National Parks and Monuments

National Parks and Monuments

My childhood included a lot of camping, mostly at the beach or in the local mountains, but we did spend some time visiting some National Parks. I remember the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but most of our time was spent returning to our favorite place, Zion.

As an adult - and now as a parent - I have lived within day trip distance of Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Pinnacles, so the kids and I have made “adventures” a big part of our routine. I started dad & kid trips when my older daughters were 4 and 3, and have added children as they became old enough to be interested. We eventually added camping to our usual routine of hiking. In 2013, I was able to purchase a travel trailer, which made camping with five children of various ages much easier. As a result, I determined that I would try to visit as many National Parks as I could with the kids before they grew up.

In 2015, we visited seven parks we had never seen.

I have written occasionally about our adventures, but I thought it would be fun to write specifically about the parks as we visit them. I am running behind, but hope to add to this as I get time, with links to the specific posts.

All pictures, unless otherwise attributed, were taken by me. For those who are curious, the vast majority of pictures were taken using a Sony Cybershot subcompact. I have owned four of these in succession over the last decade, and find that they represent a good compromise between size and functionality. Since I am often carrying a pack (or in previous years, a kid too), I need something I can carry easily, and use with one hand.

As of May 2017, I switched to a Nikon P530. Not as easy to carry, but better with both low light and awkward light angles.

The dates listed are the dates we visited, not the date I wrote about it.

Arches National Park

I could spend weeks exploring Arches. As it was, we hiked over 15 miles in our two full days there. Also, the campground is one of the best anywhere, with a bunch of rocks to climb right next to the sites.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon is a little-known gem of a place, with old rocks, a really deep and narrow canyon, and few crowds.

Canyonlands National Park

If it were not for the Grand Canyon, this might be the most striking canyon system in the world. The views are amazing, and it is truly like no other place on earth.

Capitol Reef National Park

This park centers on a 100+ mile long monocline fold, and is a great place for hiking and exploring.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Often described as a “little Bryce,” Cedar Breaks is quieter, colder, and more contemplative.

Cesar Chavez National Monument

This Monument was created in 2012, and is the closest one to where I live. It is located on property that was formerly the UFW headquarters - and before that a rock quarry and then tuberculosis sanitarium. It contains photographs, history, and artifacts from the founding of the UFW and the Delano Grape Boycott, among other things.

Channel Islands National Park

This relatively obscure national park exists mere miles offshore from one of the most populous areas in the United States, yet is mostly wilderness. Because of their separation from the mainland for the last 150,000 or so years, the islands contain a number of unique, endemic species, including the Island Kit Fox, which is a conservation success story. The islands also played a key role in an environmental catastrophe which gave birth to much of the environmental legislation and regulation that we take for granted.

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake is a recent phenomenon, created when Mount Mazama blew up about 7,700 years ago. Clear blue water, spectacular views, and abundant wildlife make for a beautiful place to visit.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley NP is the largest park in the lower 48 states. Which would make it the third largest state. It also contains the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. While it is brutally hot in the summer - the highest verified recorded temperature occurred here - it is beautiful in the winter, with mild days and warm nights.

Devil's Postpile National Monument

This volcanic formation is in the Sierra Nevada, on the San Joaquin river. It was nearly destroyed to make a dam by a mining company, but is now preserved for the enjoyment of all. It is also part of the Mammoth Lakes area, a paradise of fishing, hiking, and skiing.

Great Basin National Park

Nevada’s only national park is in the middle of nowhere, but it is beautiful, with tall mountains, a glacier, Bristlecone Pines thousands of years old, green forests, and one of the best caves I have been in.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes contains the highest dunes in North America, plus 11,000 foot mountains, wetlands, and forests, all within a few miles.

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

This small site along the Snake River near Boise contains a rich variety of fossils, including the first true horse.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

The fossil beds of eastern Oregon stretch for hundreds of miles and contain examples from most of the Age of Mammals. And not just animals - whole ecosystems from plants to insects as well.

John Muir National Historic Site

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is a lesser known park in southeastern California. While it is ridiculously hot in the summer, it is a great winter destination. We visited it for the first time in February 2015.

Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon has much of the beauty of crowded places like Yosemite. But without the crowds. It is a hiker's paradise. And also, where we met some friends who have become regular camping companions.

Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar was one of the concentration camps where we imprisoned 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Men, women, and children, two thirds of which were born in the United States. May we never forget - and more importantly, never repeat this horrid episode in our history.

Mesa Verde National Park

Native American dwellings, and whole cities, dating as far back as 2500 years ago are the highlights of this park.

Oregon Caves National Monument

Oregon Caves National Monument is tucked in southwestern Oregon, kind of in the middle of nowhere. The cave itself is beautiful, and the mountain setting would be worth seeing for itself.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is our newest National Park, upgraded from a National Monument in 2013. Located in central California, it is relatively unknown. I have written about it in regard to the population of California Condors.

Point Reyes National Seashore

The geologic history of this place is fascinating enough, but the views on a clear day and the primeval forest are sufficient to make this a worthy destination.

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is linked with a number of California State parks and forms the centerpiece of the coastal redwoods. The redwood is a close relative of the sequoia, and is the tallest tree on earth. The redwood forest is a unique and beautiful habitat, and solitude is often available just a mile or two off of the road.

Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront National Historical Park

Sequoia National Park

This is the park closest to where I live, so we visit it more than any other park. Giant trees, even bigger mountains, elevations from low foothills to jagged peaks far above the tree line, a cave, lots of wildlife, and miles of beautiful trails.

Yosemite National Park

One of the benefits of living where I do is that Yosemite is less than four hours away. If you are crazy enough - and I am - you can visit it as a day trip. No reservations required. While Yosemite has the well-earned reputation as being full of visitors, it is actually only number three on the list. Great Smoky Mountains NP draws nearly three times as many annual visitors. (Number 2, Grand Canyon NP, draws 1/2 the numbers as GSMNP.)

Zion National Park

I have been hiking in Zion for three decades - and we go back about every other year. The 3000 foot cliffs, spectacular views, and challenging trails make for great beauty which is best seen on foot.


  1. My memory is really flaky of late. I can't remember if I shared this with you yet or not. I posted it on my blog in March as I've been reading the book this year.

    “Driving around most of the National Parks is pretty strenuous in itself. If you could put Yosemite and Yellowstone together, you would have something about the area of Wales whose geography is a combination of Switzerland, Persia and the Day of Judgement. …these parks were lovingly created two generations ago by men who chopped through thousands of feet of lumber, who rode into them on a horse, who discovered the sublime with an axe, a botanist’s kit, a piece of bacon, a tent and a stout heart.”
    - Alistair Cooke; taken from "Letter from America 1946 - 2004", p. 16. (Original quote from 1948.)