Happy 100 Year Anniversary National Parks System!
In honor of the 100th Anniversary of the United States National Parks Service (which was actually yesterday, I know), this is a very special Top 5 Friday post. These parks are a huge part of what makes America truly beautiful. The National Parks have been a huge part of my personal relationship with travel. Thanks to my parents, I grew up learning about geysers in Yellowstone National Park, climbing mountains in Olympic National Park and hugging sequoias in Yosemite National Park and visited countless other beautiful parks on family vacations.
I have many, many fond memories of enjoying these parks when I was young, alongside my sister and parents. Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to explore new (to me, at least) US National Parks with Mike. Among the many great experiences I’ve had exploring the National Parks, of course I have some favorites, which is where the top 5 comes in! So, below in no particular order, are my top five favorite National Park memories.
- Yellowstone National Park – This list would not be complete without the first National Park I’ve ever visited. The year was 1998 and I was 8 years old. We drove across the flattest parts of the country to a world so unlike my hometown that I was convinced it was magical. The smell of sulfur permeated the car as we got close to the park. We witness Old Faithful, hiked on boardwalks through color changing geothermal areas, and rode horses across fields. On this same trip through the West, we visited Mount Rushmore, The Badlands in North Dakota, and The Grand Tetons. In other words, we got a lot of National Park bang for our buck, which was a great experience for a National Park first-timer.
- Haleakala National Park – My family visited this park on a vacation to the island of Maui in Hawaii. I distinctly remember being roused out of bed in the early, early morning to watch the sunrise from the dormant volcano of the same name of the park. My sister and I were bundled up in our blankets, huddled between our parents, watching the sun make its way into the sky. It was an experience that I would be hard pressed to forget. In fact, the whole trip was one of my all-time favorites, from driving to Road to Hana in our bright blue Mustang convertible (thanks, Dad!), to jumping off the tops of a waterfall only to smack painfully into the water on my 10 year old butt… it was all perfect.
- Jean Lafitte National Park – This park will always hold a special place in my heart because Mike and I visited it on our first ever trip together. The Jean Lafitte National Park is just a short drive from New Orleans, and it is definitely worth a visit. The portion of the park that we explored was the Barataria Preserve. There, we walked through the forest/swamp on a boardwalk path and peeled our eyes for alligators. The walk took us through the humid swamp, under spiders as big as my head and alongside other critters, like lizards, snakes and birds. The park was beautiful and lush. We eventually found an alligator, a baby one, and it made the walk through the swamp complete.
- John Muir National Forest – Just outside of San Francisco, this park is just too pretty to miss. This coupled with the drop dead gorgeously scenic drive along to get there makes it a must see in my book. Mike and I walked into the park and instantly fell silent to marvel up at the trees. We hiked into the forest, making several Star Wars references as we went (Return of the Jedi was filmed here). We chose a path that wound up into the mountains and lamented the fact that we both chose to wear Chuck Taylors. Despite our aching feet, the hike was one of our favorite parts of our trip to San Francisco.
- Smoky Mountains National Park – Started with the first and now ending with the last one we visited. Smoky Mountains National Park was amazing for multiple reasons but mostly because I had my whole family and Mike with me. We hiked as a crew and ate picnic lunches together in the picturesque rest areas and enjoyed the city of Gatlinburg in the evenings. My favorite memory of the trip was ascending the slow, cement spiral to the top of Clingman’s Dome and taking in the view of the whole park from there. We had to take turns going up to the top so someone could watch the stroller, but being there all together made it perfect.
What was the last National Park that you visited? And which is your favorite?