’s what happens here.
Olympic National Park – One day you’re hiking on top of the world, looking all of the way to Canada across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The next day you’re relaxing on the beach, lying against ancient driftwood. And then you spend a day strolling through the rainforest, looking for gnomes around every corner. It’s so diverse. family album blog post
Yosemite National Park – Ansel Adams captured so many breathtaking photographs of Yosemite. In person, the sights are the same, untouched. The rock walls, waterfalls and wildlife all show pristine beauty is… and then you leave and compare your daily view to it… you shouldn’t do that.
The National Mall – in general you may not FEEL patriotic on a daily basis. Being in the nation’s capitol and seeing the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building (Congress) and the many memorials really does stir a sense of country and kin. It may sound cheesy, but it’s very true.
Martin Luther King Junior National Historic Site – if you didn’t grow up in the United States or learn our history, you might not know who MLK was. Every city has a Martin Luther King Jr boulevard or something, and it’s because of the work he did and the symbol he became. Visiting this site and the neighborhood he lived in really brings the Civil Rights movement alive, and if you’re not facing it daily, you gain a small understanding of what’s gone on and going on.
Mount Rainier National Park – finishing our list with Mt Rainier is fitting. It’s visible from at least half of Washington State and is so daunting when you’re at its base. The hiking trails and waterfalls are beautiful. The lodges are welcoming. The mountain is a constant reminder than we’re living at the mercy of nature. family album
If you’ve got a favorite park that you think should be on this list or questions, ping us and we’ll be sure to answer directly or with a future post.
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”