The Last Time You Were in a National Park

Glacier National ParkOccasionally I have to stay up late in order to let the day empty out of my head before I can sleep, and the best activity for head-emptying is watching TV. The other night I found myself tuned into PBS, which was airing portions from Ken Burns’ recent 12-hour documentary, National Parks – America’s Best Idea.

I love the National Parks and think their creation is one of the best things our government has ever done. I have many great memories of my time in various Parks, and when I was younger I remember having the goal of visiting all of them. As I watched, I was sad to realize that it has been years since I’ve been in a National Park, the last probably being Haleakala National Park on Maui, Hawaii (and that was really only so I could bike down the mountain to the beach).

The stories Burns tells in his documentary are through the eyes of some of the Parks’ most passionate supporters and visitors, and he really captures the reasons why the Parks are so important. I remember one woman who was interviewed sharing that the Parks make her feel “infinitely small and exalted at the same time” (to paraphrase). I can relate to that.

Just for kicks I spent some time looking up the list and seeing how many I’ve visited. Overall, there are 58 National Parks. Of those, I have been to 18, all in the West – including Arches, Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns, Crater Lake, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Haleakala, Hawaii Volcanoes, North Cascades, Olympic, Petrified Forest, Rocky Mountain, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, and Zion.

I’d say Yosemite tops my list of unvisited parks I would love to visit, with the Smoky Mountains and Denali close behind. I’d also like to go back to Glacier, as it’s incredibly spectacular and I only got to spend a couple hours there.

How many Parks have you been to, and what was the last one?


3 thoughts on “The Last Time You Were in a National Park

  1. I have half the list you do (Black Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Mammoth Cave, Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah, and Zion), but multiple six-day backpacks in Grand Canyon ( and Glacier (

    When you get back to Glacier, you should hike the Garden Wall from Going to the Sun Road to Granite Park Chalet for the night. It’s a relatively easy hike with spectacular views and a fun place to stay in the backcountry.

    I’ve got the whole Ken Burns series on the DVR, but haven’t found time to watch it yet. Definitely looking forward to it!

  2. I’m ashamed to say I have visited very few of the parks to date. I watched the same program in HD on couldn’t change the channel. I can’t wait visit more of them with my wife and son.

    I really enjoyed learning about how the parks became government land vs. being privately owned. It’s one of the rare cases that you’ll hear me agree that they should be owned and preserved by the people (government) as opposed to the individual. Ken Burns is a great story teller!

  3. @Brian, you’ve definitely gone deeper than me, many of the parks I’ve been to I’ve only been to for a few hours. I have only gone on multi-day backcountry trips in Grand Canyon, Zion, and Rocky Mountain. I’d love to do backcountry in Glacier, I’ll definitely take your advice when I go back! (Incidentally, and I haven’t been, but I think going backcountry in a Hawaiian National Park would be an incredible experience)

    @Bill, agreed. It should be noted that many of the most beautiful parks were bought (for a fair price from private owners) by philanthropists of the time and donated wholesale the to the U.S. government. (Grand Teton) A true example of successful public / private partnerships – inspired by public ideals but functioning within the free market.

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