National Parks have long held a reputation as iconic bucket-list items and road trip stops. They make up America’s most unforgettable landscapes and important historical and natural sites, so it’s with good reason that they hold such a revered place in American culture. Most people probably have one or two at the top of their list, but what’s it like to visit ALL of them? And not just the greatest hits, either… we’re talking deep tracks too. That totals out to 417 units in the National Parks System. Mikah Meyer has been on a marathon road trip, driving almost non-stop on a mission to visit all 417 NPS sites. Since there’s no better National Parks expert out there than this legendary road warrior, he’s got some pretty solid advice on crossing some parks off your bucket list.
What inspired the trip? Why National Parks?
“Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed” is a lesson I learned at age 19 when my father passed away from cancer nearly a decade before retirement age. Since then, I’ve done one road trip every year to honor his life, and wanted to do something at age 30 that helped my peers realize they might not survive long enough to complete all their life goals. So I decided to complete one of mine, and visit all the National Park Service sites. But not just the 59 that most people think of…all 417 of them.
What was the one park you were most excited to visit?
The Grand Canyon. It’s the first national park I ever camped in, many years ago, but it’s such a massive place that even after a 5-day trip, I’d seen only a small taste. So my #1 goal for this project was to raft the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds in my budget to pull it off, but Grand Canyon Whitewater heard about my mission to spread this carpe-diem message, and helped me fulfill it.
What park surprised you the most?
Dinosaur National Monument. I’d only planned one day to explore its hikes. That day made me realize this site had so much more to offer than its Monument designation might suggest. So four months later, I drove 10 hours out of my way to get more time there. As this video shows, it’s a magical place, whether or not a wild Canadian goose follows your rafting group…
This is the view referenced in my previous picture, only this photo is from down on the Green River, looking up at the incredible vista that inspired me to come back to @dinosaurnps to raft through the National Monument. Whether on foot or by water, you can’t go wrong at this–one of my favorite @nationalparkservice sites.
Which park was the most challenging to visit?
Aniakchak National Monument; and I won’t reach it ’til this summer. It’s in the Aleutian Range of southwest Alaska and requires a multiple-thousand-dollar flight that only departs from its small-town launch point if there’s a day with safe enough weather. It’s the least-visited park in the entire National Park Service, with only around 100 visitors per year. ”No Lines! No Waiting” says their official website 😉
What are your top tips for visiting National Parks?
Think about what type of social person you are before you visit.
Do you like to be alone and have hours to hike in solitude? Then go by yourself (also, don’t go to a popular park/trail, because you’ll more likely have hours of kids screaming and iPads in your view).
Are you an extrovert? Then bring along some friends for that 8-hour hike.
Knowing yourself will increase your joy ten-fold at a national park.
Where are you right now? Where are you headed next?
Last night I finished site #317 of my journey, Kings Canyon National Park. Next, I’ll drive west from Fresno, California to reach Pinnacles National Park and begin the countdown of my final 100 sites!
What route are you taking? What are some awesome stops you’ve made along the way?
The self-converted cargo van I call home, Vanny McVanface, doesn’t have heating or air-conditioning when it’s not running. So to sleep comfortably between 30 – 70 degrees at night, I have to chase that temperate weather. That means summers up north, winters down south, and a few friends, family, and hotels along the way to keep from freezing my butt off! You can see my game plan by season, and an interactive map of all the sites, at mikahmeyer.com/map
I discovered this place on Instagram and swore it couldn’t be real. No way there was earth that red which wasn’t from Mars. Sure enough, the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is real. It may have taken hours of driving to central Oregon with no NPR signal to get there, but I saw it with my own eyes.
Awesome stops have included a vast number of national parks I’d never heard about before this journey. Getting to “discover” and share these hidden, unknown gems has been one of the thrills of this unorthodox project.
For the finale, since I started this project at the Washington Monument, I hope to end just across the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial. Standing at the top of those steps and not just looking back at where I began, but the thousands of miles between.
I drove 33,454 miles to 171 national parks in 2017. Thanks to @PilotFlyingJ I not only had the gas to get there, but was able to use their free at-the-pump Wi-Fi to upload hundreds of pics for you. Will you join me for 2018’s parks? Tag a friend in the comments who you’d love to take to Alaska & Hawaii’s parks, or any of the 100+ I’ll visit in 2018. #roadtrip #map #travel #drive #video #ad
Any advice for anyone looking to tackle a National Park trip?
Don’t do what I did!
In all seriousness, this is a dream project of mine, and of many. But what I didn’t realize at the beginning was that by visiting sites day after day, and having my job be sharing those parks, it would mean I’d spend any given day sharing about yesterday’s park, experiencing today’s park, and planning for tomorrow’s park, usually to the detriment of enjoying the present.
So for anyone planning to do an epic, multi-park trip, make sure to either schedule in a lot of down-days (even if just to give your legs a rest or do laundry), or meticulously plan everything in advance, so you can just focus on enjoying the time you’re in these special places.
More tales from the road…