Blogs: The National Parks

A Personal Journey

We all have goals. Some goals can be accomplished daily while others take a lifetime. As a nature photographer, I set out decades ago to visit and photograph every National Park in the United States. Visiting all National Parks is quite a challenge, as it requires travel to almost every corner of this beautiful country. Some of the National Parks are quite remote and difficult to access. But I know it will be a rewarding life-long journey. Here is an image I captured at Mt. Rainier National Park last summer during this adventure. This is the Neowise Comet with it's reflection in the appropriately named Reflection Lake.

Heaven On Earth
Heaven On Earth

Limited Edition Prints Available

How many National Parks are there? There are 63 National Parks scattered over 30 states and 2 territories. That's a lot of ground to cover. Where are the 63 National Parks? They stretch from north Alaska to southern Florida, from the California coast to the eastern seaboard. The list of National Parks I have visited are marked on this map, as well as those I have not been to. Please follow me as I cross off these national treasures one by one.

Blue Stars - National Parks Visited
Red Circles- National Parks Remaining

National Parks Visited (36)

Acadia National Park - Maine
Arches National Park - Utah
Badlands National Park - South Dakota
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - Colorado
Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah
Canyonlands National Park - Utah
Capitol Reef National Park - Utah
Carlsbad Caverns National Park - New Mexico
Crater Lake National Park - Oregon
Death Valley National Park - California
Denali National Park - Alaska
Everglades National Park - Florida
Gates of the Arctic National Park - Alaska
Glacier National Park - Montana
Glacier Bay National Park - Alaska
Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona
Grand Teton National Park - Wyoming
Haleakala National Park - Hawaii
Hawaii Volcano National Park - Hawaii
Joshua Tree National Park - California
Lake Clark National Park - Alaska
Katmai National Park - Alaska
Kenai Fjords National Park - Alaska
Lassen Volcano National Park - California
Mesa Verde National Park - Colorado
Mt. Rainier National Park - Washington
North Cascades National Park - Washington
Olympic National Park - Washington
Petrified Forest National Park - Arizona
Saguaro National Park - Arizona
Shenandoah National Park - Virginia
White Sands National Park - New Mexico
Wind Cave National Park - South Dakota
Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming
Yosemite National Park - California
Zion National Park - Utah

National Parks Remaining (27)

Big Bend National Park - Texas
Biscayne National Park - Florida
Channel Islands National Park - California
Congaree National Park - South Carolina
Cuyahoga Valley National Park - Ohio
Dry Tortugas National Park - Florida
Gateway Arch National Park - Missouri
Great Basin National Park - Nevada
Great Sand Dunes National Park - Colorado
Great Smokey Mountains National Park - Tennessee, North Carolina
Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Texas
Hot Springs National Park - Arkansas
Indiana Dunes National Park - Indiana
Isle Royale National Park - Michigan
Kings Canyon National Park - California
Kobuk Valley National Park - Alaska
Mammoth Cave National Park - Kentucky
New River Gorge National Park - West Virginia
America Samoa National Park - American Samoa
Pinnacles National Park - California
Redwood National Park - California
Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado
Sequoia National Park - California
Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota
Virgin Islands National Park - Virgin Islands
Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota
Wrangell St. Elias National Park - Alaska

International Parks Visited (9)

Banff National Park - Canada
Jasper National Park - Canada
Yoho National Park - Canada
Kootenay National Park - Canada
Arenal Volcano National Park Costa Rica
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio - Costa Rica
Torres Del Paine National Park - Chile
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares - Argentina
Los Glaciares National Park - Argentina

Best National Park

I'm often asked which National Park is the best, or which National Park is my favorite. That's like asking someone who your favorite child is. Each National Park is so unique and every one has their own special characteristics and beauty. I suppose if pressured, I would choose Denali or Yellowstone because they have that unique combination of grandiose majestic mountain ranges, spectacular wildlife, and unique landscapes. But ask me again tomorrow and I might give you a different answer.

Most Scenic National Park

The most beautiful National Park might be a harder question to answer than what my favorite National Park is. I am leaning toward Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. The only way to visit is by boat. The Alaska coastline is simply magnificent, stunning, and still primitive. Add snow capped mountains, thick forests, pure aqua blue water, and icebergs floating around the calving glaciers. That's hard to beat.

Best National Park for Wildlife

Yellowstone probably gets the nod because of the variety of wildlife and how easy it is to find and photograph so many species. Grizzlies, black bear, wolves, elk, deer, porcupine, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes, and bison are just some of the species I have seen and photographed at Yellowstone. But I have to recognize two others, Katmai National Park and Lake Clark National Park. There is no where else on earth you can photograph grizzlies like you can in these two spectacular Alaska locations. The proximity you can get to the brown bears can be unnerving, but certainly an experience like no other.

Most Underrated National Park

There are two National Parks that come to mind when I thought about this category. Let's start with Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef is by far the least visited National Park in Utah, so it doesn't get the press that the other four do. Why is that? First of all, it's in the middle of nowhere. There are no tourist centers (e.g. Moab) within 100 miles. Torrey is the closest town and its very quiet with limited amenities and lodging choices. Many of the sites within the park require high-clearance vehicles to access, so that also discourages a large number of people. But the scenery is just as spectacular as anywhere in the southwest. If you are looking to escape the crowds of people and are willing for an adventure, this is your National Park.

The other National Park that never gets much attention, but is a must see is Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. This park has so many accessible viewpoints to diverse and beautiful landscapes. It makes great photography an easy task. There are vistas that remind me of the Badlands in South Dakota, and others that rival the John Day fossil beds in Oregon. It has great easy hikes that allow visitors to walk through most of the areas, including an amazing path that loops around hundreds of petrified logs. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here and was very impressed.

Most Disappointing National Park

My vote for the most disappointing National Park goes to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado. Don't get me wrong. The canyon is certainly worth visiting, but I largely base my opinion on the photography opportunities, so take it with a grain of salt. The canyon is very difficult to photograph from any of the pull outs or vantage points from the main road, which runs parallel to the top of the canyon and looks down into it. Harsh shadows dominated every photo I took. I must say the worst day spent at a National Park is far better than the best day I ever spent at the office.

I would love to hear your comments or opinions on this topic!

Posted in Travel.