Open TicketHave You Ever Visited A National Park?Stephanie Spitler

I’ve always been fascinated with camping and hiking and general outdoorsy-ness. I suspect this obsession came with repeated childhood viewings of the original, all-time-classic movie The Parent Trap (the Hayley Mills version, for you young ‘uns). The film is filled with scenes of an idyllic summer camp life, with happy campers eating popsicles in wooden cabins and traipsing through the forest while beams of sunlight illuminate the dirt path in front of them. And there might have even been some group whistling involved. (Come on, it was a Disney movie. I’d expect nothing less.)

I watched that film so many times I had it memorized (full disclosure: I could probably still recite it by heart). Anyway, that movie is the only thing I can think of that might’ve triggered my fascination. I briefly joined the Brownies, thinking that every meeting would be a campfire sing-a-long, but I stayed in only long enough to go to the Halloween party. Sadly, there was no cookie selling or badge-getting in my short-lived Brownie career.

It wasn’t even as if I grew up in a city, surrounded by concrete, never having seen a lake or trees. I grew up down the road from an Amish farm, so I definitely wasn’t a city kid. But I was an indoor kid. I embraced my adventurous spirit later in life, but when I was younger I spent much of my time in my room, reading. When I went outside, I almost never strayed from my backyard. So I think I was responding to the freedom shown in the film. Those girls were in charge of their destinies; they were making their own rules, even if it was only for a few weeks each summer. It was a freedom I craved.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that my early, idealized view of camping and hiking has led to a love of our national parks. I’ve only been to 4 out of our 58 U.S. National Parks (for the record, I’ve visited Cuyahoga Valley, Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks). But I haven’t even scratched the surface of exploring all the natural wonders located within the boundaries of the more than 84 million acres that comprise the national park system.

I love getting away from cities and amusement parks and traffic congestion and getting back out into nature. I’ve hiked in the Rocky Mountains, up to a pristine lake on the top of a peak, high above the tree line. The wind blew softly and, if I closed my eyes, the breeze sounded like ocean waves crashing. These parks have been my own personal vacation from modern life. Some people might say I’m enjoying a “nature lite” experience (seems like nature, but without all the pesky inconveniences!), since I’m not hoofing it in the back country, building campfires and sleeping in lean-to’s. And if that’s their thing, then more power to them.

Honestly, I’m all for anyone visiting the parks, for any reason. There’s been talk in the news about funding cuts and declining visitation rates, so I hope more people start embracing their inner scout or hiker or mountain climber or even day-tripping-picnicker. The parks offer so much, and not just for crunchy granola types, either. There are waterfalls and rocks to climb and even some luxurious lodgings, if a spa vacation is more your speed. So grab your bicycle or your backpack (or both) and head back to nature. And if you want to whistle while you hike, I won’t tell.

What’s your favorite national park?

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  1. As someone who has worked in a National Park, I encourage everyone to go – especially to the more spectacular parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite.

    I would encourage, however, a bit of caution. National Parks aren’t amusement parks. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many tourists swagger right up to the bison (even putting their children right next to one to take a picture) or walk right up to the edge of crumbly cliffs or thermal pools. The features of a park are real life and can be really dangerous.

    That being said, if you follow the advice of the materials they give you at the gate, mind the signs, and keep your distance from the wild life, you’ll have an experience that you’ll never forget (for all the right reasons).

  2. Mammoth Cave!! So awesome!

  3. Yellowstone National Park blew my mind. One of the prettiest places I have ever been.

  4. I’ve been to a few. I love camping and hiking. My favorite by far is Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. It is absolutely beautiful there. Also, it has a lot of history. You can see old homesteads and farms- really experience the way it was before it was a National Park.

  5. I’ve never been to a national park before! I’ve been on city vacations, beach vacations, and countryside vacations, but never a PARK vacation–I think you’ve given me a new destination, Stephanie! ;)

    • I think you’d have a great time! I think the key is staying at a really nice resort, so after hiking there’s a spa or hot tub to relax in.

  6. I love national (and state) parks. I make it a goal to try and go camping at least once a month no matter how hot or cold it is. And I love Sequoia and Yosemite, but if you ever get a chance, I recommend Big Bend. It has been by far the most untouched park I have been to.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Angelica! Most of the the national parks I’ve been to have been in the East, so I’d love to head West and check out more!

  7. I’d never been to a national park until my German boyfriend (now husband) wanted me to go. I’ve now been to 15 in 7 years! Favorites would be Sequoia, Yosemite, and Zion.