U. S. National Parks

I’m developing a plan to see all the national parks that I’ve always wanted to see. I kind of think that it has to be the next 10-12 years or never because by ‘see’ I mean to hike, explore, take photos, camp, and that sort of thing. I don’t know how many more years I will feel up to doing that, so I do feel some urgency. I actually felt this two years ago and planned on starting this journey then, but we all know what happened two years ago. And last year I sold my house and moved into another and that was about all I had the energy for until it was over at the end of September. So 2022 is my year to start this adventure.

So, where to start? Well, there are the National Parks that I have already been to; I have those checked off my list.

  • Big Bend National Park in Texas: been there a bunch of times and will go again.
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas: been there a couple of times.
  • Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri: been there a few times.
  • Petrified Forest (and Painted Desert) National Park in Arizona: been there, would like to go back.
  • Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona: been there, would like to go back.
  • Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming: been there, would like to go back.
  • Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming: been there, would like to go back.
  • Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas: been there.

Not a huge list, I know. I have driven through Rocky Mountain National Park years ago and I don’t remember it well aside from some Moose I saw, so I didn’t really think it belonged on the ‘been there, done that’ list. Doesn’t seem like a big list for a person my age, but this wasn’t really a priority until a few years ago as the kids started approaching adulthood.

Big Bend National Park

It turns out there are 64 National Parks in the United States (some are not included on the map farther up this page). There are also National Monuments, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, National Grasslands, National Seashores, National Historical Parks, National Recreation Areas, and probably National Other Things too, but I am focusing my attention on bona fide National Parks.

So, I divided them up into parks that I have a strong interest in visiting, parks that I might like to visit, and parks that I have little interest in visiting. My criteria were accessibility, crowdedness, hikeability, subjective interest in seeing. For instance, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Kobuk Valley National Park have no real park facilities and can only be accessed by chartered plane or dog sled or (?), so they are so low on the accessibility scale that I put them in the ‘little interest’ category. And a few of the parks are about a special cave, and I have no desire to go into a cave again; I will stay on this side of the grass for now. So, below is my list of National Parks that I have little to no interest in visiting:

  • Katmai National Park in Alaska: low accessibility, low hikeability
  • Kobuk Valley National Park in Alaska: low accessibility, low hikeability
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio: low interest
  • Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida: low accessibility, low hikeability, low interest
  • Isle Royale National Park in Michigan: low accessibility, low hikeability, low interest
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska: low accessibility, low hikeability
  • New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia: low hikeability, low interest
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico: low hikeability, low interest
  • Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota: low hikeability, low interest
  • Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky: low hikeability, low interest
  • Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota: low accessibility, low hikeability
  • Virgin Islands National Park in the U. S. Virgin Islands: low accessibility
  • Everglades National Park in Florida: not much interest
  • Biscayne National Park in Florida
  • American Samoa National Park in American Samoa: not really interested in going there.
  • Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana
  • Congaree National Park in South Carolina: not much interest

That takes seventeen more parks off the list and I am down to 39 parks.

Grand Teton National Park

Next I had to break the remaining parks down and put them in order of priority. I added another metric I call ‘groupability’, or ability to plan a reasonable trip to visit this park with another nearby. For instance, Yellowstone and Grand Teton actually border each other and you can hit both in a few days.

This left me with a list that probably seems odd. There are some great parks that I would love to see that are low on my list because they are crowded, like Yosemite National Park, or more difficult to get to like Denali National Park. I would eventually fight the crowds by going in the off-season I guess, but those difficult to reach isolated National Parks are going to take a special and well-planned trip. Anyway, I have a short list that should cover the next few years anyway and it may not seem like your biggest name National Parks but it is what I want to do.

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I just have a big desire to see the badlands. I rode past the badlands in South Dakota when I was a kid and stared out the window at them. The park isn’t crowded, has tons of hiking, has beautiful landscape and wildlife, and it is groupable with the next on my list.
  • Badlands National Park in South Dakota: Same reasons as above. These two parks are 5 hours apart by car, which is reasonable to me.

So, I am making a plan to make this trip this year. No more saying “one of these days”; I am making it happen. It will be a seven day trip, with camping and lots of hiking to do all of this and it sounds great. And I am doing the next one on my list this year as well.

  • Shenandoah National Park in Virginia: Living in Texas most of my life, I have never really seen the fall color that they get in other places. From what I have read this is a beautiful place to see it in autumn and I have family nearby. So, this is on my list for this year as well.
Painted Desert National Park

The rest of my list gets a little more murky as I don’t have definite plans, just vague ideas for 2023 and beyond and how that would work.

  • Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado: High interest and drivable from the one below.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado: High interest and drivable from the one above.
  • Glacier National Park in Montana: All by itself up there and kind of crowded, but I really want to go.
  • Acadia National Park in Maine: All by itself and kind of crowded, but I think I might like it in the early autumn.
  • Great Smokey Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina: by far the busiest national park, but I’d like to see it.
  • Denali National Park in Alaska: Who doesn’t want to see Denali? Not very hikable as far as I can tell.
  • The Utah national parks – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef: Zion is crowded, but it might make a good two week trip to see some of those.
  • The parks down the middle of California – Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Death Valley: I’d like to see at least a couple of those.
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska: seems like a hikers paradise, but you’d really have to want to get there. Maybe
  • Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska: I want to see fjords.
  • Olympic National Park in Washington. Don’t know if I could combine this trip with another park.
  • Then the Eighteen remaining

It’s a long list to push through, but if I can make it to another 20 national parks in the next ten or twelve years, I will probably be happy.

Yellowstone National Park

What do you think?

35 thoughts on “U. S. National Parks

  1. I like your well-thought out plan, and it seems doable.

    I have not been to any National Park. I had thought Valley Forge was a National Park, but it is a National Historic Park. So I’ve got my work cut out for me.

    Good luck with your travel plans for this year.

    As an aside, when I went to check on Valley Forge, I noticed that Wikipedia says there are 63 National Parks…

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    1. I have seen lists that include some and not others. Like White Sands is called a National Park some places and a National Monument in others. Just when I think I have it figured out, I see something different.
      The National Park website calls it a National Park.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like you’ve been very methodical in your planning. I’ll bet the Badlands of North and South Dakota would make a fun visit. If you ever get out to Joshua Tree, I’d be glad to show you a few hikes.

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  3. I have only been to four national parks and really enjoyed your thought process and the detail of your post.
    You are absolutely right about doing this while you can. I was an avid camper and hiker through about age 55, when the health of family members, and subsequently my own health, left me sidelined. Follow your quest while you can!
    I went to Yosemite at least once a year from early childhood until I was in my 30s. I even saw the old fire-fall (the one created with actual fire) on multiple occasions. Hiking the mist trail to Vernal Falls was a favorite. And the views from the relative peace of the meadows on the valley floor are stunningly beautiful. These days I just read John Muir for that experience.
    Death Valley is a tremendously beautiful place; I’ve camped and hiked there many times. I would love to see the great photos you would surely produce from a visit there.
    And breathing the Redwood-scented air in Sequoia National Park, and also the coastal Seqoia Sempervirens in California’s first state park, Big Basin Redwoods is an unparalleled experience. There is wonderful camping and hiking in both parks.
    I’ve never seen the Badlands of North and South Dakota, and will look forward to seeing them through your photos.
    Thanks for another great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I hope I make past 55. That number is coming up before too many more years.

      I would love to go see all the great NPs in California, but I am frankly a bit intimidated about going there as they seem so crowded by the raw numbers. But, they are on my list.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is great, glad you are putting together plans…gotta love the national parks.

    Plenty of outstanding hiking in or near Danali. We did 2-3 hikes there, good variety and beautiful views. I think one was called Triple Lakes. Mount Healy overlook was another good one. Bonus if the weather allows you to see Danali, it’s impressive.

    Also, will give a shout-out to Dry Tartugas, although go when it’s not oppressively hot. I enjoyed the adventure getting there, and camping overnight on an isolated island is an experience.

    Glacier is a jem. Definitely go see that for hiking and the going to the sun road. Bring bear spray.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll second Gabriel’s mention of Dry Tortugas. No, there’s isn’t great hiking (although you’ll log several miles walking inside and outside around the fort; it’s huge). But you’re a good photographer, and the opportunities there are endless. And I never stayed overnight, which I think would be a really cool experience.

    I can say from personal experience that there’s plenty of good, above-ground hiking at both Carlsbad (you like Big Bend, so you’d be happy hiking there) and Wind Cave, which fits in well with a visit to Badlands NP and has an outstanding, peaceful campground. I’ve seen terrific photos from hikes along the Green River in Mammoth Cave NP.

    I did Utah’s “Big Five” in 12 days, but all were a return visit so I knew exactly what I wanted to do in each park and was able to spend my time wisely. My personal favorite was and remains Capitol Reef. Great hiking, great photography, fewest people.

    Olympic could easily be combined with a visit to North Cascades and/or Mount Rainier. Mount Rainier, by the way, is right up there with Big Bend in consideration for my favorite park. (I worked there one season and it was the best summer of my life.) The ranking depends on where I am at the time!

    Agree with your mention of TRNP. My destination for that trip was actually the Badlands in South Dakota but since I had never been to North Dakota I squeezed it in the night before and was blown away. Two nights camping right on the Little Missouri and I barely scratched the park’s surface.

    You’ve got plenty of exciting travel ahead, and I always think the planning is half the fun. I’m jealous. Happy Trails; I enjoy your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I see I was a little late in seeing this, but at last it came out of hiding. 🙂

    Wow! You have done your research and sounds like a grand adventure! Go for it!
    Yes, the Shenandoah Park in the Fall is beautiful! You are getting closer to my part of the Country. Pennsylvania has the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon though Arizona’s may be a tad bigger. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds like a great idea! On our only visit to the US ( mid 1990s ) we visited the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and I thoroughly recommend it, although it was quite crowded even back then. ( We were visiting my brother who was working for Ford in Detroit at the time so it was a long drive! )

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  8. Sounds ambitious. But as it was once said, enjoy the journey, and don’t worry about the destination. You will probably visit a number of national parks. But there are also interesting national monuments as well. No sense feeling regret about not seeing something, as opposed to relishing in the fact that time was spent enjoying a visit. I visited Yosemite so many, many years ago while living in California. It was a great visit. Right after Labor Day when the majority of people were leaving. Haven’t been to any other national parks since because of work and life. But smaller local parks or national wildlife refuges are accessible and I visit them quite a bit. Enjoy the journey and savor the moments. jerry

    Liked by 1 person

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