Open Ticket

Have You Ever Visited A National Park?

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?

For daily travel talk, follow me @StephSpitler

Featured Image via ShutterStock

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