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Visiting Our National Parks
March 1, 1872 was a landmark day for Americans since it was the day when Congress established our first national park—Yellowstone—in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” In the years that followed, the U.S. added many more parks and monuments, and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service (NPS) to conserve the scenery, natural and historic elements and wildlife within these treasured lands so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Now, more than a century later, there are 63 officially-designated National Parks in the U.S., American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In size, they range from less than 100 acres (Gateway Arch National Park in Mo.) to the massive Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska that spans more than 13 million acres, making it the size of Yosemite, Yellowstone and Switzerland combined. The breathtaking scenery of our National Parks is equally as diverse and includes mountains, lakes, canyons, shorelines, red rock formations and lush forests.
You just may want to add one or more National Parks to your travel plans this year. Some of the most visited National Parks are Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tenn./N.C.), Yellowstone National Park (Wyo./Mont./Idaho), Zion National Park (Utah), Rocky Mountain National Park (Colo.), Grand Teton National Park (Wy.), Grand Canyon National Park (Ariz.), Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio), Acadia National Park (Maine), Olympic National Park (Wash.) and Joshua Tree National Park (Ca.). But there are many others to choose from, as well.
Here are three ways to make the most of your experience:
1. Decide which National Park(s) you want to visit.
The National Park Service has a handy “Find a Park” tool that you can search by state to help you plan your visit(s) to more than 400 sites, including National Parks, monuments, memorials, historic sites, trails and recreation areas. Each listing includes basic information, a calendar of events, maps and any alerts and/or conditions you need to know about. You can also download the free NPS app, available for iOS and Android devices. It offers interactive maps of NPS sites and much more.
2.Find a great campground nearby.
Search right here on GoCampingAmerica.com to find the ideal campground that offers the amenities and services you need and want. Your campground hosts will be happy to share their local insights and perspectives on visiting the National Park in their area.
3. Learn how to do your part to help preserve our natural resources.
A good place to start is to review the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace before you leave. They offer helpful guidelines for planning for your trip and minimizing your impact on our National Parks.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can offer many benefits for health and well-being. In fact, the Japanese have created a term, shinrin-yoku, for this type of therapy. It literally means “forest bathing” and refers to spending time peacefully relaxing while benefiting from the restorative properties of being surrounded by trees. Our National Parks offer many opportunities to engage in this mood-enhancing practice.
One more tip: As you plan your camping trips to see our incredible National Parks, be sure to leave yourself enough time to fully enjoy the experience. Dayton Duncan, who co-authored “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” with filmmaker Ken Burns, shared a humorous tale about not planning to spend enough time.
“The story is, a man came up to Yosemite and the ranger was sitting at the front gate and the man said, “I’ve only got one hour to see Yosemite. If you only had one hour to see Yosemite, what would you do?” And the ranger said, “Well, I’d go right over there, and I’d sit on that rock, and I’d cry.”
So, enjoy exploring our National Parks! When you get back to your campground, you’re sure to have a lot of great stories to share around the campfire.