America the Beautiful:: 63 Reasons to Love our National Parks

America the Beautiful:: 63 Reasons to Love our National Parks

My family loves the outdoors. We are hiking fanatics and we absolutely love the mountains {pretty crazy that we live in super-flat Texas, right?}. For the past decade we have been on mission to visit all 63 of America’s National Parks. We haven’t seen them all yet, but we have a plan and a Passport {you should get one too}! We’ve learned a lot about planning, visiting and best times to visit. So let’s take a quick stroll, I promise, you will never see anything more beautiful, more educational or more spectacular. Introducing our kids, our nieces, our friends and their friends to our amazing National Parks has been both amazing and rewarding. They have developed a complete appreciation for nature and solitude. They understand and respect the Parks’ fragility and our role in protecting them. They love hiking and are equally passionate about conquering some of the most challenging ‘summits‘. 

After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.” -G.M. Trevelyan

Since the pandemic, families all across America are flocking to National Parks. They’re renting RVs, buying tents, camping gear and driving across county. The great outdoors seems to be all the rage!

Where to Start?

With 63 National Parks, what’s the best strategy for getting started? Great question!

We started our quest based on the “best hiking” Top Five:: Grand Canyon (AZ), Zion and Bryce (UT), Rocky Mountains (CO), Yosemite (CA).

Our second round was based on closest:: Big Bend (TX), furthest (and best glacier hiking bragging rights)::Wrangell-St. Elias (AK), proximity (best bang for the buck):: Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef (UT).

Third round was based on family proximity:: Sequoia, Redwoods, Death Valley (CA), and popularity: Grand Tetons (WY), Glacier (MT).

How you choose to tackle the 63 is totally up to you…just do it!

As we work through the list of 63, we have our favorites. Nearly every year we visit the Grand Canyon; we’ve hiked from one side across to the other {aka Rim to Rim or R2R} several times. It is without question our favorite. This year, in addition to our fourth R2R, we’re planning to visit White Sands (NM), Vermillion Cliffs (UT), Apostle Islands (WI) and possibly Haleakala (HI).

America the Beautiful:: 63 Reasons to Love our National Parks
Photo cred: Spencer Jelinek
Apostle Islands {WI}
 
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” -Beverly Sills

Best Tips When Visiting the National Parks

If you plan on tent camping, do your research and book your campsite well in advance. Same with an RV; slots fill up fast, especially during the summer peak travel. Each park has its own website to obtain permits and reservations for camping, RV sites or backpacking.

We typically rent hotels or an AirBnB close by the National Park entrances. We are planning our trips now and will have accommodations booked at least six months in advance. Note:: Grand Canyon mule rides or cabins in Phantom Ranch are typically reserved more than a year in advance! Some of the more popular hiking destinations now require advance lottery.

You can purchase a National Park pass which is good for one year from the date of purchase. Seniors can purchase a lifetime pass for $80. Disability access {lifetime} passes are also available. 

We tend to avoid Spring Break week and long holiday weekends {Memorial Day, Labor Day, Fourth of July}. We’ve taken our kids out of school {in late May}, to visit Zion and the Grand Canyon. I’ve told their teachers, “They’ll learn a lot more geography, geology and history, and get a lot more PE than they would at school! And I’ll have them make a PowerPoint slide show for their class!”

Certain parks are not accessible during winter months {Colorado, Alaska} and many are very hot during the heat of the summer months {Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon}. Many were inaccessible this past summer due to forest fires.

These National Parks get high marks for being “kid friendly”.

We’ve seen lots of wildlife during our visits; and while there are bears, mountain lions and other predators; we’ve not encountered any. We did carry ‘bear spray’ in Alaska {just in case!}- and we did have our sandwich stolen by a marmot {or two}!

America the Beautiful:: 63 Reasons to Love our National Parks

Gear & Equipment

 “Carry as little as possible, but choose that little with care.“-Earl Shaffer

Less is more when it comes to hiking in the National Parks because someone has to carry it; and usually that someone is you! All you really need is a backpack {preferably one that holds water}, good shoes or boots {no sandals, flip flops, high heels, wedges, crocs} and healthy snacks {trail mix, protein bars, salty snacks}. Layered clothing is best so you’re prepared for sudden temperature changes and always, a rain coat or poncho. If its summer, you’ll need a hat, glasses and sunscreen. In the winter, you’ll need gloves and a warm hat.

If your a novice tent camper, you may wanna practice some camping in your backyard! It’s very dark and very quiet in the parks…so every little chirp, howl, rustle or snap makes a big scary noise! The ground is very hard too, so you’ll want to gain some experience with different foam bedding or air mattresses. I promise, you do not want to be in the middle of nowhere camping with kids for the very first time!

Make sure you have a good camera, a back up battery for your phone {cell service is sketchy}, a first aid kit and  a good, light weight flashlight.

The All Trails app is an excellent choice if you’re hiking and aren’t familiar with the trails. You can download them in advance for use when there’s no cell service.

Embrace the Memories

Having lunch on top of a mountain at 14,000 feet – or filling your water bottle from a remote glacier crevasse in Alaska – or soaking your feet in the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon…these are the memories. 

Visiting small mountain towns where deer and elk roam freely – or where personal vehicles aren’t {even} allowed – or hiking through slot canyons so narrow you can barely squeeze through…these are the memories.

There are no better vacations than these! Your kids can collect National Park passport stamps, coins, pins, t-shirts or even Christmas ornaments. They’ll learn history, geography and geology. They’ll experience nature and the outdoors like never before. They will become passionate about preserving and protecting these lands. It will change them – for good.

And if that’s not enough…you have exactly sixty-three reasons why visiting our National Parks is a great idea.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” -John Muir


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Kelly grew up in small town Ohio and attended Ohio State University. She holds bachelors degrees in finance and chemistry. She moved to Houston in the mid-1980’s where she started work in Oil and Gas. In 1988, she began her 30-year career with Shell Oil Company and later obtained an Exec-MBA from University of Houston, specializing in Operational Excellence and Leadership. During her career with Shell she worked in a variety of technical and senior management positions across Houston and Port Arthur. She met her husband, Bruce, at Shell in 1995 but they didn’t {finally} marry until 10-10-2010 on a private beach in Hawaii. Collectively, they worked for Shell for over sixty years! Bruce {aka Pops} has two grown sons; he and Kelly {aka Mimzy} enjoy four beautiful grandchildren. Together over the years, Kelly and Bruce opened their home to several teenage nieces and nephews who needed guidance, consistent structure and support. In 2018 they became legal guardians for their 11-year old niece, Zoe {June 2007}. Kelly officially retired from Shell in July 2018 but that hasn’t slowed her down much! Between keeping up with Zoe in middle school, Kelly teaches Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace at River Pointe Church in the Spring & Fall semesters. Kelly and Bruce also own a home-crafting business where they “up-cycle” discarded wine barrels into unique and creative household novelties. Bruce is the wood-working craftsman while Kelly manages the creativity {and the books}! You can check them out on Facebook @Showbird Handcrafted Designs. Kelly and Bruce are fitness enthusiasts, cyclists, paddle-boarders, avid hikers and annual visitors of America’s amazing National Parks; but they are also beer, wine and beach enthusiasts - quite the contrast! Kelly is an animal lover and supports many local rescue organizations. Along with their personal ‘failed-foster’ menagerie, it’s likely you’ll find a nursing mom with kittens or a senior dog anxiously awaiting a permanent home. If you’re looking for a new, furry friend, just give her a call!

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