With everyone focusing on New Year’s Resolutions and painfully trying to better themselves with self help books and gym memberships, I have a suggestion for one that is not only fun but good for you. What resolution can possibly be both fun and beneficial you ask? How about giving yourself the gift of a National Parks Passport and then resolving to visit them all (I guess this would make it a lifelong resolution because I don’t think you can possibly see them all in just one year). I received mine as a Christmas gift from a fellow traveler several years ago and have had more fun hiking and photographing my way through 30 parks to date. Living in Illinois makes this no easy feat…..the nearest National Park (Cuyahoga Valley NP in Ohio) is 349 miles away…..the next (Mammoth Cave NP in Kentucky) a whopping 395 miles. The highest concentration of parks is in the Western US so if you are fortunate enough to live there, you’re ahead already. California has the most parks with nine followed by Alaska which has eight and also contains the largest park Wrangell-St. Elias at over 8 million acres. The smallest is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. While most years I dream of jetting off to exotic destinations outside of the US, there are years when time away or finances prohibit that kind of travel and I’m okay with that. Spending my hard earned $$ and vacation time exploring my own country and getting Passport stamps is equally rewarding. Not surprising–America is home to some of the most beautiful places on earth–many of which are located inside of the National Park system. In fact, I’d strongly encourage even those residing outside of the US to get a Parks Passport and visit my country any chance you get. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be glad you did and will be planning your next trip here before the first one is over.
Before you get too excited and rush to buy your Passport, I should warn you that collecting these stamps and stickers can become obsessively addicting. I get downright depressed if I don’t get at least one stamp a year and the most I’ve gotten in a single trip is six when I was the passenger on the back of a Harley Davidson for nine days riding through Arizona and Utah. And while I enjoy the occasional motorcycle day trip or even a long weekend, packing clothes, toiletries and, most importantly, my camera equipment in the saddlebag of a Harley and then braving the elements all day, every day, for nine days was challenging at best. The only thing that kept me excited and not tempted to fly home or throw myself into the Grand Canyon was the jaw-dropping scenery and the thought of getting that damn passport stamped. Don’t get me wrong, in hindsight, it was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever been on and I’d probably do it again. You can see more of this crazy adventure and the beautiful photos on the blog section of this site by clicking here or in the Photo Gallery drop down under Grand Circle Tour.
So what are these potentially addictive National Parks Passports? I’d be more than happy to tell you–addicts always love company. Much like a Federal passport (without the cost and screening by the federal government), these cute little spiral books contain blank pages with places for rubber stamp imprints of National Parks, State Parks, National Monuments, Historical Sites along with Battlefields, Lakeshores, Seashores and Recreational Areas. I made the decision to set my goal for only the 59 National Parks but you could go hog wild and set your sites big if you are into historical sites, war memorials, etc. You can click here for a complete list of all parks in the National Park system or there is a pull-out map showing them located inside the plastic inner flap of the Passport. If maps aren’t your thing and you’re more electronically inclined, there are also Passport to Your National Parks apps for iPhone and Android available for free download. They use GPS to tell you how to find the nearest cancellation stamping locations.
The rest of the book divides the parks into nine different color-coded regions. Each region is then given an overview and has places for the ink stamps and stickers. The free ink stamps you can collect only by visiting the National Parks themselves where you will find a rubber stamp -usually in color-coded ink matching the region-showing the place and date of your visit. In addition to the cancellation stamps, each year the National Parks Passport Program releases a new set of ten full-color collector stickers featuring a beautiful photo and description of one park per region. Passport holders can affix these adhesive stickers to their Passport book in a designated space below which they can ink stamp the corresponding cancellation. If you ever loved sticker books when you were growing up, I can’t begin to tell you how badly you are going to want all of these sticker sets–did I mention obsession. Here’s a brief video describing how it all works:
Where can you buy yours? Passports are available for purchase at most visitor centers of National Parks across the country. For a mere $8.95 you can pick up a passport and proceed to the nearest stamping station to collect your first stamp. You can also buy them online here, but then you will have to pay shipping & handling charges, and you will have to patiently wait to collect your first stamp(s). In addition to the basic passport, there are a couple of variations–The Kids’ Companion for $5.95 (great for getting your kids or grandkids addicted…I mean exploring) and the Explorer’s Edition at $49.95 (an expanded version with a sturdy weatherproof portfolio with bigger pages that you can arrange anyway you like. It also has a compact mesh compartment to keep small collectibles you acquire on your park visits, a photo pocket, pen slot and a map to guide you to your next adventure!) I wish they would have had this version before I received mine but just like buying a new car, they always come out with a bigger, better model the year after you make the investment and I’m not about to start over now. And, if all that wasn’t enough to fuel your new addiction, you can hook up with 1,400 other fellow stampers and join the National Park Travelers Club. These people talk, breath, and live the National Parks and what they represent. As a dues-paying member you can take part in general forums on Trip Reports, Passport Stamp Collecting and Trading, fun NPS Quizzes, get the inside scoop on rare cancellations, master lists and maps, and even attend national conventions!
To add to all the excitement and make this the perfect year to begin your own stamping, sticker collecting journey, 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. To honor this, the Passport To Your National Parks® program will offer special centennial Passport cancellation stamps at National Parks throughout the country. So get out there and get obsessed not only with the Passport but with all the natural beauty and recreation the parks have to offer. I’m sure, like me, you’ll be hooked in no time.
If you’d like to read about just a few of the National Parks I have visited so far for those coveted stamps, you can click on each listed below in alphabetical order to be directed to beautiful photos and highlights of each:
Arches NP, Biscayne NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Channel Islands NP, Cuyahoga Valley NP, Everglades NP, Grand Canyon NP, Joshua Tree NP, Kings Canyon NP, Lassen Volcanic NP, Mammoth Cave NP, Mt. Rainier NP, Olympic NP, Sequoia NP, Yosemite NP, Zion NP,
And, if you do take my advice and get yourself a National Parks Passport….Happy Stamping and keep in touch!!!! If you’re a National Parks Passport veteran, I’d love to hear from you as well. What has been your favorite park visit so far and why? Also, I will be visiting South Dakota this year for the state’s two National Park stamps – Yeah! – and would love to hear about your experiences there, park tips and suggestions on places to visit in addition to the parks, great places to eat, or anything you want to share.
Helpful Links To Inspire & Get You Started:
The Ten Most Visited National Parks
List of All Parks in the National Park System
The National Parks Travelers Club
Find Your Park – Share Your Park – Support Your Park