I just read THIS great article that the National Parks Service saw a record number of visitors in 2014 at 292.8 million!!! If you we were not one of the those 292 million people, then make 2015 the year you go! You have no idea what you are missing by not taking advantage of all these amazing places so close to home.
The Golden Gate Recreational Area topped the list of Most Visits with 15 million visitors. Being such a vast area and having been to many of the places within it, I wonder how this count is actually tallied. If I visit 6 places within the area in a month, am I counted 6 times? Regardless, it really is a great area and anyone who lives in San Francisco is very fortunate to have this scenic playground right outside their backdoor. The area includes many of our favorite and shared places such as the Marin Headlands, Land's End, and Muir Beach. Many more of the places I will share in the future as well.
The most visited National Park was right in our backyard just a few short months ago, The Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Now, I have to admit, I used to be a real snob when it came to travel. I thought the only trip worth taking was a trip out of the United States. I thought that visiting places within the US was for old people who just didn't have the energy to tour other places, but oh how wrong I was. I've walked for 12 hours a day in Rome, taken hikes in the Alps of Switzerland, and SCUBA dived in Belize, but the most physically demanding adventure of all my travels was the hike Adam and I took in the Smoky Mountains last year. Although I never got around to blogging about it, Adam and I spent our fifth wedding anniversary last June in the Smoky's. It was my first visit and so much more than I could have imagined. We spent a long weekend, hiking and taking pictures, camping and relaxing in a super nice hotel. It wasn't just a rough and tough, always dirty trip, but a great combination of a little bit of everything all rolled into one.. I never would have thought, I could have had such a wonderful trip so close to home.
Although our trip to the smoky's was adults only, National Parks are a great place for kids too. I was talking to co-worker last week about going to Yosemite and despite living here his entire life, he has never been. I couldn't believe it! 30 years and less than a 4 hour drive and he's never made at least one trip to one of the most iconic national parks in the US. I tried to convince him to change that, but he just shrugged and said his 2 year old son would be bored. Are you kidding? What does any 2 year old boy want to do? Run around. Play in dirt and rocks. Climb. Explore. HELLO! A national park is any kids dreamland.
Why do we as parents constantly think we have to entertain our kids with toys and gadgets? Why not let your kid explore, discover, and play on their own using their own imagination? The key for any kid to enjoy a visit to a National Park, is to make it fun for them. Help them use their imagination and create a story around the setting. For example, my brilliant Mother-in-law told Landon to be quiet at Muir Woods so he could hear the trees talking. It worked wonders, because not only was he quiet (they have quiet zones within the park), but he enjoyed the entire experience so much more. Now every time we visit, he tells us to be quite and listen to the trees. He comes up with stories about what they are saying. He's more interactive in the experience, he behaves better and we all end up enjoying it more. Thanks Lynn!
Last year, we visited five national parks- The Great Smoky Mountains, Arches, The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Pinnacles. As well as a number of national monuments. We plan to visit at least seven more this year. Our new home is a great springboard to explore so many parks and service areas, but now that we've had a taste of these wonderful places, we have an insatiable thirst to visit them all. Visiting national parks is just as addicting as any other kind of travel. I always tell people who haven't been abroad, just go once. Your only regret will be that you didn't do it sooner. The same thing applies here. The US has more to offer than I ever realized and if you are not enjoying it, you are simply missing out.
So that is my PSA on national parks and why EVERYONE needs to go, not someday, but now! As cliche as the saying goes, there are seven days in a week and someday isn't one of them. No matter where you live, if you have the ability to read this post, you have the ability to visit at least national park or monument in 2015. HERE is a list of the national parks and monuments by each state, every state has something and you'd be surprised how many are closer than you know. Now is the time, go explore!