Jazz. The Constitution. Turkeys. Each of these things are uniquely American by either invention, or natural destiny. Another on the list of things uniquely American is our National Parks; when the first national park was set aside in 1872 something unique happened. For the first time pristine, majestic landscapes were set aside for the preservation and enjoyment of the people. This wasn’t land that only the rich could enjoy, or that only a select few had access to, it was something that as an American you are a part owner of as a birthright.
For over 30 years though, there wasn’t really a caretaker of the national parks even though more and more were added to the list. At first, the parks were nothing more than lines in the ground and everything from foresting, grazing, to mining. Eventually, in the 1880s the US Cavalry stepped in and patrolled the parks as much as they could, but their efforts weren’t unified and they had no legal authority to prosecute or protect the parks. It wasn’t until 1916 that the National Park Service was finally created to unify and officially protect the parks as a cohesive whole. While some will debate how good of a job they’ve done over the past 98 years, no one can argue that the scope of all they now manage is rather impressive: the worlds hottest desert, the largest canyon, the largest number of geysers, and some of the most impressive landscapes in the world.
All of this leads up to my point: in 2016, the NPS will turn 100 years old and I plan on visiting as many of the National Parks as possible leading up to their centennial. Not that I needed an excuse to plan a trip out west, but this is proving to be a good one all the same. The hope is to hit as many on the East Coast as possible this year and the next and visit Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks all in a giant stretch over the course of maybe a month in 2016.
There aren’t as many National Parks on the East Coast so hitting all of them isn’t much effort; if you’re a student of history though, there are plenty of monuments, battlefields, and historic sites that are part of the National Park Service. I’ve already been to most of them, but I’d like to visit all of the parks in Washington D.C. as well as Acadia. The logistics are pretty simply to visit those parks, they just involve lots of driving; 18 hours to the northern tip of Maine is rather oppressive, but at least there’s plenty to see inbetween. If you don’t mind detours, you can hit Shenandoah and the Adirondacks, ticking more parks off the list. That might be a week and a half in a giant loop, but would be a great trip.
Logistics for the 2016 grand loop of the western parts are much more difficult due to the increases of distance and the time involved with being on the road. As with almost any trip, you have 3 options on how to arrive: plane, train, or car. Planes, obviously, are the quickest option, able to take you from Charlotte to Salt Lake City (the nearest, major airport) in 5 or less hours. Airfare is pretty cheap: that same flight can be booked right now for $378 round trip. From there, you can take the bus or rent a car and go up to the Tetons and Yellowstone and beyond to Glacier.
Most people now opt for either of the first two options, but the interesting thing about the National Parks is almost every single one is near a train station or has one inside the park. For so many years, the railroads were the driving force of tourism to the national parks so it’s a viable option. The biggest temptation for me with taking the train is that while it takes longer, there are several notable stops along the way, I can easily work on the train during transit cutting down on the total number of vacation days that I have to take, and it literally drops you off on Glacier’s doorstep. That, and with the train you get to see more scenery without effort; planes are quick and easy but everything looks the same from 20,000 feet. Amtrak offers rail passes that allow you to structure your trip however you want, so if you wanted to go all the way to Seattle, down the west coast and back you can.
A huge benefit once you cross over the Mississippi is that the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, and US Forest Service have hundreds of cabins available for cheap right outside of the National Parks. It might take a little more effort to get to, but there’s less crowds on the fringes of the park and it’s easier to get a reservation. Glacier for example has several excellent cabins on the fringes of the park for only $30 a night.
Another thing to keep in mind is the entrance fees to the park. If you’re camping, they’re included but if you stay out of the park they add up quick. $25 per vehicle per day makes it a pricey visit; if you’re going to be visiting a lot, or you just feel like supporting our National Parks, buy an Eagle Pass for $80 online and you can visit all the National Parks, and any government recreation area, for a whole year at no cost.
The National Parks are one of the rare things that we as a nation have ever done right: preserving the few wild places left for everyone to enjoy. Get out and enjoy them this year.
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.