Are All National Parks Worth Return Visits?
Let us say upfront that we would return to any of the 59 National Parks if the circumstances were right. All of them are special. All of them have unique things to see and do. All of them are an important part of our heritage and deserve to be protected for future generations. With that said, our circumstances have changed. Never again will we attempt a year long sprint to see all of anything. It is an expensive and exhausting enterprise. It was also worth every bit of the effort we made to do so. Are all of the National Parks worth return visits? For us at least, the answer is no.
We believe we have a future in the National Parks. When we returned to work after our 59 National Park journey, our mission was to pay-off a few debts in order to return to a full-time life on the road. Our plan is working. We are close to packing up our camper and leaving permanent addresses behind. One key question, of course, is where to go? We could no longer move park-to-park on a weekly basis. Too expensive.
Our planning evolved to three month stays at specific places over the course of a year. When we were doing the sprint, our visits were a mile wide and an inch deep. It was time to get to know the Parks in depth we thought. Which ones? There were several factors we considered:
1. We will seek moderate weather. No reason to go to North Dakota in the Winter (although we did on the sprint). No need to spend the Summer in Arizona. The moderate weather plan worked well on the sprint. It will work again.
2. Managing our expenses will be important for the long game we plan to play. All of the flights we took and all of the gasoline we burned on the journey just won’t work for a life long plan. Stopping and staying at a select locations for three months will be very economical for this debt free couple.
3. The Parks we visit will have to be accessible. Roads and campsites will be critical. Spending ninety days in the wilderness won’t work for us. We will need things such as internet access and grocery stores. Amazon.com will have to be able to deliver to us (photo equipment, you know). Gates of the Arctic and Isle Royale are out of the question.
4. We want to avoid the crowds. We can manage that by staying near the Parks in off season. There are plenty of Parks, such as Great Basin, that are never busy.
We examined which Parks are worth returning to and which are not based on the criteria we looked at above. Here are some of the ones we considered:
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon was an easy decision. Northern Arizona has moderate weather in the Fall. RV and State Parks abound. Most are economical year round. The Park is easy to get to and there are tons of things to see and do within a hundred miles. During the off season crowds are light. Verdict? Grand Canyon is worth visiting again.
Yosemite National Park
At the risk of irritating some of our friends we admit Yosemite was not a slam dunk to return. Recall that we described it as “The Most Beautiful Place in America” in a previous blog. We do expect to go to the Park again someday for a brief visit but it does not work well for a three month stay. Every time we go to California we find that prices in general are 30% higher than the rest of the country. California has higher gasoline prices than the other 49 states. Dubious? Look it up. On another note we found Yosemite oppressively crowded even though we went during the off season. We recall circling the Visitor Center parking lot for a half hour. Heck even John Muir complained about the crowds more than a 100 years ago. Verdict? Not worth a return visit. (Did we really just write that?)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Too easy. RV parks are plentiful. Tennessee has a low cost of living and no income tax (we plan to keep working on the road). There are lots of things to see and do nearby. The Park is beautiful in the Spring and Fall. As the busiest National Park, the Smokies are best left alone in the Summer. Verdict? Worth a return visit.
Here are ten National Parks that work well for our future plans:
3. Theodore Roosevelt.
5. Arches. (I know. Crowded).
7. Big Bend.
10. Great Sand Dunes.
These ten National Parks don’t work for our future plans:
1. Hawaii Volcanos (obviously).
2. Kenai Fjords.
3. Congaree. (We love this place).
4. Isle Royale.
5. North Cascades.
7. Joshua Tree.
9. Channel Islands (Sorry California).
Even with our new criteria–expense, accessibility, and light crowds, the National Parks and nearby Public Lands offer virtually unlimited opportunities to be in touch with nature. We will be back in adventure mode soon–likely in 2017.