Why I Want to Visit Every National Park
National parks have been called America's Best Idea, and I agree. In 1872 Yellowstone was declared the first National Park in the US, and it’s considered the first in the world. Since then, 58 other protected areas have joined the list, spanning from the US Virgin Islands to Alaska.
National parks tell the story of both this continent and the people who have lived on it for thousands of years. I find them fascinating, and I’m on a mission to go to all 59 of them.
Why I Want to Visit Every National Park
National Parks are a way to preserve some of the natural wonders of the US, as well as the history of the land. They provide both affordable vacations and educational resources for myriad assortment of people.
I didn’t grow up in a home that was particularly nature friendly. My mother hates camping, and hikes were limited. Our vacations were more on the hotel-at-Disneyworld side of things, and less on tent-in-the-woods side.
It wasn’t until college that I realized I truly enjoy being outside. Spending time in nature is restorative for me. As a freelance writer, I spend hours each day on my computer or phone. As a city dweller, I see more concrete than greenery in my day to day life.
Each time I return to nature, I make an investment in my mental and physical health. The news is out that sitting for long stretches of time increases your chance of diabetes and heart disease (among other things), and that staring at screens can make us unhappier and lonelier.
National Parks fill a need in our modern world. Connecting with nature comes with a barrage of benefits.
The Need for Nature
Humans need nature. And I don’t just mean we need food and water. I mean that studies prove that being outside makes people happier. It makes us mentally healthier. A study from Illinois even showed that neighborhoods with more trees experience lower crime rates!
Nature is alive, and it has an affect on us as humans. It’s not just some trees, some rocks, or some water. Natural landscapes soothe our souls. They provide a respite from our urban worlds. They gives us a chance to unplug. And they give us a chance to relax, and to appreciate where we are in that moment, rather than always planning ahead.
National Parks are an essential part of this relationship, They are a promise that the government has made to every citizen: we know you need this. We know your families come from landscapes like this. We are preserving this for you, and your children, so that they can marvel at this too.
Adventure in the Parks
I was in college when I learned that I liked to be outside. It was also in college that I began to truly understand the depth and breadth of the National Park system, and all the adventures that can be found within.
Grand Canyon National Park is 1,902 square miles in total. Acadia National Park is 40,052 acres. These are huge pieces of land that are nationally protected. That means we can preserve both the land and the animals that live on it.
National Parks provide a home for plant and animal species that have been pushed out of their original habitats. They are a final refuge for wilderness in the US, and their federal protections mean that there’s a chance for not only preservation but rebirth. The return of black bears to Big Bend National Park is one such example.
Parks are also a study in adventure. Each National Park has a strikingly different landscape. You can find glaciers, giant waterfalls, and mountain ranges in National parks. You can find fields of wildflowers or boulders in National parks. The diversity of landscape that is protected by the Parks system speaks to the beauty and power of Mother Nature.
You can backpack to remote outreaches in Glacier National Park. You can see the Milky Way in Big Bend National Park. These terrains are bigger and more spectacular than what we as humans can build. They offer us a chance to connect deeply with nature, to get lost in the beauty of the world around us.
I want to go to each and every National Park and marvel at the natural world. I want to be humbled by nature. I want to escape our manufactured world for a while. National Parks protect history, animals, and help us connect with ourselves and the natural world. I’ve been to five parks- there are still 54 and countless adventures to go.
Kara Perez is a freelance writer and founder of Bravely, a financial literacy company for women. She lives in Austin, TX and loves hiking, peanut butter and New Girl.