The United States National Park System has a lot of great parks, historic sites, and natural wonders that encompass it. Last January, I bought an annual National Park pass for $80 and got my money’s worth. Here are all twenty one (!) National Park system sites I visited last year using my National Park pass:
1) Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield in Antietam, Maryland was the first battlefield I remember visiting. It is an eerie and sad experience to visit the site where so many people lost their lives at such a young age. Monuments of US States’ regimens littered the sides of roads all around the battlefield.
2) Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park was on my roadtrip route from Phoenix to Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is a fantastic place to see the colorful petrified wood, petroglyphs, and Painted Desert hills.
3) Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico is down in the Frijoles Canyon filled with ruins of an early Pueblo settlement. Forever I will remember it as the place I found out that Prince died.
4) Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs is a free National Park in Arkansas known for bathhouses, spas, and hot springs (duh!). It was really hot outside when I was here so I wandered into some historic bathhouses for some shade and air conditioning. Now, Hot Springs is a resort town.
5) Herbert Hoover National Historic Site
On a trip home to Iowa, my mom and I decided to visit the Herbert Hoover’s birthplace of West Branch, Iowa- now home of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. The Museum and Presidential Library was interesting as are the well preserved homes and buildings of the era.
6) Washington Monument
Visiting the Washington Monument at night was pretty spectacular. The National Park pass does not cover entry fee but that’s okay- it is a very cool thing to do.
7) Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park was the first stop for BC and I on our epic National Park Roadtrip this fall. The best memory here was of Lehman Caves- the stalactites and stalagmites were amazing. BC’s least favorite memory here was of the hike at 10,000 ft when he was still getting into hiking shape. I thought it was going to be a long trip, he claims I took him to fat camp.
8) Glacier National Park
Glacier was on my bucket list for years. The gorgeous scenery coupled with the first winter storm of the year made it even more spectacular. I was happy with no grizzly sightings and could have hiked another day or two on the trails around the park. With sights like these, Glacier is one of a kind:
9) Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is filled with wildlife and will always be one the most photogenic places. Artist’s Point never disappoints, nor are the geysers anything less than grand.
10) Grand Teton National Park
Hiking in Grand Teton is my favorite, even when I manage to get us lost. Taggart Lake moved, I swear! It may have taken us an extra 4 miles but we got there
11) Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands was a little disappointing compared with the other National Parks visited on this trip. Maybe we were just jaded after seeing so much amazingness???
12) Arches National Park
Oh Arches, you are my favorite! I could visit Arches every year and be a happy traveler. While my favorite arch from childhood (Wall Arch) is no more, there are many contenders vying to be my favorite arch these days.
13) Bryce Canyon National Park
We visited Bryce twice on this trip after being foiled by foggy weather. Hiking into the cauldron was so worth it, even on the way back up when you are cursing yourself for going down too far. Erosion is so cool!
14) Zion National Park
Zion was a bit lackluster compared to the other parks and oh-so-crowded. Their tram system is perfect but hiking here was always with packs of other hikers and the main hiking trail- the Narrows- was closed due to flooding. Maybe I need to try Zion again in less-rainy weather.
15) Grand Canyon National Park
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon provides a much less crowded Grand Canyon experience. It is much more difficult to get to unless you are coming from southern Utah. It was here BC had his big allergic reaction so we hightailed it out of here and into more drugstore-inhabited places.
16) Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree had some interesting sights like the Cholla Cactus field. Camping here was loud but gorgeous, particularly at sunset!
17) Sequoia National Park
Sequoia was the perfect 3 days in nature surrounded by ancient, gigantic trees. A strained neck from always looking up at the magnificent height of the Sequoia trees while on shaded hikes was a part of our daily activities (along with a few naps in the hammock).
18) Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon was the biggest surprise on our whole trip. I had never heard of Kings Canyon National Park prior to this trip and would love to return someday to stay in the valley and hike.
19) Death Valley National Park
Death Valley was our last stop on the Great National Park roadtrip and was exactly how it sounds- inhospitable, hot, and pretty miserable. The high winds, high temperatures and sheer amount of dust had us moving along without spending the night here.
20) Gettysburg Battlefield
After the Great National Park Roadtrip, we didn’t stop visiting the United States’ historic sights yet. The Gettysburg Battlefield the day after Thanksgiving was our family educational field trip this year. Again, like Antietam, it was a great learning experience but so sad so learn about the tens thousands of soldiers who never really got to live.
21) Haleakala National Park
Technically my National Park pass was good from January 18, 2016 to January 17, 2017 so I snuck in Haleakala National Park in Maui in under the wire. Yay for saving $20! Haleakala sunrises are famous for inspiring poets, writers, painters, and photographers. I hiked into the crater and barely made it back up. But it sure was pretty!
That is all 21 National Parks and historic sites I visited on my National Park pass last year! Whew! I had a fantastic time learning about the United States and all its natural wonders. Don’t forget to add a roadtrip (or two) out West to your bucket list and visit the best the United States has to offer!
Reader Question: What is your favorite National Park or Historic Site?