It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when I say that the most common question I got on my trip was: What is your favorite park? It was also a question that I still refuse to answer. It is impossible to pick a favorite. There is almost no way to compare Carlsbad Caverns to Mount Rainier. In almost every way, they are different in every.
My inability to answer the question meant that I would often have to artfully misdirect the question towards an answer that I felt more comfortable with. For me, I chose: Which park surprised me the most? I had a legitimate answer for that one. That said, I still wonder if my answer is wholly truthful. Plenty of parks surprised me, why should Big Bend hold such a distinct honor?
So many factors are at play whenever someone visits a park. How are you feeling? What is the weather like? Are the bathrooms clean? Were you able to get a campsite? Were the rangers nice? Did you meet anyone? The answer to each of these questions creates a data point, along with hundreds of other factors that go into any national park experience. In the end, it is those small questions, and their answers, that define each moment of our lives.
Despite my hesitancy to rank the parks or the places I saw on my journey, I think the exercise holds value. By highlighting specific moments on my trip, I can effectively create bite-sized stories that are indicative of my larger adventure. For those of you who have been following along from the get go, this list will give you an insight into some of the moments along my trip that I considered to be unique or special. For those of you checking in for the first time, the following stories will be a great way to get to know me and get a taste for what I have been up to for the last ten months!
A day or two hiking in these mountains will make you forget that the state of New York is often only recognized for the Big Apple. Don’t forget to check out the Adirondack Museum.
Big Bend totally blew me away. From the Rio Grande to the Chisos Mountains, it remains one of my favorite parks thus far!
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a raw, deep scar cut into the landscape. Its walls are so sheer that some sections of the canyon only see the sun for thirty minutes each day!
One of America’s most amazing roads. Do not miss this one.
Hidden underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most awe inspiring places you will find in the United States. Its scale is mindblowing.
Death Valley is one of the largest national parks, covering over 3,000 square miles. You’ll find salt flats, epic canyons, wildflowers, volcanic remains, and sand dunes. Just go.
This park needs no introduction. Everyone should see the Grand Canyon. I would encourage you, however, to go beyond Mather Overlook and delve into the depths of the Canyon itself. You will not be disappointed.
700 hundred foot high piles of sand sitting next to snow covered mountains? Weird. This park is totally worth a visit. If you are feeling adventurous, spend a night camping out on the dunes… just remember to bring a free-standing tent.
John Muir fought to protect this place. He failed, but it is still worth visiting. It reminds us of our ability and tendency to control nature. Despite its complicated past, it is still exceptionally beautiful.
Joshua Tree may be a mecca for wintering climbers, but it is a playground for people of all ages and abilities. Go meet some people in Hidden Valley.
I can’t wait to get back to the Lost Coast. My hike to the Punta Gorda lighthouse is still one of the best hikes of my entire trip.
Formerly a WWII internment camp for Japanese-Americans, this haunting place tells a story that is not often head, let alone listened to. You must go.
Hidden away in Baxter State Park, Mount Katahdin is one of the most formidable mountains on the east coast. Go for the mountain, stay for the wildness.
There is something about the Blue Ridge Mountains that seems inviting. From atop Skyline Drive, the Shenandoah Valley spreads out before you like a rustling green carpet. Peace and solitude abound.
As the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone’s historical significance alone warrants a visit. Hot springs, canyons, geysers, mountains, valleys, and wildlife will make your visit that much more worthwhile.
Pitch a tent at Camp Four and head off into paradise.