The National Park Bucket List

One of the purposes of this site to share my experiences and lessons learned while trying to fulfill my quest to visit every single National Park in the United States.

Yes, every single one.

The quest started when I declared a bucket list to visit all of the National Parks in the United States.  Since it is a bucket list, the time frame initially was a long one – before I kick the bucket.  Since we originally created the bucket list item, we’ve refined the time frame a little bit, hopefully making it a bit more restrictive for reasons which should seem fairly clear.  Our aim is to visit every National Park by the time my daughter starts college (Fall of 2022).

For those of you who may be familiar with the National Park Service and all the various sites they manage across the United States, you may be thinking “Holy Cow!”  All these folks will be doing is traveling.  To set the record straight, I should point out that we are only visiting National Parks, those things noted in the Ken Burn’s documentary as “America’s Best Idea.”

There are currently 61 National Parks.  I say currently because in January 2013 that number changed from 58 to 59 when Pinnacles National Park was created, from 59 to 60 in February 2018 when the Gateway Arch was made a national park and to 61 in February 2019 when Indiana Dunes went from a National Lakeshore to a National Park.

My father has asked me what will happen if a new national park is created.  Well, if it is created before we finish the list, we have to go, don’t we? Here is the full list of National Parks as well as when we visited them.

What this bucket list does not include are all of the National Monuments, National Preserves, National Historical Parks, National Historic Sites, International Historic Site, National Battlefield Parks, National Military Parks, National Battlefields, National Battlefield Site, National Memorials, National Recreation Areas, National Seashores, National Lakeshores, National Rivers, National Reserves, National Parkways, National Historic and Scenic Trails, National Cemeteries, or National Heritage Areas.  That’s not to say that we won’t visit those places if we happen to be near by, but we’re not going to go out of our way to visit them for purposes of this bucket list.

What Constitutes a “Visit”?

As luck would have it, we did actually visit a few of the parks before we established the Bucket List.  (Those parks are marked with an asterisk by the visit date until we meet the criteria below).  To make sure we kept things above board,  we (my wife Beth and my daughter Paige) established the following rules.

  • We (at least one of the three of us) have to physically be in the National Park.
  • Proof of a visit is via the official stamp in my National Parks Passport which shows the date of my visit.  (This makes the Passport book a very precious commodity).  This is also an indication that one of us was actually in the Park Visitor Center
  • Preferably view the main sites in the National Park and go on at least one hike.

Those are the rules.  We tried to keep them simple and straightforward.

We obviously try to make the most of each trip because it would be kind of silly to make a long trip from say Iowa to Alaska solely to get a stamp.

We spend more time in some parks over others.  The shortest time spent in any of the parks was probably Cuyahoga National Park.  I spent a couple of hours there in March while on a trip to Cleveland for a speaking engagement.  I at least went and saw Brandywine Falls.  Probably the longest we have spent at any Park is Rocky Mountain National Park – we have been there four times – twice for a week at a time.  As you could probably suspect, that’s our favorite.

Our National Park Roster

As of July, 2018, we’ve visited 33/61.

Name

Location

Date formed

When Visited

AcadiaMaine

February 26, 1919

July 2010

American SamoaAmerican Samoa

October 31, 1988

ArchesUtah

November 12, 1971

March 2012

BadlandsSouth Dakota

November 10, 1978

July 2012

Big BendTexas

June 12, 1944

January 2013

BiscayneFlorida

June 28, 1980

 November 2016
Black Canyon of the GunnisonColorado

October 21, 1999

March 2012

Bryce CanyonUtah

February 25, 1928

March 2014

CanyonlandsUtah

September 12, 1964

March 2012

Capitol ReefUtah

December 18, 1971

March 2012

Carlsbad CavernsNew Mexico

May 14, 1930

Channel IslandsCalifornia

March 5, 1980

CongareeSouth Carolina

November 10, 2003

July 2018
Crater LakeOregon

May 22, 1902

Cuyahoga ValleyOhio

October 11, 2000

March 2012

Death ValleyCalifornia, Nevada

October 31, 1994

 March 2013
DenaliAlaska

February 26, 1917

 August 2016
Dry TortugasFlorida

October 26, 1992

EvergladesFlorida

May 30, 1934

 November 2016
Gates of the ArcticAlaska

December 2, 1980

Gateway ArchMissouri

February, 2018

GlacierMontana

May 11, 1910

 June 2017
Glacier BayAlaska

December 2, 1980

June 1995*

Grand CanyonArizona

February 26, 1919

Grand TetonWyoming

February 26, 1929

July 2009*
June 2015

Great BasinNevada

October 27, 1986

Great Sand DunesColorado

September 13, 2004

March 2012

Great Smoky MountainsNorth Carolina, Tennessee

June 15, 1934

June 2018
Guadalupe MountainsTexas

October 15, 1966

HaleakalāHawaii

August 1, 1916

February 2000*
February 2015

Hawaii VolcanoesHawaii

August 1, 1916

 February 2015
Hot SpringsArkansas

March 4, 1921

December 2012

Indiana DunesIndiana

February 15, 2019

Isle RoyaleMichigan

March 3, 1931

 August 2014
Joshua TreeCalifornia

October 31, 1994

 March 2013
KatmaiAlaska

December 2, 1980

Kenai FjordsAlaska

December 2, 1980

 August 2016
Kings CanyonCalifornia

March 4, 1940

Kobuk ValleyAlaska

December 2, 1980

Lake ClarkAlaska

December 2, 1980

Lassen VolcanicCalifornia

August 9, 1916

Mammoth CaveKentucky

July 1, 1941

Mesa VerdeColorado

June 29, 1906

Mount RainierWashington

March 2, 1899

August 2013

North CascadesWashington

October 2, 1968

OlympicWashington

June 29, 1938

Petrified ForestArizona

December 9, 1962

PinnaclesCalifornia

January 10, 2013

RedwoodCalifornia

October 2, 1968

Rocky MountainColorado

January 26, 1915

November 2002
July 2008
July 2009
March 2012

SaguaroArizona

October 14, 1994

SequoiaCalifornia

September 25, 1890

ShenandoahVirginia

May 22, 1926

June 2018
Theodore RooseveltNorth Dakota

November 10, 1978

July 2012

Virgin IslandsUnited States Virgin Islands

August 2, 1956

VoyageursMinnesota

January 8, 1971

August 2014

Wind CaveSouth Dakota

January 9, 1903

July 2012

Wrangell –St. EliasAlaska

December 2, 1980

YellowstoneWyoming, Montana, Idaho

March 1, 1872

July 2009*
June 2015

YosemiteCalifornia

October 1, 1890

 October 2015
ZionUtah

November 19, 1919

 March 2014

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