Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

The nation­al parks are get­ting packed these days with so many more peo­ple sud­den­ly find­ing them­selves out­side. How­ev­er, if you’re look­ing to get away from the crowds and the hype, check out these Nation­al Parks that are still big on adven­ture but not quite as pop­u­lar as some of our nation­al icons like Yosemite and Yellowstone.

Great Sand DunesGreat Sand Dunes Nation­al Park, Colorado
The Rocky Moun­tains get most of the noto­ri­ety in Col­orado but head fur­ther south and you’ll expe­ri­ence the won­der that is the Great Sand Dunes, Nation­al Park. It hous­es the tallest sand dunes in the coun­try, which is near­ly flush with a spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain vista. There are plen­ty of hik­ing trails in the sur­round­ing acres, as well as water sports to enjoy on Medano Creek.

Petrified Forest National ParkPet­ri­fied For­est Nation­al Park, Arizona
The term for­est is a bit of a mis­nomer here since you won’t find much in the way of tow­er­ing trees. You will find the rem­nants of their roots, though. The fos­silized remains of what was once a lush wood­ed area dur­ing the time of dinosaurs make for some epic views of red, orange and pur­ple across the desert floor. There are 42,000 acres to explore, so you’re unlike­ly to ever get bored.

Wind Cave National ParkWind Cave Nation­al Park, South Dakota
Not all nation­al parks are full of sun­shine and trees; some of the best are hid­den in the dark. The Wind Cave Nation­al Park in South Dako­ta resides deep under­ground and con­tains 130 miles of maze-like tun­nels to tour through. There are also epic spelunk­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to be had and plen­ty of chances to scare the crap out of your friends. They’ll even let you wan­der around by can­dle­light if you’re feel­ing brave.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, ColoradoBlack Canyon of the Gun­ni­son Nation­al Park, Colorado
If the crowd­ed­ness of the Grand Canyon deters you, don’t worry—one of the world’s best won­ders is actu­al­ly a lit­tle fur­ther north. The Black Canyon in Col­orado was formed over the course of two mil­lion years by the Gun­ni­son Riv­er and holds some of the old­est and deep­est rock for­ma­tions in the Unit­ed States. It’s a great place to get in some hik­ing along the rim or into the unmarked gul­lies. The park has gnarly climb­ing spots and great kayak­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties too.

Great Basin National Park, NevadaGreat Basin Nation­al Park, Nevada
While the Great Basin Nation­al Park is tech­ni­cal­ly clas­si­fied as a desert, it’s also rife with veg­e­ta­tion mak­ing for one incred­i­bly unique expe­ri­ence. Dur­ing the fall the explo­sion of col­or in the foliage set against the moun­tain­ous, glacial back­drop makes for some of the best hik­ing views in the coun­try. The 13,000-foot sum­mit of Wheel­er Peak is an ambi­tious hik­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty while there are also plen­ty of cave tours hap­pen­ing underneath.

Congaree National ParkCon­ga­ree Nation­al Park, South Carolina
The Con­ga­ree Nation­al Park doesn’t have the heights to make it a great climb­ing des­ti­na­tion nor the trails need­ed for bik­ing, but it doesn’t have 27,000 acres of great foot­paths and water routes to explore. Kayak­ing and canoe­ing are both pop­u­lar choic­es for explor­ers, but trekking into the lakes and rivers here mean poten­tial­ly going head to head with croc­o­diles and oth­er beast­ly crea­tures. Still, the loom­ing pines and bald cypress make up a stun­ning swamp­land ripe for exploration.

Beautiful cascade waterfall in Sol Duc falls

Beautiful cascade waterfall in Sol Duc falls

The Olympic Penin­su­la and encom­pass­ing Olympic Nation­al Park of Wash­ing­ton embody the true def­i­n­i­tion of adven­ture. Lush rain­forests, snow-capped moun­tain peaks, and a rugged coast ripped straight from those scenic cal­en­dars hang­ing in the break room—Olympic Nation­al Park deserves at least one encounter in a lifetime.

Thanks to the dense sur­round­ings and many things to do, Olympic Nation­al Park also deserves a lit­tle plan­ning ahead to make the most out of your trip. Whether you are look­ing for a day hike into one of the dis­tinct nat­ur­al land­scapes of Olympic, or a front coun­try camp­site to spend the night, or per­haps you are inter­est­ed in the crème de la crème of Olympic—backpacking through the Olympic Wilderness—a lit­tle plan­ning ahead can ensure you get to play free.

Get­ting There and Where to Go
The most com­mon way to access Olympic Nation­al Park is through Seat­tle. Tak­ing the fer­ry across Puget Sound onto the Olympic Penin­su­la is faster than dri­ving through Taco­ma, but both routes will lead you to the looped High­way 101. No roads cut through the cen­ter of Olympic Nation­al Park (only trails), and the 101 is the main high­way unit that cir­cles the entire park. Includ­ing the trip from Seat­tle, thanks to the many com­bined Pub­lic Tran­sit Options of the penin­su­la, it is pos­si­ble to ride the entire 101 while let­ting some­one else wor­ry about the dri­ving (and parking).

An often pop­u­lar first place to head on the Olympic Penin­su­la is the north­ern coast where some of the big­ger cities pro­vide a good home base for explor­ing. Port Townsend and Sequim are both promi­nent bus stops, and Port Ange­les is con­sid­ered by many the true gate­way to Olympic Nation­al Park—where you’ll find the Olympic Nation­al Park Vis­i­tor Cen­ter. From Port Angles, many key fea­tures of the park are acces­si­ble includ­ing Hur­ri­cane Ridge (see below), great back­pack­ing trail­heads (see fur­ther below) and with a 70-mile dri­ve (or bus ride) the wild Olympic coastline.

Day Hik­ing…
Three dis­tinct land­scapes can be dis­cov­ered at Olympic Nation­al Park—high alpine, dense for­est, and rugged coast. While back­pack­ing and long trails can cross envi­ron­ments, most day hikes in the park cater to main­ly one. What you want to see and expe­ri­ence should depict the day hike that’s right for you.

Panoramic View of Old Forest with TrailRain­for­est Sur­round­ings: To get a taste of the tem­per­ate rain­for­est unique to Olympic Nation­al Park, the west-fac­ing Quin­ault, Queets and Hoh Ranger Sta­tions lend access to lush day hik­ing trails. At the Hoh Ranger Sta­tion, the Hall of Moss­es is an easy near-mile loop through Old Growth sur­round­ings, and day hik­ers can trek as long as they like along the 17-mile Hoh Riv­er Trail.

Family Hiking in Olympic MountainsMoun­tain Views: A name syn­ony­mous with big moun­tain views, Hur­ri­cane Ridge can usu­al­ly guar­an­tee a breath tak­en away or two. Span­ning from the Hur­ri­cane Ridge Vis­i­tor Cen­ter (20-mile dri­ve from Port Ange­les), mul­ti­ple trails of vary­ing length extend into the sur­re­al sur­round­ings, includ­ing a few paved paths that deliv­er on panoram­ic views. For some­thing a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing, the Mt. Elli­nor Trail near the Stair­case Region of the park pro­vides ele­vat­ed views (and sore calf muscles).

Beach at Olympic National ParkCoastal Beau­ty: On the far west coast of the penin­su­la, the Wilder­ness Coast is ripe for adven­ture. Three main points of explo­ration include (from south to north) Kalaloch, Mora / La Push, and Lake Ozette—each pro­vid­ing access to beach­es and day hikes on the coast. Rial­to Beach is right out­side the door of the Mora Ranger Sta­tion, and Cape Ala­va is a well-kept secret day hike in the Ozette area. Sev­en dif­fer­ent trails along the Kalaloch and south­ern region of the Wilder­ness coast extend to the ocean, includ­ing the worth-vis­it­ing Ruby Beach.

Front Coun­try Campgrounds
Olympic Nation­al Park pro­vides an array of front-coun­try camp­grounds that are acces­si­ble by vehi­cle. Near­ly all camp­grounds issue sites on a first-come, first serve basis—meaning reser­va­tions aren’t nec­es­sary, but an ear­ly arrival in the warmer sea­sons near­ly is. The clos­est camp­site to Port Ange­les (and one of the most pop­u­lar), Heart O’ the Hills Camp­ground pro­vides flush­ing toi­lets and run­ning water, 105 dif­fer­ent sites (can accom­mo­date RV’s) and sur­round­ing old-growth forest.

Oth­er pop­u­lar camp­grounds include:

  • Hoh Camp­ground: 78 sites along the Hoh Riv­er, flush­ing toi­lets and near the Hoh Rain For­est Vis­i­tor Center
  • Mora Camp­ground: Locat­ed two miles from Rial­to Beach on the Wilder­ness Coast, 94 sites avail­able with flush­ing toi­lets and potable water nearby
  • Graves Creek Camp­ground: Qui­eter camp­ground sup­port­ing 30 sites in the Quin­ault Rain For­est, near a serene stream (no potable water)

Reserv­able Campgrounds:
Only two of Olympic Nation­al Park’s dozen+ camp­grounds take advanced reser­va­tions, and by many stan­dards, it’s the two most pop­u­lar places to pitch a tent. The park’s largest camp­ground (170 sites) is Kalaloch Camp­ground locat­ed on the south­ern half of the Olympic coast­line. The oth­er reserv­able camp­ground, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort Camp­ground, is accessed from Port Ange­les with a 40-minute dri­ve. Both camp­grounds accom­mo­date RV’s and pro­vide run­ning water.

Hiking through Olympic National Park

Nine­ty-five per­cent of Olympic Nation­al Park is des­ig­nat­ed wilder­ness. That means while there aren’t any roads to dri­ve on with­in the heart of Olympic Nation­al Park, it’s a true backpacker’s par­adise with many trails to explore. A great first place to start research­ing your future best back­pack­ing expe­ri­ence in Olympic is the Wilder­ness Trip Plan­ner in com­bi­na­tion with the Wilder­ness Camp­site Map. The Wilder­ness Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter in Port Ange­les is also a valu­able resource and a good place to talk with some­one about trip plan­ning (and to pick up your permits).

Wilder­ness Permits
Wilder­ness camp­ing per­mits are required for a major­i­ty of back­coun­try stays in Olympic through­out the year, and those per­mits can be in hot demand dur­ing the warmer months. For this rea­son, Olympic Nation­al Park allows for reser­va­tions between May 1st and Sep­tem­ber 30th—and it’s a rec­om­mend­ed approach. Hik­ers can sub­mit reser­va­tion requests begin­ning Feb­ru­ary 15th by using this Per­mit Request Form and email­ing it direct­ly to the park.

Icon­ic Back­pack­ing Trips 
Hoh Riv­er Trail: Overnight per­mits are required on this pop­u­lar back­pack­ing trip along the Hoh Riv­er. Back­pack­ers expe­ri­ence some of the best rain­for­est action with­in the nation­al park along this 17-mile (one-way) trip. Bear can­is­ters are also required, and it’s rec­om­mend­ed to take 3–5 days to ful­ly appre­ci­ate the surroundings.

Sev­en Lakes Basin: Big moun­tain views and ster­ling alpine lakes define this pop­u­lar back­pack­ing route (also known as the High Divide Loop). Per­mits are also required and can be hard to come by—but plan ahead or get a bit lucky and you can enjoy this 18-mile loop. (note that snow con­di­tions can exist into July).

Pacif­ic Coast Wilderness 
For many, the rea­son to vis­it Olympic is the Wilder­ness Coast—tidal pools, rock fea­tures, and a stun­ning land­scape define this area of the park, and at times, a good crowd of peo­ple. Per­mits are required to camp on the beach, and so are bear can­is­ters. Know­ing how to use Tide Tables and car­ry­ing them with you is a key part of the expe­ri­ence (and your safety).

Things to Consider

  • The sin­gle night fee for stay­ing in the Olympic back­coun­try is $8, and an annu­al pass for $45 is also avail­able. If you are going to be spend­ing more than six days in the wilder­ness, this annu­al pass is the way to go.
  • Prop­er food stor­age is manda­to­ry in Olympic, and in many areas bear can­is­ters are required. Can­is­ters can be loaned out from var­i­ous insti­tu­tions sur­round­ing Olympic (with a lim­it­ed sup­ply), and in some areas, the park pro­vides bear wires to hang your food.
  • Fol­low Leave No Trace guide­lines! This includes human waste dis­pos­al, respect­ing the wildlife and leav­ing what you find behind. Over 50,000 overnight vis­its occur in the Olympic Wilder­ness each year—making every lit­tle trace­able action from every sin­gle per­son real­ly adds up over time.

Con­sid­ered the Crown of the Con­ti­nent, Glac­i­er Nation­al Park deserves to be explored at least once in a life­time if not every sea­son. While attrac­tions like the Going-to-the-Sun Road are a good launch­ing point for this ele­vat­ed ter­rain in north­ern Mon­tana, if you are going out of your way to vis­it this icon­ic nat­ur­al resource, hik­ing the trails is prob­a­bly of high pri­or­i­ty. Back­coun­try Per­mits go for advanced reser­va­tion in March and serve as the best way to con­nect the pass­es, camp­grounds, and views you intend to see. Don’t know where to start your trip plan­ning to Glac­i­er? Check out these back­coun­try and front coun­try recommendations.

Filled with vibrant ecosys­tems, an abun­dance of wildlife and burly moun­tain pass­es, Glac­i­er is a great place for back­pack­ers to find them­selves in mag­nif­i­cent sur­round­ings. The Con­ti­nen­tal Divide Trail spans the entire length of the park before find­ing its north­ern ter­mi­nus at the Cana­di­an bor­der, and the Pacif­ic North­west Trail begins in Glac­i­er and pro­ceeds to head 1,200 miles west to the Wash­ing­ton Coast. Nation­al Scenic Trails aside, Glac­i­er has sev­en back­coun­try areas, 65 dif­fer­ent back­coun­try camp­grounds, and numer­ous trail­heads to choose from. Check out this map for an overview of the trail system.

Boul­der Pass
North Fork and Goat Haunt Area
Found with­in the north­ern wilder­ness of the park, Boul­der Pass is one of the most pop­u­lar overnight routes avail­able in Glac­i­er. Typ­i­cal­ly, Boul­der Pass back­pack­ing routes begin at the Kint­la Lake trail­head in the North Fork Area of the park. From there, hik­ers strad­dle the shore of Kint­la Lake, pro­ceed­ing 18 miles to Boul­der Pass. Appre­ci­at­ing the views is easy the entire way, espe­cial­ly at the Hole-in-the-Wall basin. From Boul­der Pass, hik­ers can either go anoth­er 10 miles to the Goat Haunt Ranger Sta­tion or make a half-loop with 15 miles to the Bow­man Lake Trailhead.

Stoney Indi­an Pass
Bel­ly Riv­er and Many Glac­i­er Area
The Bel­ly Riv­er and Many Glac­i­er Area of the park affords many hik­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, includ­ing the sought-after Stoney Indi­an Pass. A pop­u­lar way to expe­ri­ence this high-alpine pass is through a mul­ti-day trek start­ing from the Chief Moun­tain Cus­toms trail­head on the east­ern edge of the park. Fin­ish­ing at the Goat Haunt Ranger Sta­tion, the total trav­el length is just under 30 miles. A grad­ual incline to begin the trail pass­es by numer­ous alpine lakes and the climb up Stony Pass allows hik­ers to real­ly earn the views.

Gun­sight Pass
Saint Mary and Lake McDon­ald Area
Com­ing in at rough­ly 20 miles and begin­ning near the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Gun­sight Pass can be done as an ambi­tious day hike, but 2–3 days real­ly lets hik­ers take in the scenery. With over 7,000 feet of ele­va­tion change, the pass is no cake walk, but views such as the turquoise waters of Gun­sight Lake make it well worth it. In addi­tion to hik­ers, Gun­sight Pass is always pop­u­lar with res­i­dent moun­tain goats (who deserve some space).

Two Med­i­cine Pass
Two Med­i­cine and Wal­ton Area
Depart­ing from the Two Med­i­cine South Shore trail­head in the south­east por­tion of the park, the one-way dis­tance to Two Med­i­cine Pass is just under eight miles. This hearty trek isn’t rec­om­mend­ed for first-timers though. Those who take on this hike climb their way past icon­ic land­scapes like Rock­well Falls and Cobalt Lake before hit­ting big views at the pass. To extend the trip into a mul­ti-night excur­sion, hik­ers can con­tin­ue to the Lake Isabel­la Camp­ground or head into the Wal­ton area of the park, where the Nyack/Cold Creek Camp­ing Zone offers undes­ig­nat­ed camp­ing opportunities.

Going-to-the-Sun Road
Cross­ing the heart of the nation­al park and span­ning for 50 miles, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a cen­ter­piece for near­ly everyone’s trav­el to Glac­i­er. Numer­ous trail­heads and points of inter­est can be found off the shoul­ders, as well as stun­ning land­scapes that make it hard to con­cen­trate on the road. Dri­ving your per­son­al vehi­cle isn’t the only way to trav­el, and it’s not even the rec­om­mend­ed course of action. Instead, Glacier’s free shut­tle sys­tem is a great way to ride.

Lake McDon­ald
As the largest lake in the park, this mas­sive glacial reser­voir is anoth­er icon­ic image for anyone’s vis­it. Eas­i­ly accessed from the Going-to-the-Sun Road and sur­round­ed by upright Rocky Moun­tain peaks, Lake McDon­ald is an award-win­ning pho­to eas­i­ly tak­en by acci­dent. Miles of hik­ing and back­pack­ing trails sur­round the 10-mile lake. For those look­ing to enjoy the water in style, the cen­tu­ry-old Lake McDon­ald Lodge offers rus­tic accom­mo­da­tions with a mod­ern appeal.

High­line Trail 
For a more stren­u­ous day hike with all the views, the High­line Trail is a point-to-point high­light reel of icon­ic Glac­i­er land­scapes. Both ends of the hike are accessed from the Going-to-the-Sun Road and made logis­ti­cal­ly easy thanks to the free shut­tle. The trail trav­els near­ly 12 miles between the Logan Pass Vis­i­tor Cen­ter and “the loop” sec­tion of the Going-to-the-Sun road. Hik­ers strad­dle the nar­row edge of the Gar­den Wall before pass­ing many view­points, includ­ing the reced­ing and well-pho­tographed Grin­nell Glac­i­er. The High­line Trail can be split between days thanks to the cen­tu­ry-old Gran­ite Park Chalet lodg­ing found along the way.

Trail of the Cedars
As a required stop with any vis­it, the Trail of the Cedars is less than a mile long and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble thanks to a well-con­struct­ed board­walk trail and paved hik­ing route. Eas­i­ly one of the most pop­u­lar trails in the park, for good rea­son, ancient avalanche-avoid­ed trees line the route and the mov­ing waters of Avalanche Creek can real­ly leave a great impres­sion on you. This mile-long trail is wor­thy of a pit stop along a larg­er jour­ney. If hik­ers find them­selves under­whelmed by the scenery (they won’t), the trail con­tin­ues for anoth­er 1.9 miles to Avalanche Lake.

If you’re a lover of the out­doors, chances are you’ve paid a fee of some kind (on top of the tax­es we all pay). Some camp­ground and day-use fees may be min­i­mal, while oth­ers seem to get larg­er every year. It may make you grum­ble a bit as you hand over your hard-earned cash, but it’s the price we pay to enjoy the won­drous moun­tains, canyons, lakes, and oth­er breath­tak­ing scenery our pub­lic lands have to offer. Want to know where the out­door recre­ation fees go and how they pro­tect our pub­lic lands? Read on!

Nation­al and State Park Pass­es and Fees
There has been a bit of com­mo­tion in recent years over the increase in cost to access some pub­lic lands. While many may see this as an unfair bur­den, it’s worth not­ing that most of these cost increas­es have occurred because more and more peo­ple are vis­it­ing our pub­lic spaces. So it takes more and more resources to main­tain them. Park pass­es and fees typ­i­cal­ly pay for trails, trail main­te­nance, and camp­grounds. And in many cas­es, they cov­er pic­nic shel­ters, pub­lic toi­lets, infra­struc­ture improve­ments, pub­lic edu­ca­tion and out­reach, garbage, and much more. If you find your­self cring­ing when you hand over the mon­ey for your pass, just remem­ber your mon­ey is being put to good use. And it will allow oth­ers to enjoy pub­lic lands far into the future.

Camp­ground Fees
If you choose to camp in a non-dis­persed camp­ground, chances are you’re going to pay a fee. Many of these camp­grounds come with hookups, vault toi­lets, and oth­er ameni­ties. The fees you pay are not only used to main­tain the grounds, but they’re also used for the trail sys­tems near­by. Fees also often pay for haul­ing out the trash or human waste left behind in the area.

Not a fan of camp­ing close enough to hear your neigh­bors blar­ing music? Pre­fer more prim­i­tive, dis­persed camp­ing? You prob­a­bly won’t have to pay a fee. How­ev­er, if you’re camp­ing in a nation­al for­est, most entrances have park­ing fees or dona­tion box­es at trail­heads. If there’s no fee, it’s good prac­tice to leave a dona­tion since it’s typ­i­cal­ly used to pay for trail main­te­nance. And don’t for­get to pay for park­ing if required.

Per­mit Fees
You may have to obtain a per­mit to hike a spe­cif­ic trail or camp in a des­ig­nat­ed area. These per­mits do a few impor­tant things. First, they lim­it the num­ber of peo­ple who can use the trail or area at a spe­cif­ic time. This cuts down on human envi­ron­men­tal impact, and also ensures that the peo­ple who are pay­ing for the expe­ri­ence aren’t shar­ing it with an unrea­son­able num­ber of oth­er adven­tur­ers. Sec­ond­ly, the mon­ey obtained through per­mits is typ­i­cal­ly used to main­tain that spe­cif­ic trail or area. For exam­ple, you must obtain a riv­er trip per­mit if you plan to do a non-com­mer­cial raft trip. These fees are used for a vari­ety of ser­vices includ­ing search and res­cue teams and main­tain­ing canyon trails.

Fish and Game Licens­ing Fees
Even if you aren’t an angler or hunter, if you enjoy pub­lic lands and wildlife, you real­ly should shake their hand the next time you meet one in the back­coun­try. States are required to use 100 per­cent of the mon­ey obtained through licens­ing fees to main­tain fish and wildlife pop­u­la­tions in that par­tic­u­lar state. If they fail to do so, they can risk los­ing fed­er­al fund­ing. That said, fish­ers and hunters spend bil­lions of dol­lars annu­al­ly not only on licens­es but also on excise tax­es. That mon­ey is used to pre­serve fish­ing and wildlife envi­ron­ments such as lakes, rivers, grass­lands, and moun­tain­ous regions. Are you a hik­er, pad­dler, rafter, or gen­er­al adven­tur­er? You’ve prob­a­bly enjoyed these places.

Anoth­er fun fact: Some states, such as Col­orado, use a small por­tion of fish­ing and game licens­es to fund their search and res­cue orga­ni­za­tions. If you’re ever strand­ed on the side of a moun­tain or lost in the woods and need res­cu­ing, send hunters and fish­ers a thank you card for their contribution.

If you’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to vis­it our nation’s first nation­al park, you know how over­whelm­ing it can be. Encom­pass­ing more than 3,000 square miles and con­tain­ing the largest con­cen­tra­tion of geot­her­mal attrac­tions in the coun­try, it’s safe to say there’s a lot to see in Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park.

Out­side of the gey­sers, fumaroles and hot springs, Yel­low­stone also con­tains a vast back­coun­try wait­ing to be explored, moun­tain peaks to be climbed, and dozens of his­toric struc­tures worth stop­ping in to. Whether you only have a hol­i­day week­end or you’re plan­ning to spend the sum­mer explor­ing all that Yel­low­stone has to offer, these nine attrac­tions should be at the top of your list.

1. Upper Geyser Basin 
Home to the Old Faith­ful geyser and a pletho­ra of oth­er geot­her­mic hot spots, for many, the Upper Geyser Basin is the epit­o­me of Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park. It’s not only Old Faith­ful that’s worth see­ing though; stretch­ing for near­ly three miles away from the Old Faith­ful Vis­i­tor Cen­ter, planked board­walks lead vis­i­tors to oth­er var­i­ous hot springs, fumaroles and worth­while gey­sers in the area.

2. The Old Faith­ful Inn 
Con­struct­ed in 1903 and locat­ed a few hun­dred yards away from the Old Faith­ful geyser, the Old Faith­ful Inn is an archi­tec­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal won­der to behold. With a clas­sic log-and-stone struc­ture, the ambiance of the Old Faith­ful Inn res­onates in the Gold­en Age it was built, and the his­to­ry it holds res­onates with every­one who vis­its. Reser­va­tions for the Old Faith­ful Inn need to be made months in advance, and if you can’t get your­self a book­ing, it’s still rec­om­mend­ed to check out the Old Faith­ful Inn Din­ing Room for a full-course meal or an awe­some break­fast buffet.

3. West Thumb Geyser Basin 
Over­look­ing the mas­sive “West Thumb” of Yel­low­stone Lake, the West Thumb Geyser Basin takes vis­i­tors on a board­walk tour cov­er­ing lakeshore gey­sers, per­fo­rat­ed pools and surg­ing springs (plus a “paint pot” or two). The view of Yel­low­stone Lake isn’t half-bad either, mak­ing the West Thumb Geyser Basin a quick stop that can be remem­bered for a lifetime.

4. Mid­way Geyser Basin 
The Mid­way Geyser Basin presents some of the largest geot­her­mal attrac­tions found in the park. Most notably, vis­i­tors to the Mid­way Geyser Basin are treat­ed to the mul­ti-col­or arrange­ments of Grand Pris­mat­ic Spring, which can leave you won­der­ing what plan­et you just land­ed on. Upon any vis­it, be sure to not only walk the board­walk sur­round­ing the spring, but take the time to hike from Fairy Falls trail­head to give you a more bird’s-eye view of Grand Pris­mat­ic and the sur­round­ing Mid­way Geyser Basin.

5. Lamar and Hay­den Valley 
If spot­ting wildlife is high on your pri­or­i­ty list when vis­it­ing Yel­low­stone, the Lamar and Hay­den Val­leys should be up on your list. As you sim­ply dri­ve by these cen­tral and north Yel­low­stone val­leys, your chances of spot­ting wildlife are good, and so is the chance of bison cross­ing the road right in front of you. Bring binoc­u­lars along to use while parked at one of the many pull-offs—or ven­ture forth through­out the trails found in the area—and with healthy respect toward the wildlife, you can catch a glimpse of many of Yellowstone’s native res­i­dents includ­ing buf­fa­lo, bears, wolves, and elk.

6. Mount Washburn
If you want to add some ele­va­tion to your Yel­low­stone adven­ture, Mount Wash­burn can take you there. With two trail­heads that access the sum­mit of Mount Wash­burn, and the cor­re­spond­ing oper­a­tional fire tow­er found there, vis­i­tors can choose between steep switch­backs and not-as-steep switch­backs. Either route includes a 5‑plus mile round trip, and both deliv­er on big views that include Hay­den Val­ley, the Grand Canyon of Yel­low­stone and even Grand Teton on clear days.

7. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone 
While Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park might be best not­ed for its incred­i­ble geot­her­mal attrac­tions, it also deliv­ers when it comes to grand vis­tas and water­falls. No bet­ter exam­ple of that can be found than the Grand Canyon of Yel­low­stone, cre­at­ed by the rush­ing water of the Yel­low­stone Riv­er. Both South Rim and North Rim hikes offer views of the oil paint­ing-esque land­scape if you don’t mind tra­vers­ing a good num­ber of stairs to see it all.

8. The Boil­ing River 
Locat­ed near the north­ern bor­der of Yel­low­stone in Mon­tana, the Boil­ing Riv­er is part of the Mam­moth Hot Springs area of the park and offers one of the few legal ther­mal soak­ing areas to sit in. Vis­i­tors to the Boil­ing Riv­er do not, and should not, soak in the near­by hot springs itself, but instead can enjoy the warmth at the junc­tion where the hot water meets the cold water of the Gard­ner Riv­er, cre­at­ing a per­fect place for folks to enjoy the ther­mal pow­ers that make Yel­low­stone what it is.

9. Nor­ris Geyser Basin 
Fea­tur­ing a scorched envi­ron­ment lined with geot­her­mal fea­tures, the Nor­ris Geyser Basin unveils the hottest, old­est and most dynam­ic area of Yel­low­stone. Split into the Back Basin and Porce­lain Basin, the board­walk trails through­out the area feel like gate­ways to a dif­fer­ent plan­et, and the sul­fur steam adds a vis­cer­al ele­ment to the expe­ri­ence. While there are many geyser basins to check out in Yel­low­stone, Nor­ris Geyser is deserv­ing of your time.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

While nation­al parks like Yel­low­stone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon are see­ing mil­lions of vis­i­tors a year, plen­ty of oth­er nation­al parks are found in the sys­tem that see a frac­tion of this traf­fic. While many would argue it’s the pris­tine wilder­ness and jaw-drop­ping land­scapes that draw the crowds to the most pop­u­lar nation­al parks (and it is), it also has some­thing to do with ease of access.

In the less traf­ficked parks it’s safe to say that it’s not a lack of breath­tak­ing scenery that caus­es low atten­dance, but rather how dif­fi­cult it’s to get there—making them an excel­lent place to actu­al­ly get away for a while.

Gates of the Arctic National ParkGates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park and Pre­serve, Alas­ka (10,047 Vis­i­tors in 2016)
Con­sist­ing of a whop­ping 8.4 mil­lion acres of road­less Alaskan wilder­ness, Gates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park and Pre­serve is one of the biggest nation­al parks in the coun­try, and one of the least vis­it­ed. To reach park bound­aries, vis­i­tors can either hike into this north­ern Alaskan space or more com­mon­ly, char­ter a plane. Once you’ve made it into the Gates of the Arc­tic, you’re on your own in this rugged­ly beau­ti­ful envi­ron­ment, and the Nation­al Park doesn’t pro­vide any ameni­ties to bank on, or even any offi­cial trails to follow.

Isle Royale National ParkIsle Royale Nation­al Park, Michi­gan (24,966 Vis­i­tors in 2016)
When vis­it­ing Isle Royale Nation­al Park, locat­ed with­in Lake Michi­gan, the chances of see­ing wildlife is greater than see­ing human life. That’s because this car-free wilder­ness is only accessed by fer­ry, sea­plane or per­son­al water­craft. Hitch a ride though, and near­ly all 45 miles of this “largest island in Lake Supe­ri­or” is yours to explore how­ev­er you want. While pop­u­lar activ­i­ties at Isle Royale include scu­ba div­ing, fish­ing, boat­ing and day hik­ing, if you have four of five days at your dis­pos­al, a rec­om­mend­ed course for adven­ture includes back­pack­ing the Green­stone Ridge Trail that spans 40 miles across the island.

North Cascades National ParkNorth Cas­cades Nation­al Park, Wash­ing­ton (28,646 Vis­i­tors in 2016)
Only three hours north of Seat­tle, North Cas­cades Nation­al Park is what moun­tain dreams are made of. Con­sist­ing of a whole kalei­do­scope of Pacif­ic North­west col­or, includ­ing emer­ald alpine lakes, shim­mer­ing white glac­i­ers, intense­ly green forests and rugged Cas­cade peaks, if you like moun­tain­ous scenery, you may nev­er leave the North Cas­cades once you get there. The Nation­al Park itself main­ly con­sists of the Stephen Math­er wilderness—meaning that while you can dri­ve a car to get into the North Cas­cades, there are few roads to fol­low from there.

Great Basin National ParkGreat Basin Nation­al Park, Neva­da (144,846 Vis­i­tors in 2016)
Locat­ed on the east­ern Neva­da bor­der by Utah, Great Basin Nation­al Park dis­plays a shock­ing amount of vari­ety in ecosys­tems and dif­fer­ent ways to explore them. Home to 13,000-foot glaciat­ed peaks, ancient groves of bristle­cone pines, and a lime­stone cave sys­tem known as Lehman Caves, Great Basin has a diver­si­ty of land­scapes to admire. Whether you’re look­ing to hike the Wheel­er Sum­mit Trail to get a view of the top of the world, or you want to explore under­ground as part of a guid­ed tour, this amaz­ing Nation­al Park in a remote part of the coun­try offers some­thing new to do through­out each season.

Congaree National ParkCon­ga­ree Nation­al Park, South Car­oli­na (143,843 Vis­i­tors in 2016)
Con­tain­ing some of the tallest trees you’ll find in the east­ern Unit­ed States, much of the attrac­tion and appeal of Con­ga­ree Nation­al Park comes from the mov­ing waters of the Con­ga­ree and Wateree Rivers that mean­der through the park. Not only do these two rivers occa­sion­al­ly slip their shores and make their way through the flood­plain, pro­vid­ing plen­ty of nutri­ents and sed­i­ments to sup­port a rich ecosys­tem, but these water­ways also offer the per­fect way to nav­i­gate this dense South­east­ern nation­al park.

Guadalupe Mountains National ParkGuadalupe Moun­tains Nation­al Park, Texas (181,839 Vis­i­tors in 2016)
Home to the high­est point in Texas (Guadalupe Peak, 8,749 feet), Guadalupe Moun­tains Nation­al Park on the west­ern side of the state dis­play a side of Texas you may not expect to see. Not only are the four high­est peaks in Texas found in Guadalupe Moun­tains Nation­al Park, but vis­i­tors can also check out the daz­zling Salt Basin Dune—fossilized remains of the reefs that used to dom­i­nate the area (includ­ing the Guadalupe Moun­tains them­selves), and some awe-inspir­ing col­ors come fall in McKit­trick Canyon.

Exalt­ed as a play­ground for the fit and brave, Utah’s desert gem, Moab, sits beside the Col­orado Riv­er, two nation­al parks, and a state park. Mean­ing “Promised Land,” the destination’s nomen­cla­ture denotes its unri­valed access to canyons, trails, river­ways, and rock walls. But to the dis­cern­ing eye, Moab’s oth­er­world­ly landscapes—think icon­ic red rock for­ma­tions back­dropped against snow-capped peaks—are more than an adren­a­line gate­way. They’re also the per­fect stage for bud­ding photographers.

The Clymb and Hud­son Hen­ry, a bonafide go-any­where, try-any­thing adven­tur­er, and cel­e­brat­ed trav­el pho­tog­ra­ph­er whose work has been rec­og­nized by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, have joined forces to offer a five-day pho­to adven­ture. This fall, join Hud­son in Moab for a hands-on work­shop designed for any­one who wants to devel­op their cre­ative vision, best uti­lize the gear they already have, and learn tac­tics to bet­ter tell their own trav­el sto­riesinclud­ing advanced tech­niques like nightscapes and panoram­ic merg­ers. We first met Hud­son when we wrote about An Amer­i­can Ascent, an award-win­ning film for which he direct­ed photography.

We chat­ted up Hud­son about his pas­sion for teach­ing and love of Moab:


HUDSON HENRY: It’s always been about trav­el­ing and tak­ing adven­tures to wild and beau­ti­ful places and bring­ing back sto­ries to share with fam­i­ly and friends, and then from there it grew into a wider audience.


HUDSON HENRY: I’ve always been about shar­ing the adven­ture, bring­ing back visu­al sto­ries to share with oth­ers of places they would oth­er­wise nev­er see. It start­ed with show­ing my 90-year old grand­moth­er what it’s like to climb Kil­i­man­jaro. Over time my pas­sion evolved into shar­ing adven­tures with oth­ers while teach­ing them to cap­ture their own visu­al sto­ries. I get a lot of sat­is­fac­tion from “ah-ha!” moments when some­thing clicks for a student.


HUDSON HENRY: It has real­ly good weath­er and the high desert environment—it’s ridicu­lous­ly scenic. All these shoot­ing locations—Fisher Tow­ers, Arch­es, Bal­anced Rock—they’re just a hop, skip, and jump from this com­fort­able lit­tle town with all these fun restau­rants and ameni­ties. And the lack of light pol­lu­tion gives real­ly good abil­i­ty to do stuff with stars.


HUDSON HENRY: It’s for any­one who loves a good adven­ture and wants to bring home bet­ter pic­tures to share. This work­shop is great for any lev­el of pho­tog­ra­ph­er who is into shoot­ing action, wildlife, and land­scapes to tell a good sto­ry about a place and cap­ture the essence of a trip. I lim­it my work­shops to small groups and they tend to be all along the spec­trum from peo­ple who are just get­ting start­ed to those who are refin­ing advanced tech­niques. The goals of the work­shop are to devel­op your own cre­ative vision, to bet­ter use the gear you already have, and inter­act with each oth­er, maybe even form friend­ships that last beyond the workshop.


HUDSON HENRY: I am work­ing on a book about advanced panoram­ic pho­tog­ra­phy. I’m exper­i­ment­ing with under­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy with kite­board­ing and light­ing tech­niques. Also, time laps­es of stars mov­ing through the sky. I’m work­ing on the holy grail of time lapse: fol­low­ing the sun­set through the Milky Way back to sun­rise. And video and drone stuff. I’ll have a drone at the workshop.


HUDSON HENRY: The thing that dri­ves me is look­ing at pho­tog­ra­phers bet­ter than me—Sebastião Sal­ga­do is a favorite. There’s con­stant­ly room to improve. Every year you should be improv­ing. It’s more about cre­ative­ly find­ing ways to com­pose your images and using light than the lat­est and great­est equipment.

Get hands-on train­ing and explore Moab with Hud­son. Learn more about this exclu­sive five-day adven­ture pho­to work­shop.

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Glac­i­er Nation­al Park is one of the last pris­tine pieces of wilder­ness in the Unit­ed States. With over one mil­lion acres of moun­tain ranges, lakes and native wildlife to dis­cov­er it cer­tain­ly lives up to its nick­name as the Crown of the Con­ti­nent. Hard­core climbers, in par­tic­u­lar, have found it to be a fan­tas­tic place to vis­it with a seem­ing­ly end­less array of crag to explore and switch­backs to traverse.

The region is not for the faint of heart. The rocks are infa­mous­ly treach­er­ous and unsteady and dur­ing the cool­er months, much of the park becomes an avalanche zone. If you’re an expe­ri­enced climber, whether rock or moun­tain, you’ll find that the untouched rocks here are a great place to find new routes amid the crowd-free wilderness.

Mount Oberlin, Glacier National Park, Montana.Mount Ober­lin
Mount Ober­lin is wide­ly con­sid­ered the entry point for moun­tain climb­ing in Glac­i­er Nation­al Park. It’s one of only two moun­tains in the area that are con­sid­ered “safe” to climb with a some­what straight­for­ward route to the top. The Clements Sad­dle Route will get you to the peak in rough­ly half a day and the views from above are excel­lent. Ober­lin is the go-to route for those want­i­ng to climb when the con­di­tions aren’t very favor­able for harsh­er ascents.

Going-to-the-Sun Moun­tain
The West Face of Going-to-the-Sun hous­es a 4,000-foot ver­ti­cal ascent up a crum­bling façade designed to weed out the weak. It’s list­ed as a Class 3/4 but even the most expe­ri­enced climbers have a tough time mak­ing it to the top thanks to crap­py infra­struc­ture. If you find your­self eas­i­ly tra­vers­ing to the peak, the oppo­site side of the moun­tain is where the real chal­lenge lies. You’ll find some pret­ty great crags to tack­le here too.

Mount Saint Nicholas
Mt. Saint Nicholas is often tout­ed as the most dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous major sum­mit in the park. Its loca­tion in the remote south­west­ern por­tion of GNP makes it hard to reach and even hard­er to ascend. The steep ver­ti­cal horn of the moun­tain and stur­dy crag makes it appeal­ing for avid rock climbers, while moun­taineers love the tech­ni­cal routes to the top. You might have to ford the mouth of Muir Creek to get there, or trek in 18 miles, but the views from the top make it worth the effort.

Kin­ner­ly Peak
Expect to set aside at least a week in the back­coun­try if you’re going to make an attempt at Kin­ner­ly Peak. This mas­sive glacial horn is just less than 10,000 feet high and rests in the remote north­west region of the park. All four sides are incred­i­bly steep, with the one-mile ele­va­tion dif­fer­ence on the north face between the peak and Upper Kint­la Lake. With a rel­a­tive­ly high spire mea­sure and no real trail to choose from, Kin­ner­ly ranks up there with the best of them.

Mount Mer­ritt
Mount Mer­ritt isn’t the most tech­ni­cal climb in the park, though it’s cer­tain­ly not easy by any stretch, it does have inar­guably one of the most breath­tak­ing views from the top. Scenic over­looks of the sur­round­ing Mokowa­nis and Bel­ly Riv­er val­leys along with the neigh­bor­ing Old Sun Glac­i­er paint a mar­velous por­trait of one of the nation’s most valu­able nat­ur­al trea­sures. With only two stan­dard routes avail­able to the sum­mit, expect to spend days in the back­coun­try mak­ing your ini­tial approach. The Moka­nis Lake route requires an ice ax to help car­ry you across a steep screen slope and Class 3 ledges while the Old Sun Glac­i­er path is a com­pli­cat­ed route full of 50-degree climb­ing and exposed scram­bling most of the way up.

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Great Basin National Park

Plan a trip to Yel­low­stone or Yosemite and you’re like­ly to see as many humans as ani­mals. While these icon­ic regions are not to be missed, our Nation­al Park sys­tem offers plen­ty of hid­den trea­sures, too. Check out some of these equal­ly dynamic—but-less-visited—parks.

gates of the arcticGates of the Arc­tic, Alaska
Cari­bou, griz­zly, wolf, and moose all make them­selves at home here amid one of Alaska’s most dra­mat­ic land­scapes. If you’re a self-suf­fi­cient adven­tur­er who longs to expe­ri­ence the pris­tine Arc­tic envi­ron­ment in all its beau­ty, this is one of the best places in the world to real­ize your fantasy.

Just be aware that no por­tion of this park is that vis­i­tor friend­ly, which accounts for its low vis­i­tor tal­ly. There are no guest ser­vices, no neat­ly marked camp­sites. Not so much as a trail dis­turbs the wilder­ness. To reach this remote place, you’ll have to hike in, ford­ing rivers in the process.

northern cascadesNorth Cas­cades, Washington
Some pre­served places are so far off track, just get­ting there is a quest. But if you’re seek­ing alpine back­coun­try, abun­dant glacial activ­i­ty, and plen­ti­ful wildlife, you don’t real­ly have to sac­ri­fice all ameni­ties. North Cas­cades is just about three hours from Seat­tle and fea­tures trails and des­ig­nat­ed camp­ing spots. Vis­i­tors get a first­hand view of a cli­mate in transition—scientists do lots of research here on glac­i­er melt—as well as a dose of splen­did iso­la­tion. Despite all its acces­si­bil­i­ty, this park is still among the least vis­it­ed in the system.

Great Basin National ParkGreat Basin, Nevada
Unex­pect­ed diver­si­ty is on full dis­play at Great Basin. Rang­ing from the sum­mit of Wheel­er Peak to the foothills, this park has plen­ty of sur­pris­es. Here you’ll dis­cov­er forests of bristle­cone pine (the old­est tree species on the plan­et) and a host of aston­ish­ing cav­erns to be explored. Great Basin is also a par­adise for star-gaz­ers, where you can spot fan­tas­tic astro­nom­i­cal activ­i­ty over the clear, dry Neva­da skies.

Isle Royale National ParkIsle Royale, Michigan
This diminu­tive island in enor­mous Lake Supe­ri­or offers vis­i­tors the gift of iso­la­tion. Con­sist­ing of one main island and 450 small­er ones, Isle Royale is a par­adise for kayak­ers, Scu­ba divers, and oth­er explor­ers. Pulling ashore in your kayak or canoe, you’ll be wel­comed by the teem­ing wildlife. Lush­ly forest­ed, Isle Royale is home to moose and wolves, conifers and ferns. Although far few­er species are rep­re­sent­ed here than on the main­land, the iso­la­tion of the park makes vivid encoun­ters like­ly. Even dur­ing peak sea­son, you might avoid meet­ing anoth­er human on your excur­sion. Dur­ing the win­ter, the storm-and-snow-buf­fet­ed island is almost exclu­sive­ly the ani­mals’ domain.

Congaree National ParkCon­ga­ree, South Carolina
Nation­al Parks high­lights some of our nation’s most rare and spe­cial wild places. Con­ga­ree is no excep­tion, encom­pass­ing the last remain­ing and the biggest por­tion of old growth bot­tom­land hard­wood for­est remain­ing in the Amer­i­can south­east. It’s also a thriv­ing flood­plain ecosys­tem, which owes its bio­di­ver­si­ty to the nat­ur­al ebbs and flows of the Con­ga­ree and Wateree Rivers. Explor­ing here is noth­ing short of a bio­log­i­cal and geo­log­i­cal delight.

dry tortugasDry Tor­tu­gas, Florida
Don’t let the word “dry” in its name fool you: More than 99 per­cent of this park is under the sea. If you’re look­ing for a vis­it to a warm-water par­adise, Dry Tor­tu­gas is your per­fect match. Snor­kel­ing, div­ing, swim­ming, and boat­ing are prime choic­es for explo­ration. A Tech­ni­col­or vari­ety of fish and plant life beck­ons. But the human mark on Dry Tor­tu­gas is fas­ci­nat­ing in its own right. The island was home to Fort Jef­fer­son, a valu­able post for patrolling ships of yesteryear.


If you love the out­doors, you may fear los­ing access to pub­lic lands, or roll­backs in clean water and air pro­tec­tion. Amidst the entrenched par­ti­san bat­tles, it’s easy to for­get that con­ser­va­tion has often been a bipar­ti­san top­ic. Whether you love them or hate them, these politi­cians have at some point done some crit­i­cal work — often in unex­pect­ed ways — to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment. They come from both par­ties, and they may not be who you think.

Jimmy CarterJim­my Carter
With one stroke of his pen, Jim­my Carter final­ized pro­tect­ing wild places equal to the entire state of Cal­i­for­nia. On Decem­ber 2nd, 1980 as he was about to leave the White House, he signed the Alas­ka Nation­al Inter­est Lands Con­ser­va­tion Act, a sweep­ing con­ser­va­tion lega­cy that pro­tect­ed over 55 mil­lion acres. The names pre­served by ANILCA are now com­mon hall­marks of Alas­ka wild­ness: Misty Fjords, Admi­ral­ty Island, Wrangell-St. Elias, Kenai Fjords, Kat­mai, Gates of the Arc­tic and an expand­ed Denali Nation­al Park, to name a few. His push for renew­able ener­gy fore­saw cli­mate change and the via­bil­i­ty of solar, wind, and wave energy.

George H.W. BushGeorge H.W. Bush
The first eight years of the 1980s weren’t great for con­ser­va­tion. When Ronald Rea­gan left the White House and his Vice Pres­i­dent moved in, many expect­ed more of the same. But ear­ly in his term, Bush over­ruled his advi­sors and sup­port­ed a new­fan­gled mar­ket-based pol­i­cy tool to reduce acid rain. It was called “Cap-and-Trade”, and it’s a main­stay of cli­mate change poli­cies world­wide today. Bush used it to put the lid on sul­phur diox­ide emis­sions that were caus­ing acid rain. Bush also sup­port­ed the “no net loss” wet­lands pol­i­cy that led to the restora­tion of thou­sands of acres of wetlands.

Sherwood BoehlertSher­wood Boehlert
If you don’t hail from New York, you may nev­er have heard of Boehlert, a Repub­li­can Con­gress­man in Upstate New York from the 1980s until 2007. Dubbed the “Green Hor­net” for his com­bi­na­tion of envi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion and will­ing­ness to put a sting in the side of his own par­ty, Boehlert was a strong advo­cate for cli­mate sci­ence and for the aver­age fuel effi­cien­cy of cars. If you dri­ve a hybrid, he’s one of the rea­sons why. Since leav­ing Con­gress, he’s worked on ener­gy issues with a lit­tle known fel­low by the name of Al Gore.

Richard NixonRichard Nixon
Nixon is infa­mous (and right­ly so) for Water­gate. He’s usu­al­ly left off the list of envi­ron­men­tal champions—but it’s his sig­na­ture on four major pieces of envi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion: the Endan­gered Species Act, the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act, the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act, and the cre­ation of the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, which con­trols air and water pol­lu­tion. For his first head of the EPA, he appointed…

William RuckelshausWilliam Ruck­elshaus
Nixon’s first head of the EPA, Ruck­elshaus had a rep­u­ta­tion as a no-non­sense attor­ney. Start­ing from scratch, he built the EPA’s author­i­ty in an era when dead fish lined the shores of Lake Erie and the Cuya­hoga Riv­er had recent­ly caught fire. He insisted—correctly—that DDT posed a greater human can­cer risk than many experts thought, and insist­ed on ban­ning it. He became famous lat­er, as act­ing head of the FBI, for resign­ing as part of the “Sat­ur­day Night Mas­sacre” when he refused to fire the Water­gate Spe­cial Prosecutor.

Barack ObamaBarack Oba­ma
Obama’s lega­cy includes 22 new or enlarged Nation­al Mon­u­ments and pro­tect­ed 265 acres of land and water, includ­ing three Mon­u­ments that, along with adjoin­ing nation­al parks, make up one of the largest desert pre­serves in the world. One of his first pieces of leg­is­la­tion was the 2009 Omnibus Pub­lic Land Act, which set aside wilder­ness for the first time in decades. In an era of bit­ter divi­sions, the Pub­lic Lands Act passed the Sen­ate by a bipar­ti­san vote of 77–20.

Ron WydenRon Wyden
Camp­ing, hik­ing and play­ing out­side make up a $646 bil­lion indus­try that employs more Amer­i­cans than Apple. Wyden, a Sen­a­tor from Ore­gon, under­stands the eco­nom­ic engine of out­door recre­ation bet­ter than any politi­cian in Wash­ing­ton D.C. In 2016, Wyden intro­duced the Recre­ation Not Red Tape Act, which would stream­line per­mit­ting, increase pro­grams to main­tain trails and camp­grounds, get kids and vet­er­ans out­doors on pub­lic lands, and enlarge the Pub­lic Land Ser­vice Corps. Right now, it’s still just a bill sit­ting there on Capi­tol Hill, but maybe it will be a law some­day. Wyden is cur­rent­ly spear­head­ing efforts to keep the EPA’s pro­tec­tions on air and water strong.

Teddy RooseveltTed­dy Roosevelt
No list of this type would be com­plete with­out TR. The orig­i­na­tor of the “vig­or­ous life,” Roo­sevelt cre­at­ed the Nation­al Wildlife Sys­tem and the Nation­al For­est sys­tem, pro­tect­ed the Grand Canyon, enlarged Yosemite, and des­ig­nat­ed the first Nation­al Mon­u­ments. But he did far more than that. What oth­er Pres­i­dent went bear hunt­ing, ditched his entourage to camp with John Muir for three days in Yosemite, and explored rivers in the Ama­zon? TR made the rugged out­doors fun­da­men­tal­ly American.


Nation­al Parks owe their his­to­ry to some key peo­ple and key moments. But what about places? Parks are, after all, spe­cif­ic places on earth. The Nation­al Park Ser­vice was found­ed more than 100 years ago. So let’s look back at a few patch­es of ground that have had an out­sized impact on the Nation­al Parks movement.

yosemiteA Nonex­is­tent Camp­fire Some­where in North­west­ern Wyoming
As myth has it, the idea of a nation­al park was born around a camp­fire by the first east­ern Amer­i­cans to explore Yel­low­stone: David Fol­som, Hen­ry Wash­burn, and Fer­di­nand Hay­den in 1869–71.

As the sto­ry goes, dis­cus­sions around the camp­fire led to that the area should be kept pub­lic and not be sold off to pri­vate indi­vid­u­als as much of the West was being home­stead­ed in the late 1800s. Sup­pos­ed­ly this led to the cre­ation of Yel­low­stone as the first nation­al park.

The sto­ry is almost cer­tain­ly false. In fact, Yel­low­stone wasn’t real­ly the first “nation­al park”. Abra­ham Lin­coln, inspired by Car­leton Watkins’ pho­tographs, had signed a bill back in 1864 that declared the Yosemite Val­ley inviolate.

But in 1876 park advo­cates latched on to the appeal­ing sto­ry of rugged explor­ers kick­ing ideas around a camp­fire and made polit­i­cal hay from it. The North­ern Pacif­ic Rail­road, seek­ing tourist des­ti­na­tions for their route through the west, sup­port­ed the Park. Through a tall tale retold, the Nation­al Park idea gath­ered steam.

©istockphoto/traveler1116 Glac­i­er Point, Yosemite
In 1903, Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt toured Yosemite. He told his entourage, wait­ing for him at the Wawona Hotel, that he would join them “short­ly”. The Pres­i­dent didn’t show up for three days; he had ditched them to go off camp­ing with a fel­low named John Muir.

The two slept beneath the giant trees in the Mari­posa Grove, hiked up Sen­tinel Dome, and woke up cov­ered in snow at Glac­i­er Point. It was prob­a­bly the most impor­tant camp­ing trip in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. The com­pa­ny of Muir and the land­scape of Yosemite sent Roosevelt’s already-strong con­ser­va­tion instinct into hyperdrive.

Muir’s imme­di­ate goal was renewed fed­er­al pro­tec­tion of Yosemite. He got that and more. Roo­sevelt cre­at­ed 5 oth­er nation­al parks, 18 nation­al mon­u­ments, four game pre­serves, 150 nation­al forests, and over 230 mil­lion acres of pub­lic lands.

©istockphoto/tobiasjo Mile 32.8, Col­orado Riv­er, Arizona
Mile 32.8 of the Col­orado Riv­er in the Grand Canyon is fair­ly innocu­ous. The last big rapid is eight miles back, and the next siz­able drop, Unkar Rapid, is forty miles down­riv­er. Boaters look for­ward to stop­ping at Red­wall Cav­ern and fill­ing up with fresh water at Vasey’s Par­adise, but it’s hard to miss the four big square holes up high on the wall.

They’re the test holes for the Mar­ble Canyon Dam, which was pro­posed and even sur­veyed. In 1963, the Bureau of Recla­ma­tion, hav­ing just closed the flood­gates on the Glen Canyon Dam upstream, pro­posed a 300-foot dam in Mar­ble Canyon that would have backed a reser­voir all the way up to the foot of Glen Canyon Dam. A sec­ond pro­posed dam in Bridge Canyon on the west end would have turned the leg­endary Col­orado Riv­er into a series of reservoirs.

As crazy as this sounds now, the 1950s and 60s were the era of big fed­er­al dam build­ing and the Sun Belt was grow­ing and thirsty. The fight over the Grand Canyon was a seri­ous one. It turned a riv­er rat into a sea­soned con­ser­va­tion­ist (Mar­tin Lit­ton) and a small region­al group of out­door activists into a nation­al force to be reck­oned with (the Sier­ra Club). Col­orado still flows like a riv­er through the Grand Canyon.

florida evergladesA Swamp in South Florida
A swamp near Mia­mi does­n’t seem like the per­fect place for a nation­al park; but when Con­gress autho­rized the cre­ation of Ever­glades Nation­al Park 1934, it was ground­break­ing even though they didn’t appro­pri­ate any mon­ey for the Ever­glades for anoth­er five years.

Ever­glades Nation­al Park was game-chang­ing in two ways. First, it was the first nation­al park in the East, where most Amer­i­cans lived at the time. The Ever­glades broke a pat­tern of parks being estab­lished almost exclu­sive­ly in the high moun­tains of the West.

And sec­ond, it was the first park to be pre­served not for its scenic beau­ty, but to pro­tect frag­ile ecosys­tems at risk from water draw­downs and agri­cul­ture. In the midst of the Great Depres­sion, plac­ing the eco­log­i­cal con­cerns of a bug­gy humid swamp at the top of any list was a coura­geous move. The Ever­glades was the first vic­to­ry for the new sci­ence of ecol­o­gy that would gath­er steam in the com­ing decades.

©istockphoto/tondaThe Mouth of the Lit­tle Col­orado Riv­er, Grand Canyon Nation­al Park
The les­son of Hetch Hetchy and the Grand Canyon Dam pro­pos­al is that nation­al parks still need defend­ers after they’re estab­lished. One of those places is the unde­ni­ably mag­i­cal blue waters of the Lit­tle Col­orado Riv­er where it meets Col­orado, a sacred site to many Nava­jo and Hopi.

The pro­posed “Grand Canyon Escalade” devel­op­ment would build a 1.4‑mile motor­ized tram to shut­tle up to 10,000 vis­i­tors a day to the bot­tom of the Grand Canyon and would fea­ture a hotel, restau­rant, RV cen­ter, and amphithe­ater. Forty years after the defeat of the Grand Canyon dam pro­pos­als and the expan­sion of the park, the Grand Canyon is still under threat.

©istockphoto/OGphoto 146 Acres in Zip Code 20004
It may be one of the small­er Nation­al Parks, but it’s the most impor­tant. The Capi­tol Mall in Wash­ing­ton D.C. is where Yosemite, Glac­i­er, Denali, and Canyon­lands were cre­at­ed. Parks are estab­lished, fund­ed, defund­ed, pro­tect­ed or pri­va­tized by the action (or inac­tion) of Con­gress and the Pres­i­dent. Far away as it may seem from the depths of a slot canyon in Zion or atop a pin­na­cle in the Tetons, the Capi­tol Mall is a place park advo­cates can’t afford to overlook.


This year the Nation­al Park Ser­vice cel­e­brat­ed its 100th birth­day, mean­ing it’s been about 100 years since Woodrow Wil­son cre­at­ed the NPS, and well over 100 years since Ulysses S. Grant made Yel­low­stone arguably the first nation­al park on the plan­et. Since then the Nation­al Parks have grown to be con­sid­ered one of Amer­i­ca’s “Best Ideas,” and are respect­ed glob­al­ly for their feats in con­ser­va­tion, his­toric preser­va­tion. and of course, adven­ture. In hon­or of “Amer­i­ca’s Best Idea,” we’re shar­ing some Clymb sto­ries from time spent in the Nation­al Parks.

Kari­na Sal­ga­do — Brand Design­er Manager
Bryce Canyon, Arch­es, Zion, & Canyon­lands Nation­al Parks


“I went on a road trip through Utah last spring, we had one week and tried to cram as much as we could into 7 days.  We made it through Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyon­lands, and Arch­es, with a lot of great pit stops and sights in between. The first park we hit was Bryce, dri­ving into the the park the canyon kind of sneaks up on you, you’ll come in at the top of the canyon with tree’s all around, but it’s not until you park and get your legs mov­ing that the canyon’s true beau­ty is unveiled.”


“We spent the day hik­ing in and around the canyon, tak­ing it all in-  the hoodoos, spires, fins, grot­tos, walls, bridges, all unique. The orange and red warm tones that made up the rocks con­trast­ed so per­fect and beau­ti­ful­ly with the brown trunks of the trees and the lush green pines. Every­thing felt so rich, alien and unbe­liev­able (espe­cial­ly com­ing from the PNW) and we felt lucky to be in the mid­dle of this mag­ic. Time passed too quick­ly, and as we made our way out of the canyon with the sun, tired and refreshed all at the same time, we were already bar­ter­ing with time to some­how expand our week of vaca­tion into a month.”


Suzie Gotis — Photographer/Production Designer
Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park 


“With only 48 hours to explore Alas­ka I want­ed to make sure to vis­it a Nation­al Park. After land­ing in Anchor­age, and a two hour dri­ve to Seward, we arrived at Kenai Fjords Nation­al Park. We hiked the Hard­ing Ice­field Trail, lead­ing to views of Exit Glac­i­er. There were avalanche warn­ings, see­ing as it was late spring, so our hike was cut short due to snow, but it was breath­tak­ing nonetheless.”


“There were tons of peo­ple at the vis­i­tor cen­ter, but sur­pris­ing to see few were hik­ing Hard­ing Ice­field trail. It’s a short hike with a real­ly reward­ing view. We also expe­ri­enced a bit of wildlife on our trip, from a por­cu­pine encounter to a face to face encounter with a Moose calf in the mid­dle of the trail.”

Col­in Houghton — Copy­writer & Editor
Sequoia Nation­al Park 


“Years ago on a road trip I spent some time in Sequoia Nation­al Park. On the way into the park, we decid­ed last minute that the best way to see it was not by car-camp­ing, but by try­ing our hand at an 18-mile back­pack­ing loop in 2 days. It was imme­di­ate­ly clear that we were ter­ri­bly unpre­pared, three of us had nev­er back­packed before and we didn’t even own a portable stove. In addi­tion, we had no water fil­ter, and our sleep­ing bags were the size of most peo­ple’s packs. Nev­er­the­less, we set out on the trail, much to the rangers chagrin.”


“After two days of scram­bling through the woods on noth­ing but Cliff bars, we some­how man­aged to make it all the way out and back. I’m not sure there was a better/more idi­ot­ic way to expe­ri­ence Sequoia’s wilderness.”


Michelle Lin­ton — Direc­tor of Adven­ture Travel
Grand Teton Nation­al Park


“On a cold May morn­ing, the day we eloped, my hus­band and I rode through Grand Teton Nation­al Park. The moun­tains were shroud­ed in fog and the lakes were as glassy as I’ve ever seen them. Every­thing felt desert­ed and beau­ti­ful­ly still. As we turned a cor­ner near­ing the park exit, lo and behold, we saw a fam­i­ly of griz­zlies – a mama nos­ing around in a mead­ow while her two cubs wres­tled with one anoth­er. 2 humans, 3 bears. No one else in sight. It was by far one of the coolest wildlife encoun­ters I’ve experienced.”


“Grand Teton Nation­al Park is one of the most spec­tac­u­lar out­door des­ti­na­tions on the plan­et. The crag­gy shapes of its peaks, the flu­o­res­cent blue of its glacial lakes, and the some­times star­tling prox­im­i­ty of wildlife, are a con­stant reminder of a place that is hope­less­ly wild.”

Guz Reis­ter — Oper­a­tions Coordinator
Arch­es Nation­al Park 


“We did­n’t get into Moab area until after dark the first night, but were final­ly able to find our friends’ camp­site after an hour or so of dri­ving aim­less­ly through a canyon. We woke up the next morn­ing to peo­ple BASE Jump­ing off the cliffs above our camp­site. The days were full of moun­tain bik­ing, cliff jump­ing, and climb­ing around the park.”


“Arch­es is so amaz­ing because you can go over one hill and feel imme­di­ate­ly in the thick of it. The park is so expan­sive, and offers count­less ways to have fun, from moun­tain bik­ing, to BASE Jump­ing, to plain old hik­ing, the red rocks nev­er fail to inspire. The col­ors are tru­ly amaz­ing and offer some of the most unique geo­log­i­cal shapes on the plan­et. Don’t miss it.”

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, Vietnam

The beau­ty of pris­tine wilder­ness is its own reward and is only increased by the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing you worked hard to get there. Whether by hike or climb, these large­ly unspoiled places are acces­si­ble only to those will­ing to take the path less traveled.

The Cirque of the Unclimbables, CanadaThe Cirque of the Unclimbables, Canada
The name alone beck­ons, and the des­ti­na­tion does not dis­ap­point. The breath­tak­ing, majes­tic Cirque of the Unclimbables, locat­ed in the Ragged Range of the Nahan­ni Nation­al Park Pre­serve, is a world-class climb­ing destination—the one ring of per­fect gran­ite to rule them all. From the famed Lotus Flower Tow­er to the Fairy Mead­ow with its house-like boul­ders, the Cirque has some­thing to tan­ta­lize every type of climber, although it offers these temp­ta­tions to only a few will­ing to make the jour­ney. To become one of the two dozen vis­i­tors to the Cirque per year, aspir­ing alpin­ists must char­ter a float­plane to near­by Glac­i­er Lake, then spend a gru­el­ing sev­en to ten hours switch­back­ing up an unfor­giv­ing talus slope below Mount Har­ri­son-Smith, huck­ing an expedition’s worth of gear.

Gates of the Arctic, Alaska, USAGates of the Arc­tic, Alas­ka, USA
Alaska’s ulti­mate wilder­ness, the Gates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park, fea­tures 8.4 mil­lion acres of com­plete­ly stun­ning nat­ur­al beau­ty. No roads or even trails tra­verse this tru­ly wild land­scape, leav­ing vis­i­tors pre­pared for the trip of a life­time to make their own way through chal­leng­ing arc­tic ter­rain. Air taxis and float­planes may car­ry vis­i­tors in, but once land­ed, all over­land trav­el must be done by foot or, in the right con­di­tions, dog sled. And the right con­di­tions are few and far between: winter’s below-zero tem­per­a­tures dom­i­nate from Novem­ber through March, and the six rivers that cross the park only begin los­ing their ice in mid-June to make way for kayak­ers and oth­er riv­er run­ners. Hik­ers seek­ing an unpar­al­leled expe­ri­ence in nat­ur­al soli­tude would feel at home in than this ultra-remote land at the top of the world.

©istockphoto/Lynn_BystromYel­low­stone Nation­al Park, Wyoming, USA
Although Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park is itself one of the most pop­u­lar nation­al parks, right up there with Yosemite and Glac­i­er, it’s also home to the most remote place in the con­tigu­ous Unit­ed States. Twen­ty miles as the crow flies from the near­est road, eighty miles deep into the heart of griz­zly ter­ri­to­ry, lies a pock­et of wilder­ness acces­si­ble only by extra­or­di­nar­i­ly ded­i­cat­ed hik­ers and horse­back rid­ers: a land of sky and for­est, birds and pine martens and insects and, some­where in the dis­tance, wolf­song. The clos­est help—the Tho­ro­fare Ranger station—sees few­er than one hun­dred vis­i­tors each year.

Simien Mountains National Park, EthiopiaSimien Nation­al Park, Ethiopia
This UNESCO World Her­itage Site is some­times called “the roof of Africa,” an appro­pri­ate­ly poet­ic title for the mas­sive mas­sif of the Simien Moun­tains that tow­ers some 4500m over North­ern Ethiopia. The crown­ing peak, Ras Dejen, sits a cool 4550m above sea lev­el, sur­round­ed by a spec­tac­u­lar land­scape of toothy peaks, deep, mist-strewn val­leys, primeval forests, and unfor­giv­ing precipices that are home to a num­ber of rare and endan­gered plants and ani­mals, includ­ing the Walia ibex (found in no oth­er part of the world), the Simien fox, and the Gela­da baboon. And though human set­tle­ment in the area means grav­el roads wind their way through the land­scape, the wildest encoun­ters are reserved for trekkers will­ing to mud­dy their boots and spend a few days on the trail.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, VietnamPhong Nha-Kẻ Bàng Nation­al Park, Vietnam
An unspoiled trop­i­cal jun­gle rid­dled with under­ground rivers, grot­toes, and some of the world’s most awe-inspir­ing cave sys­tems, Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng Nation­al Park is grow­ing as a tourist des­ti­na­tion for good rea­son. It is home to a num­ber of nat­ur­al attrac­tions acces­si­ble only by foot or by boat, includ­ing the now-famous Hang Sơn Đoòng, con­firmed to be the world’s largest cave sys­tem in 2009. Seri­ous spe­lunk­ers on a guid­ed, per­mit­ted tour may spend as many as three days trekking through the dense jun­gle just to reach the cave’s entrance and then must rap­pel down a fur­ther 260 feet to reach the cave’s floor. The rewards are well worth all the effort, though, as fur­ther explo­ration into Hang Sơn Đoòng reveals rush­ing rivers, still lakes, and remark­able rainforests—made pos­si­ble by huge col­lapsed por­tions of the ceil­ing through which sun­light pours like water—opportunities only offered to some five hun­dred vis­i­tors each year.

Kakadu National Park
Kakadu Nation­al Park, Australia
Kakadu Nation­al Park is Australia’s largest ter­res­tri­al park, span­ning near­ly 20,000 square kilo­me­ters of coast and estu­ar­ies to the north through bill­abongs and low­lands to the rocky ridges and stone coun­try of the south. It’s dot­ted with rugged escarp­ments, lush rain­forests, and rock art gal­leries that date back some 50,000 years. Due to its size, over­land trav­el often means four-wheel dri­ve vehi­cles, although depend­ing on the sea­son, you may also be in for a canoe trip along flood­ed plains. Walk­ing trails of vary­ing dif­fi­cul­ties abound, offer­ing view­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for every­thing from tow­er­ing sand­stone pil­lars to roar­ing water­falls, riotous­ly col­or­ful birdlife to hid­den gorges and sparkling waterholes.



As our Nation­al Parks cel­e­brate 100 years as “America’s Best Idea”, it’s time to plan for the future. The next hun­dred years will be dif­fer­ent. Since the Park Ser­vice was found­ed in 1916, the Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion has become more urban­ized and con­nect­ed, and our nat­ur­al sys­tems are feel­ing strains very dif­fer­ent then they did in the era of Woodrow Wil­son and Stephen Mather.

Dri­ving will be Passé
Zion Nation­al Park has become famous for it’s elec­tric shut­tle bus­es that whisk hik­ers to pop­u­lar hikes like the Nar­rows and Angels’ Land­ing. Replac­ing pri­vate cars with busses was a response to traf­fic and air qual­i­ty prob­lems more rem­i­nis­cent of the LA Basin than the Tem­ple of Sinawa­va. Even in the crowd­ed sea­son, the canyon is qui­et. Pri­vate vehi­cles have been banned from Denali Park for years. Look for more vehi­cle bans in pop­u­lar parks, and more Euro­pean-style tran­sit to day hike destinations.

Capi­tol Reef and Lake Clark, anyone?
With Zion, Yosemite, Aca­dia, Mount Rainier and Denali get the crowds and are head­ed toward inevitable sea­son­al lim­its near­by parks in the same areas will get more atten­tion. Lake Clark (Denali) Capi­tol Reef (Zion and Brice Canyon), North Cas­cades (Mount Rainier) will attract vis­i­tors seek­ing soli­tude. The Park Ser­vice will have lit­tle choice but to direct the over­flow to these light­ly vis­it­ed jewels.

©istockphoto/epicureanThe Wild Will Come Back
In response to crowds, the park ser­vice will inten­tion­al­ly leave some areas wild. Areas where human vis­i­ta­tion is lim­it­ed and man­age­ment is lim­it­ed to some occa­sion­al  clear­ing is already the norm in the Grand Canyon’s inner sec­tion, Denali, North Cas­cades, and parts of Glac­i­er, and most parks in Alas­ka. To pre­serve both soli­tude and ecol­o­gy, the Park Ser­vice will inten­tion­al­ly lim­it access to these zones.

Most of Us Are City Slick­ers Now
One of the major changes in Amer­i­ca since 1916 is the pop­u­la­tion shift to urban areas. By per­cent­age of pop­u­la­tion, the Amer­i­can west is now the most urban­ized region in the world. With the excep­tion of Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Great Smoky Moun­tains, and Mount Rainier, most parks are far­ther away from where peo­ple live. Peo­ple only pro­tect what they love, and they only love what they know. The next 100 years will see efforts to famil­iar­ize urban kids with parks: youth pro­grams, trans­porta­tion from cities, and micro-parks and mon­u­ments near cities.

Fire On the Mountain
The grow­ing inten­si­ty of wild­fire in our parks and forests are the result of a half-cen­tu­ry of fire sup­pres­sion and cli­mate change. In the next cen­tu­ry Park man­agers will work hard to undo the accu­mu­lat­ed fuel of past man­age­ment: let-it-burn poli­cies, con­trolled burns, thin­ning, and pro­vid­ing high-ele­va­tion refuges for dis­placed species.

©istockphoto/kwiktorThe Cost Conundrum
In the 20th cen­tu­ry, nation­al parks became the great equal­iz­er: a way that Amer­i­cans could embrace their nat­ur­al her­itage via rel­a­tive­ly cheap camp­ing. Horace Albright, the first Park Ser­vice direc­tor, saw park camp­grounds as a place where Amer­i­cans from all over the coun­try, all walks of life and income lev­els, could mix. In recent years, camp­ing costs have risen. And the park main­te­nance face mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar main­te­nance back­logs: use and wear and tear have grown while fund­ing has stag­nat­ed or shrunk. In the next 100 years we’ll wres­tle with the dilem­ma of how to keep parks main­tained and affordable.

Liv­ing Laboratories
We’ll see the Park ser­vice up its game in the use of parks as liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ries for study­ing the ecol­o­gy and the effects of cli­mate change, cur­rent­ly under­way in Yel­low­stone. There will also be more stud­ies of the move­ment of species, and the inter­ac­tion between nat­ur­al sys­tems and grow­ing human use. We’ll see a grow­ing army of ecol­o­gists along with recre­ation man­agers, espe­cial­ly as fund­ing gaps nar­row. More vis­i­tors will be involved in sci­ence, along with hav­ing fun.

Let’s hear it for the next hun­dred years.


Ken Burns called the Nation­al Parks “America’s Best Idea.” They’re cer­tain­ly on the short list of Amer­i­can inno­va­tions. But the suc­cess sto­ry that’s been the Nation­al Park sys­tem owes it suc­cess to a series of small coin­ci­dences, acts of rebel­lion and things that seemed minor at the time. These ten moments have shaped the Nation­al Park sys­tem and will influ­ence our Parks in the next 100 years.

The Pho­tog­ra­ph­er and the President
In 1864, the Civ­il War was rag­ing. With the nation drown­ing in the blood of the bat­tles of Cold Har­bor, Spot­syl­va­nia and Wilder­ness, the beau­ty of a small moun­tain val­ley 3,000 miles away must have seemed insignif­i­cant to Abra­ham Lin­coln, who was expect­ed to lose the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 1864. But when an obscure, failed gold min­er-turned pho­tog­ra­ph­er showed up with a set of giant pho­tographs, the Pres­i­dent listened.

His name was Car­leton Watkins, and his 130 mam­moth plates were the first images east­ern­ers saw of Yosemite Val­ley. In the midst of a war, Lin­coln pro­posed mak­ing Yosemite invi­o­late. To build sup­port, Cal­i­for­nia Sen­a­tor John Con­ness (one of Yosemite’s high­est peaks now bears his name) walked the pho­tos around Con­gress per­son­al­ly. Twelve years before Yel­low­stone was declared an actu­al Nation­al Park, the con­cept was born.

“I So Declare It”
In 1903 Ted­dy Roo­sevelt asked an aide if there was any law that pre­vent­ed him from issu­ing an exec­u­tive order pro­tect­ing the birds of Pel­i­can Island from hunters. When the aide said he did­n’t think so, Roo­sevelt said sim­ply, “Very well. I so declare it.” The Nation­al Wildlife refuge sys­tem was born. Three years lat­er, a nation fret­ting about the “end of the fron­tier” passed the Antiq­ui­ties Act, which allowed the pres­i­dent to cre­ate nation­al mon­u­ments with the stroke of a pen.

TR need­ed no encour­age­ment. He imme­di­ate­ly declared Dev­ils’ Tow­er a nation­al mon­u­ment. Ever since, the Antiq­ui­ties Act has offered a con­ser­va­tion anti­dote to Con­gres­sion­al grid­lock. All but four sub­se­quent pres­i­dents have used it to pre­serve wild places. The her­itage of the Antiq­ui­ties Act includes Mount St. Helens, John Day Fos­sil Beds, New­ber­ry Crater, Paria-Ver­mil­lion Cliffs, Grand Stair­case-Escalante, Cas­cade-Siskiy­ou Nation­al Mon­u­ment and the San Juan Islands.

A Borax Baron Runs The Parks
By the ear­ly 1900s, the U.S. gov­ern­ment had acquired a chunk of nation­al parks, includ­ing icons like Yel­low­stone, Yosemite and Crater Lake, and a ran­dom smat­ter­ing of nation­al mon­u­ments and civ­il war bat­tle­fields. Most were man­aged by the army until the Nation­al Park Ser­vice was cre­at­ed in 1916. Woodrow Wilson’s choice to run the agency was a head-scratch­er: an inde­pen­dent­ly wealthy New York borax mag­nate named Stephen Math­er. But what a choice it was.

Math­er uni­fied the lands into a coher­ent agency, pro­fes­sion­al­ized the staff, aggres­sive­ly added new parks and made the Park Ser­vice once of the most respect­ed fed­er­al agen­cies. When Con­gress balked at the cost of adding the Mari­posa Grove of giant sequoias to Yosemite, Math­er bought it with his own cash on the spot. He wel­comed cars to the parks, a move that extend­ed their mass appeal beyond wealthy rail­road tourists and cre­at­ed a nation of sup­port­ers, but which also opened the parks to the risks of being “loved to death” decades lat­er. He led the Park Ser­vice until the stroke that led to his death 14 years later.


John D. Rock­e­feller Jr. Gets Impatient
One of Mather’s deputy Horace Albright’s first pri­or­i­ties was to add the area around Jack­son Hole and the Grand Tetons to Yel­low­stone. When the bill died in the Sen­ate after ranch­ers fought back, Albright enlist­ed John D. Rock­e­feller Jr., who vis­it­ed the area incog­ni­to, to the cause. Rock­e­feller qui­et­ly bought up land with the inten­tion of donat­ing it to the park. But the con­flict over the Tetons raged bit­ter­ly for two decades and Math­er died in 1930. Rock­e­feller lost patience and broke the stale­mate. He wrote a let­ter to FDR say­ing that if the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment wouldn’t accept his land gift, he’d sim­ply sell it on the open mar­ket to any­one. He was almost cer­tain­ly bluff­ing, but his threat forced FDR’s hand. Also in the midst of a war, FDR des­ig­nat­ed Jack­son Hole Nation­al Mon­u­ment in 1943, and Grand Teton Nation­al Park took on the form it holds today sev­en years later.

War­ren Hard­ing Climbs the Nose
In 1958, War­ren Harding—the climber, not the President—spent an unheard-of 45 days cling­ing to the ver­ti­cal wall of El Cap­i­tan. He and Mark Pow­ell endured three storms 2,500 feet above ground on the first ascent of El Cap­i­tan by what is now known as “The Nose” route. Hard­ing, one of the most noto­ri­ous, hard-drink­ing, rebel­lious char­ac­ters of the Yosemite climb­ing scene, used Himalayan ideas to basi­cal­ly invent big-wall climb­ing, with por­taledges that allowed climbers to live on the wall for extend­ed peri­ods of time. In the 15 hours he and Pow­ell spent on the final por­tion, Yosemite gran­ite and Camp 4 became house­hold names. On his first ascent of The Wall of Ear­ly Morn­ing Light 12 years lat­er, a news crew would be wait­ing at the top.

A New Jer­sey Wait­er goes to Utah
In 1956, a wait­er from New Jer­sey got a job as a sum­mer ranger in Arch­es Nation­al Mon­u­ment. His name was Edward Abbey. He spent sum­mers on the slick­rock and returned to wait­ing tables in Hobo­ken in the win­ter. His notes even­tu­al­ly became Desert Soli­taire, a lyri­cal reflec­tion on the Utah desert that lured two gen­er­a­tions of explor­ers to explore the slick­rock canyon coun­try of the South­west (this writer was one of them). His fierce cri­tique of “indus­tri­al tourism,” led the Park Ser­vice to w rel­e­gat­ed him to a fire look­out. If they want­ed to silence Abbey, it was the worst move pos­si­ble: it gave him plen­ty of time to write. The Mon­key Wrench Gang, his most famous work, was writ­ten at Numa Look­out in Glac­i­er Nation­al Park.


Between Dec. 4 and 6, 1966, 14 inch­es of rain fell on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. The water came down the slick­rock in tor­rents. A flash flood roared down Crys­tal Creek, dump­ing boul­ders into the Col­orado at mile 98, in the heart of the Upper Gran­ite Gorge. The debris fan con­strict­ed the riv­er to a quar­ter of its pre­vi­ous width, instant­ly cre­at­ing a new rapid. A mas­sive boul­der mid­stream cre­at­ed an enor­mous recir­cu­lat­ing hydraulic, now known as “the eater” and “the maw,” or just “the hole.” Crys­tal became the most feared rapid on the Col­orado overnight. Sim­ply nam­ing the sequence of rapids in the heart of the Grand Canyon—Horn Creek, Gran­ite, Her­mit and Crystal—will cause any boater to take a deep breath.

If some­one told you that a sin­gle bill could for­ev­er pre­serve nation­al parks, mon­u­ments and pre­serves equal to the entire state of Cal­i­for­nia, most peo­ple would say “it will nev­er hap­pen.” But it already has hap­pened. In 1980, Con­gress passed the Alas­ka Nation­al Inter­est Lands Con­ser­va­tion Act, the sin­gle bold­est stroke of con­ser­va­tion ever. It was bold­er still con­sid­er­ing the U.S. was only a few years removed from the OPEC oil embar­goes and Alaskan oil was in demand. ANILCA gave us house­hold names like Glac­i­er Bay, Kat­mai and Kenai Fjords, and an expand­ed Denali Park. We also got park­lands you might nev­er have heard of: Cape Kursen­stern, Ani­akchak, Kobuk Val­ley and Yukon-Charley. In oth­er words, with­out ANILCA, Alas­ka wouldn’t be Alaska.

Denali is Denali Again
On August 15, 2015, Barack Oba­ma ordered the Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or to make a sub­tle but telling sym­bol­ic move: renam­ing the high­est peak in North Amer­i­ca Denali instead of Mt. McKin­ley. The park itself was re-named Denali as park of ANILCA in 1980. Human habi­ta­tion in the region goes back 11,000 years before Pres­i­dent McKin­ley took office. One of the less savory aspects of the Nation­al Parks’ lega­cy is dis­place­ment of native peo­ples. When parks were estab­lished, most were already inhab­it­ed by Native Amer­i­cans who lost their homes in the process. Obama’s ges­ture is a step toward acknowl­edg­ing this his­to­ry. And Denali (“High One” in Athabaskan) is also a more fit­ting name for the continent’s high­est peak.

The Dawn Wall Goes Free
At 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2015, Tom­my Cald­well and Kevin Jorge­son topped out at the top of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall. They were the first to free-climb the entire 3,000-foot face, rat­ed 5.14+, an endeav­or close­ly fol­lowed by social media. The free-climb­ing of the route first aid-climbed by Hard­ing and Dean Cald­well (no rela­tion) in 1970 brought big walls back to the climb­ing fore­front after three decade of focus­ing on short sport climbs and rock gyms.

Those are some moments that drove the first hun­dred years of our Nation­al Parks. What will the next cen­tu­ry bring?

This beau­ti­ful short film takes you on a jour­ney through Utah’s Zion Nation­al Park in cin­e­ma 8k. It’s the sixth install­ment in a series by the More Than Just Parks project, which was found­ed in an effort to “effect a greater aware­ness of the trea­sures that reside with­in Amer­i­ca’s Nation­al Parks.”

With luck (and a lit­tle fund­ing) More Than Just Parks will give their stun­ning video treat­ment to all 59 nation­al parks. If you like what they’re doing, tell the film­mak­ers about it at or pop over to their web­site and kick the team a small dona­tion to help keep the project going.