I love natural beauty; mountain, waterfalls, canyons, plains. The problem is that I live in one of the most densely populated regions of the country. When the mood to experience nature hits me, I have to travel a ways and I found myself not getting out at much as I’d like to. So a couple years ago, I made a pledge to visit America’s 59 flagship National Parks. As I’ve planned and taken these trips, I’ve realized that there is a lot of information out there, but not exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve had to compile the materials I found most helpful. On these pages, I’ll share the upfront work I do for each of the National Park trips I take, my experiences while on the trips, and what I would do differently if I visited there again.
Top 5 Parks
It is important to know that I am an avid, amateur photographer and my trips to National Parks center around capturing beautiful landscape photos. If I take a hike, it is probably because there is a scenic vista at the end of the trail. When I choose a hotel, chance are it’s close to where I want to be at sunrise. This focus on photography colors many of my experiences. While I hope that this site is helpful for anyone who wants to visit the National Parks, photographers may find these pages particularly useful.On these pages you will find the following information:
- Map – Once I find a number of great photos of a location, I like to plot them on a map. This helps determine how clustered or dispersed the photo locations are. It also shows how easily accessible the locations are. The maps I’ll share will include photo locations, trails, visitor centers, park entrances, campgrounds, and hotels and airports I used on my trip.
- Visitor Statistics – In deciding when to plan my trip, I like to use two pieces of information. One of those is the number of visitors to the park. I try to avoid those times when visitorship is highest (usually June – August). The National Park Service provides visitor statistics for all of its properties and I’ve consolidated that into a set of graphs. For each park, I’ll share the average number of visitors per month.
- Climate Statistics – The other piece of information I like to look at is the weather. Since I like to plan my trips months in advance, I rely on averages. I’ve compiled data on monthly averages for high/low temperatures and precipitation that I’ll share with you for each park.
- Visitor Experiences – The National Park Service, in collaboration with the University of Idaho, conducts surveys that ask visitors about their time in the park; how long they stayed, what activities they engaged in, where they stayed while visiting, etc. Where possible, I include these statistics to offer context for how typical (or not) my experiences are.
- My Experience – My experiences may not be representative of how people interact with the parks, but I hope they provide some ideas. There are parks that I’ve spent several days in and some where I have only spent a few hours, so the usefulness of this information may vary.
- The One Shot – Before I head out on a trip to a National Park, there is typically one photography shot that I must get. I make plans to go there and, if the weather’s bad, I go back. Sometimes the location lives up to the hype, sometimes not. I’ll let you know.
- Helpful Resources – In this section, I’ll share links to the photos I took, to my Pinterest boards, to other people’s pages, and to other information I found useful when planning my trip.
Please enjoy these pages, feel free to ask me questions, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to improve this site.
This map shows the locations of the National Parks. You can scroll to see the ones in Alaska, Hawaii, and American Samoa. The green pins mark parks that I have visited and have available maps. The purple pins are parks that I plan to visit soon and have available maps.
The Journey So Far
I came out of the gates swinging. Eleven parks in the first two years and three new ones along with some second visits in 2014. A military deployment delivered a hit to my travel plans in 2016 and 2017. Below is a chronological listing of my National Park adventures.One thing I’ve learned is that I need to slow down and allow more time for each of the parks. I spent 2 hours in Biscayne National Park and it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m already thinking about taking another trip down there. My goal now is to spend at least 24 hours in each park. Even for some of the smaller parks that may not be enough, depending on the weather.
I visited five parks across three trips. I spent a morning in Shenandoah during National Parks Week and during the Fall colors, I took a five day trip with a friend to Glacier, and I spent four days driving around Southern Florida visiting Biscayne, Dry Tortugas, and the Everglades.
I visited six parks across three trips. I made a 1000+ mile loop around North and South Dakota visiting Theodore Roosevelt, Wind Cave, and the Badlands. I spent four days in Yellowstone and two days in the Tetons on another trip. Finally, I took a five day trip to Maine during the government shutdown to visit Acadia.
In 2014, I visited four national parks across two trips. In May, I took a road trip around southern Colorado visiting Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. In July, I spent a long weekend hiking in Shenandoah and a shorter weekend hiking Old Rag mountain. Finally, in November, I went back to the Dry Tortugas for a two day camping trip.
In 2015, I took a quick two-day trip to Theodore Roosevelt while I was home in North Dakota visiting family. I also made the 8 hour drive to South Carolina to visit Congaree. In the Fall, I visited Cuyahoga Valley and Great Smoky Mountains on separate road trips.
This was the year of tagging National Park trips to the end of work trips. In May, I went to Texas for a conference and staying for a week to see Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns. Unfortunately, I was called up by the National Guard during prime vacation season so had to settle with only two park trips.
This year saw the continuation of my military deployment, though I did manage to make a trip to Mammoth Cave on my way to pick up my dog in Nashville.