My National Parks Bucket List

Glacier Bay Alaska

In recent years I’ve had the great opportunity to explore more of America’s Best Idea, the National Parks. I thought I was making pretty good progress through the parks until very recently when I learned that there are actually more than 400 sites protected and administered by the National Park Service in every corner of the country. That’s an incredible legacy to leave future generations, but ultimately it is only part of the remarkable efforts conducted by the Service, the National Park Foundation and their partners in the preservation of not just historical and natural resources, but the very essence of what it means to be American.

When I reviewed the list of the 62 National Parks though I was somewhat shocked to discover that I’ve been to relatively few of them. This is a tragic oversight that I very much want to correct once we can all travel again, so to help spark my own wanderlust I decided to put together a National Parks bucket list. The U.S. is incredibly fortunate to possess such remarkable wonders and while it was hard to narrow them down, these are the parks I can’t wait to visit and hopefully soon. This is also National Parks Week, and given the current travel restrictions it’s a good time to do some research and assemble your own National Parks Bucket List. (Caveat, this post isn’t sponsored I just thought it was a good opportunity to highlight the Park Service.)

Since I obviously have never visited these parks, I relied on the National Park Service web site to provide the necessary background information as well as photos.

In alphabetical order:

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Crater Lake

Background – From “Crater Lake inspires awe. Native Americans witnessed its formation 7,700 years ago, when a violent eruption triggered the collapse of a tall peak. Scientists marvel at its purity: fed by rain and snow, it’s the deepest lake in the USA and one of the most pristine on earth. Artists, photographers, and sightseers gaze in wonder at its blue water and stunning setting atop the Cascade Mountain Range.”

Why I want to visit – Crater Lake interests me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I find it incredible that the indigenous peoples have the moment when this natural wonder was created as part of their oral history. It really emphasizes their long history on this continent. Secondly, the photos of the lake with its vivid blue color and water clarity have won me over. I just think it would be a fun place to visit.

Photo Credit: National Park Service


Background – From “Experience Glacier’s pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes. With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude. Relive the days of old through historic chalets, lodges, and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Explore Glacier National Park and discover what awaits you.”

Why I want to visit – Montana is one of the 6 states I haven’t visited yet and I can’t think of a better excuse than visiting Glacier National Park. It includes 26 glaciers and 130 named lakes, all surrounded by the Rocky Mountain peaks. I’m a mountain kind of guy, so the landscapes appeal to me a great deal. I also love old historic hotels, which are also featured here. When you put everything together, it sounds like a perfect match for my travel style.

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Great Sand Dunes

Background – From “Open all day and night year round, the tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Experience a starry sky on moonless nights, or a surreal walk on the dunes under bright full moonlight.”

Why I want to visit – Every time I see photos of this National Park I can’t believe it’s in Colorado. Featuring the tallest sand dunes in North America they aren’t just fun to explore, but the park also has alpine lakes, old-growth forests and incredible mountains. I wanted to include this on a brief trip last year but I couldn’t make the timing work out. The next time I’m in Colorado though this is near the top of my to-do list.

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Hawai‘i Volcanoes

Background – From “Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park protects some of the most unique geological, biological, and cultural landscapes in the world. Extending from sea level to 13,677 feet, the park encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa.”

Why I want to visit – You don’t have to twist my arm to get me to travel to Hawaii, I always love exploring this quirky and fun state. One experience I’ve always wanted to tackle is a visit to Volcanoes, home to two of the world’s most active geological features. Just the raw beauty of it is I think reason enough to want to go.

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Mesa Verde

Background – From “Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.”

Why I want to visit – A few months ago I made the very smart decision to watch the Ken Burns documentary series all about the National Park System and one of the parks that received a lot of attention in the film was Mesa Verde. One of the country’s oldest parks, it was due to looters at this site that prompted Congress to pass the Antiquities Act, which in turn led to rampant preservation across the country. Aside from its importance to the modern conservation movement, I’m passionately interested in ancient history and to see for myself the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people would truly be a once in a lifetime experience.

Photo Credit: National Park Service


Background – From “Most people know Redwood as home to the tallest trees on Earth. The parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild river-ways, and nearly 40-miles of rugged coastline.  For thousands of years people have lived in this verdant landscape.  Together, the National Park Service and California State Parks are managing and restoring these lands for the inspiration, enjoyment, and education of all.’”

Why I want to visit – I think that it’s fairly obvious why I want to visit some of these parks, they’re amazing! Redwood certainly falls into that category and since I’ve never seen in person the tallest trees on the planet I think it’s something I should do, and soon. Like most National Parks though, Redwood is about so much more than just one feature, it includes prairie, estuary, coast and other ecosystems, all thankfully preserved.

Photo Credit: National Park Service

White Sands

Background – From “Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Park preserves a major portion of this unique dunefield, along with the plants and animals that live here.”

Why I want to visit – I love Cold War History, so my first reason for wanting to visit the area is to stop by the adjacent White Sands Missile Range and see their Museum and Missile Park. After that though, I can’t wait to see for myself the otherworldly landscapes of White Sands itself. The purity of the dunefield just seems so unlikely and even extraterrestrial and I’d love to (carefully) take my camera along and shoot some scenes. 

Photo Credit: National Park Service


Background – From “On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park for all to enjoy the unique hydrothermal and geologic wonders. Spring is a time of transition within the park, as snow flurries eventually give way to blue skies, bears leave their dens, plants grow once more, and migrating birds return.”

Why I want to visit – I don’t have to offer explanation as to why the last two parks on my list are here and I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t visited them yet. Not only are the natural wonders at Yellowstone impressive, but the park itself is the beating heart of the National Park Service and the basis on which the other 61 parks were eventually preserved.

Photo Credit: Nestor Ferraro


Background – From “Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.  First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.”

Why I want to visit – Long famous as the inspiration and home of John Muir, to stand where he stood and to slowly understand the beauty of this landscape is an experience that I know will be transformational. Granite cliffs, incredible waterfalls and more have long attracted those who not only want to admire the beauty of the country, but to find their own little haven of peace and quiet. I want that too, I want to experience the park as Muir experienced it and I too want to leave a little better than when I arrived.

What’s on your National Park Bucket List?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

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