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.
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.
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.
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.
What do you think?