The National Parks, along with the many other monuments, river ways, memorials & other sites run by the National Park Service (NPS) have been a major part of my life since I was a little girl. My parents took my brother and me on road trips throughout our childhood, but the first National Park I visited was the Badlands at the age of 8 followed by a Southwest adventure to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks which is where my love for wanderlust & the outdoors really took off.
Nine-year-old-me at the Grand Canyon
Nature has always been where I feel most free, most alive and most spiritual, so the 100 years that the National Park Service has been protecting some of the U.S.’s most beautiful sites is extremely special to me, and I’m excited for the next 100 years for them to protect this land for my children & grandchildren.
To celebrate this beautiful country and the amazing workers & volunteers who make preserving some of these gorgeous places, I thought I would share some of my favorite memories & views from some extra-special NPS-run places.
Big Bend National Park was my most recent National Park adventure. I took my last father/daughter trip with my dad as a ‘Brown’ here, since I’m getting married in June. I love this park because it has a lot of diversity. There are the mountains, the desert & the river with loads of canyons to explore, archaeological sites and even a hot spring! There is so much to do here and even though we only covered 22 miles of this park, I feel like we saw some really incredible sites. My favorite hikes from each are Lost Mine Trail [mountains – pictured above], Chimeys Trail [desert] & Hot Spring Canyon Trail [river]. This park is in the middle of nowhere, is unique and is sure to have something for everyone.
Denali National Park was one of those places that almost seemed mythical to me. Even though I had already ventured to a handful of different countries at this point, it seemed like getting to Alaska was an even bigger ordeal until my dad proposed this trip to me – a massive road trip covering loads of land (Missouri to Alaska) and stopping at multiple stunning natural sites across the U.S. and Canada. Denali was definitely a highlight of this trip. I got to see the tallest mountain in North America, I saw all kinds of animals and breathed in that wild air.
Yellowstone National Park is where my fear of bears began, but I consider it a healthy fear. My dad and I woke up at 4am to watch the sunrise and drive the park loop. We were looking down into a ravine somewhere along the way and we saw this beautiful mama grizzly bear with her two adorable cubs. We watched (honestly, through our cameras) as they climbed up our side of the ravine. Suddenly it occurred to us to actually see how close they were to us. The mama, who was leading the way, was slowly approaching us, but she was now only about 10 feet away. So, my dad and I backed up to our car and I jumped in trying to hit the unlock button, but since it was a rental I was unfamiliar with the car and accidentally locked him out! The bear got to about 5 feet away when my dad finally jumped in the car. The bear wasn’t aggressive or charging, she just walked past the car and sat in the field just on my side of the car eating loads of flowers. Since seeing the size of these massive creatures up close and personal, I’ve had a newfound respect for these guys. Six years later, I haven’t let it stop me from hiking in bear-areas (especially since we live in black bear areas) but we’ve educated ourselves on how to be prepared and react with great information provided by NPS.
The Buffalo National River in Arkansas is a really special place to me because I’ve explored this area loads & loads with Matt & my family! Last year, I had a goal to hike at least 100 miles and I achieved that goal with my parents and Matt on the Lost Valley Trail in NW Arkansas.
Speaking of the Buffalo National River, and our adventures there, the Indian Creek Trail is one of my favorite, strenuous, waterfall-filled hikes starting out of Kyle’s Landing off the Buffalo River. I cannot express my love for this beautiful region of the U.S. enough.
Logan’s Pass in Glacier National Park is one of the most striking views I’ve ever driven to! This view requires no hiking, but it does require an ultra-scenic drive up the 50-miles, Going-to-the-Sun Road. Although summer is peak travel season, it’s totally worth it to travel in peak season because this road is only open a few months out of the year due to extreme snowfall.
Olympic National Park is another one of those parks with multiple sections to it. There’s the stunning mountains [Hurricane Ridge is a must-see there], the lush rainforest [Marymere Falls is a spectacular almost-100-foot waterfall there] and the rugged coastline [La Push Beach 2 is my spot]. There are places that just speak to you and this is a photo my dad took of me soaking in the beauty of Beach 2. You take this hike through the this stunning, lush rainforest dripping filled with trees covered in bright green moss and spotted with bright banana slugs. Then, suddenly it just opens up to this rocky coastline. I spent a good amount of time just sitting on this driftwood content just to be right where I was.
Zion National Park is actually the park that I consciously remember as THE PLACE that I caught the travel bug. When I was nine, my mom and I were down in the Virgin River near the entrance of The Narrows and I have this vivid memory of looking up at the canyon walls and thinking, Wow! This is special. So, in 2008 when my dad and I took our first father/daughter hiking trip, we went back to the Southwest and Zion was one of the highlights – especially our hike up to Angel’s Landing.
Acadia National Park was a place that I knew I needed to visit after my dad went there and did the Precipice Hike. The next summer I went on an almost-month-long road trip to the Northeast and Acadia became an instant must. I was pretty bummed when I didn’t get to do the Precipice Trail because it was nesting season for the peregrine falcons in the area, but a ranger highly recommended the Beehive Summit and it was spectacular – views of the granite mountains, the forest and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s rated strenuous, but is only .8 miles. Climb the rungs, sit on the mountain and enjoy life in Acadia.
Bryce Canyon National Park is probably the National Park I would most like to return to. I went in early march and it was covered in snow! Only part of the road was open and we just sort-of buzzed through. I cannot wait to get back there and hit the trails with Matt – he’s never been to Utah!
Kings Canyon National Park was a place where I felt awe-struck. I had read a lot about John Muir, quoted him multiple times on the blog and I felt inspired seeing the places I had read about first-hand. My cousin and I set off hiking in the morning to hike the four miles to Mist Falls and when we finally reached the falls, I have to admit that the mountains stole the show. I mean, it’s like John Muir himself said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.”
Canyonlands National Park has my heart. The whole Moab region is unreal and it’s other-worldly look is one of my favorite landscapes to hike in. It’s filled with deep canyons, warm colors, blue skies, funky formations, random over-sized rocks and arches. Canyonlands is an incredible example of what happens when wind, water and rock meet. No matter how many times I visit Moab it leaves me speechless every single time.
Another thing run by the National Park Service that most people don’t know are the monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C.. One of my favorites of these memorials is the FDR Memorial. The memorial for this four-term president really moved me with the quotes about civil rights, about war and about the economy that resonated with me. The sculptures are exquisite, the quotes are powerful and despite some controversy I’ve read about, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience here.
Sequoia National Park made me feel small in the best way possible! I love standing in forests in general, but when you stand in a grove of trees that are up to 4,000 years old you’re reminded of how much of a blip our lives are on earth and how much we should do while it lasts. Inside Sequoia National Park is the biggest living thing on earth – General Sherman – standing almost 275 feet and weighing an estimated 1385 tons! This is also John Muir’s stomping ground and you can see why he thought that, “the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
Arches National Park is also in the Moab region and therefore is one of my very favorites. You feel like you’re on another planet when you’re standing in front of a massive arch like this. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey was an inspiration to me and his quote about Delicate Arch is so very perfect. “If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened arenas of the wonderful – that which is full of wonder.” Arches definitely startles my senses every time.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s Favorite Drive for a reason. There are tons and tons of hikes along the Virginia to North Carolina route along with stunning overlooks. The Parkway holds a special place in my heart because it cuts right through my other home, Asheville. My beloved Blue Ridge Mountains are one of the most spiritual-feeling places I’ve ever been. I think it’s because they’re some of the oldest mountains on earth! Along the parkway you can hike to see gorgeous views, waterfalls, lakes and so much more. Don’t miss out on this wonder of a road.
Theodor Roosevelt created something special when he created Yellowstone – the very first National Park and said it all when he said, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
The National Park Service and the land & monuments they maintain are so special to me. I have had adventures & epiphanies. I’ve shared moments & snacks. I’ve explored with family / friends & made new friends along the way. Each and every moment has been unique and special. So thank you, once again, to Theodor Roosevelt, to those who explored & worked to protect the lands and to the people who work & volunteer to keep them up and running today.
Cheers to 100 years! And here’s to many, many more!
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