National Parks for a Destination Wish List


travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

While we’re on the subject of gift guides, you must know that my very favorite gift involves experiences—traveling, usually. But Aron and I were talking the other night about how 2015 should perhaps be the year of domestic travel. I’m not ruling out a trip to Asia, should the opportunity arise, but there are so many beautiful places in the U.S. I’ve yet to see. I’d start with some of the 59 National Parks (eight of which happen to be in California!).

The folks at Expedia Viewfinder recently asked me about our plans for the year, so I partnered with them to share some of the amazing National Parks I’ve been to (and hope to return to)—and that you might consider visiting with your family in 2015. And I’ve listed the five I’d most like to see next.

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

Aron and I did a road trip while we were engaged, in the spring of 2006, and visited Bryce Canyon National Park (with its iconic hoodoos, also pictured at top) and Zion National Park. Along the way, we also visited Monument Valley, an incredible slot canyon, the Las Vegas strip, and the red rocks of Sedona.

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

Yosemite National Park is a long-time favorite. I’ve written, most recently, about our trip to Yosemite in the fall. I’d love to see it when it’s quiet and covered in snow.

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

I grew up in Long Beach, California, and on a clear day you could see Catalina—one of the Channel Islands. One of my favorite memories is of backpacking there with friends, in high school. And Aron and I have gone diving off its coast many times—occasionally with sea lions! (That’s Aron off of Anacapa Island in 2004.)

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

My parents took me to Haleakala National Park on Maui when I was young and my dad and I bicycled down the volcano at sunrise when I was in high school. (It was freezing at the top, but absolutely stunning!) Aron and I had a less successful attempt on our trip to Maui last year.

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

And it’s been years since I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, except from the air; I’ve always wanted to do a rafting trip there.

Which parks have you been to? Which were your favorite?

travel  National Parks for a Destination Wish List

I’ve never been to any of these, and would love to plan a trip soon:

Acadia National Park, Maine
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Denali National Park, Alaska

[All photos are my own.]

P.S. A complete list of National Parks.

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Let’s Discuss

  1. Hi Ashley!
    I’ve been reading your blog for a little while and really enjoying it! I was so happy to see Acadia at the top of your travel list. I grew up right near by Acadia and spent lots of time exploring it, and it’s just beautiful. I think you would love it. Feel free to send me an email if you want any advice/suggestions for a trip there!

    • Ashley

      I appreciate it! Will do! It’s one of our regrets–not visiting Acadia when we were living on the East Coast. We’ll have to rectify that soon.

  2. Jeanie

    I adore your blog. Although my sweeties are grown ups now, I shared many of your same parenting traits when they were little and it is fun to watch your two little loves growing up. As a California native who now is landlocked in Kansas, I also love reading your coastal adventures.
    Yosemite was a major part of my childhood. There is no place more magical. In my opinion, but I would love to see the Tetons and the Smokys. I love reading about people who hike the Appalachian Trail, also.
    Thanks for writing your blog.

    • Ashley

      That’s so nice to hear! Thank you, Jeanie! And isn’t it fascinating to hear about people who do the trail? I loved that Bill Bryson book, of course, but nothing compared to hearing from a friend’s father who did it last year. I actually want to interview him for the site soon. Need to get on it!

  3. Lor

    My dad worked for the National Park Service when I was growing up and I can say Grand Teton in a GORGEOUS park. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

  4. My hubby and I did a road trip through the US for our honeymoon and visited many national parks – we have such a beautiful country! We’ve traveled a lot and it’s still one of my favorite trips. Highlights were Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Badlands and Crater Lake.

    • Ashley

      I was looking into the best NP lodges and the one at Crater Lake comes up on a lot of lists. Staying at all of the historic lodges would be a fun goal. Sounds like a great honeymoon!

  5. claire

    We did the Griswold-esque “great American” road trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone when I was 10 years old in our station wagon. Since then, my parents have retired to Wyoming and we spend several weeks there a year. Grand Teton and Yellowstone are amazing and even though I have now been to both several times (in summer and winter), I never ever tire of them. My son is almost 3.5 and we are now making plans to share with him the places we love so much. (We are actually spending Christmas in Yellowstone for the third time in a few weeks.) Summer can be really busy in these Parks, but gorgeous and manageable if you plan accordingly. Accommodations in all the parks book early for summer at the family friendly places. Happy to share with you the different places we have stayed and what you may find once there.

    I have also spent time in Acadia and it is also amazing. Very different experience and landscape, but worth visiting in the summer.

    • Ashley

      The PBS shows I’ve seen about Christmas in Yellowstone make it look completely magical. My favorite is one that follows a little fox around. I’ll be sure to ask for help whenever we plan a trip! Happy holidays! (P.S. LOVE that movie.)

  6. I also biked down the volcano in Maui at sunrise when I was in high school! The view from the top was so beautiful! I remember the guide yelling at me because I wasn’t going fast enough on the way down but I was worried I was going to fly off the edge of the volcano on one of the sharp curves!

    Acadia National Park is great! I just love Maine! I would also definitely recommend Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I went to college in the mountains of North Carolina and it’s gorgeous, especially in the Fall!

  7. I went on an incredible field trip to the Southwest as a field school component of a biology elective I took in college. It was 17 days long and we went to the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Mesa Verde, Death Valley, and some of the national monuments – White Sands, Chiricahua, and Organ Pipe. All of it was just amazing, but Death Valley in particular was the most alien-looking place I’ve ever been and I really want to go back! We were also there at the end of June and it was 120 degrees (too hot to sleep in tents), and when we woke up there were coyotes sniffing our coolers. It was quite the experience!! Love the National Parks. They are such a treasure.

  8. Karen

    I’ve always wanted to go to Bryce Canyon! I am Canadian so the Rockies really interest me – I’m from the East Coast and I’ve never been! But I can’t help but be curious about your aside: Where are you thinking about in Asia? :)

  9. MFree

    I just adore this! Growing up my parents were big on piling my brother and I into the van and driving to our national parks – Yosemite, Rushmore and the Badlands were some of my favorites. Now that my daughter is here my husband and I have talked more and more about ‘showing’ her all the great things our country has to offer and Yes! California is a goldmine of parks! Thanks for sharing!

  10. I highly recommend Acadia. We went there when we were living in NYC and it was gorgeous and very accessible. The carriage roads make it very easy to get around and see the whole park. I imagine Hudson would love Thunder Hole. Plus, there are lobster rolls to be had! It would be a good, easy trip to do with kids. Now we live in CO so I must recommend Rocky Mtn Natl Park. It’s stunning, easy to combine with Denver or Boulder trip, and the camp grounds are wonderful. (Def check out Moraine Park campground.) As a kid my family did a train trip from Chicago to Seattle on the Empire Builder stopping off at Glacier Park, and I have vivid memories of the scenery and the lodges. That was the vacation that gave me the travel bug.

  11. I’m extremely partial to Olympic National Park since it is basically my backyard ;), but you definitely must visit Grand Teton National Park! Our family took a summer trip and had such a wonderful time. It was gorgeous and there was so much to do that fit all ages. We want to go back as soon as possible! Jackson Lake Lodge was great.

  12. Stephanie

    My faves are Zion, Bryce (your photos of Bryce are gorgeous!), Capitol Reef (the less-visited park in Utah, but wonderful), Yosemite, Glacier, Denali, Grand Teton, and Acadia. If possible, visit Grand Teton and Acadia in September, when the crowds are gone but the weather is still nice.

  13. Meghan

    Ranking my favorite National Parks feels so cruel to the others! I’ve tried and failed and usually end with an assortment like this – Denali NP; Glacier NP; Mt. Rainier NP; Zion NP; Arches NP; Great Smoky Mtns. NP. But then I reconsider and feel bad for leaving off Yellowstone or Yosemite. And still to dream of the 30 I’ve yet to visit.

    Made it to Alaska this summer and visited Wrangell-St. Elias (largest of the parks!, Denali and Kenai Fjords. Unforgettable trip!

    I thank my parents for their love of our National Parks. In fact, friends poke fun for how much our family obsesses over them.

    Happy travels wherever you may go!

  14. Its great to see a post like this because I often feel the same way. I have traveled outside the country a lot but when I recently did one of those how many states have you visited I only had about 1/4 of the US, which I think is sad. Up until last year I never made it south of DC. Now one of our favorite places to visit is SC and Georgia.
    If we had the money and time to take another vacation early next year my goal would be to hit up Yosemite and Grand Canyon.

  15. I have only been to Haleakala (aaah-mazing!) Rocky Mountain National Parks. However, I have been to more national or historical sites, memorials, recreation area, and hiking trails—Muir Woods in California, Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, and more parks/sites in Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee. Seeing the Grand Canyon from an airplane was pretty sweet, but I’d like to see it in person. Yosemite is on my list (my husband has been there twice) and so is Acadia!

  16. Hi Ashley!

    First of all thank you for your wonderful blog, I really enjoy reading it!

    My family and I are from a tiny French island in the Caribbean (Martinique), our kids were born in Ireland and we’ve been traveling from many years now and keep enjoying it…

    We did a road trip through the West US last year at fall season, and it was just awesome, we really enjoyed every single part of this travel between the different cities and Nationals Park we did!

    I won’t be able to say, which park was my favorite (even if I had a little crush for the trail in the hoodoos at the Brice Canyon). But the Grand Canyon, the Zion, the antelope Canyon, the Death Valley, the Monument Valley, the Mammoth Lake, each of them were just unique and so special!
    My philosophy is to enjoy the singularity of each place I am visiting.

    We’ve traveled a lot and it’s still one of my favorite trips. (This summer we did a US East Coast road trip including the Canada and I am still sorting my pictures to put on my blog!!! We visited the White Mountains in the Maine/New Hampshire, and it was wonderful as well…)

    Otherwise we are willing to visit the Yellowstone, the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and so many others… You have such a wonderful country…

  17. This year we’ve been to Joshua Tree and Shenandoah National Parks, and in January we are visiting Yosemite. I’m so excited! Canyonlands is also super high on my list.

  18. Love this post!! Been reading for a while, and thought I would drop you a note:) I have a mission to visit as many of the National Parks as possible, they are just so beautiful!! We did Shenandoah and The Great Smoky Mountains this summer and loved every minute of it!! I too am hoping for Acadia in the near future and also Joshua Tree the next time I visit my sister!

  19. This year I plan to visit Alaska and I hope I would realise it
    I haven`t been anywhere outside Europe yet.
    But anyway, I saw beautiful places and national parks.
    In Croatia there are several nice. I would recommend to visit Plitvice Lakes,
    Brijuni and Mljet.

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