3 Reasons to Love Our National Parks

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread.”

-John Muir

This past Thursday was the National Park system’s 100th birthday. I spent it scrambling to the top of Cathedral Peak — one of the highest points in Yosemite. It was a blissful day and reminded me of the three things I love most about our parks:

  1. The People

When I got back to the Tuolumne campground after climbing it was dark and I was tired. My headlamp was dead and I was ready to pitch my tent anywhere. A random stranger saw me struggling and told me I could setup my tent in his camp area. It was a huge relief.

This reminded me of a similar situation from the beginning of my road trip. A friend and I were pulling into Lovers Leap campground at night and all the sites were taken. We had barely registered our look of disappointment when a women told us she was leaving and we could have her site. I offered her a few bucks, but she said, “Don’t worry about it, just remember I’m from Idaho.”

Kindness is the norm in our National Parks. I believe it’s because when people are surrounded by beauty and traveling with friends they are at peace. They don’t need anything more. They are ready to give. In comparison, when you are in a city you are constantly fighting to get ahead and lacking in time.

2. The Slow Burn

Seeing Yosemite’s massive peaks like Half Dome and El Cap is like going on a hot first date — your jaw drops. But, like in real love, it’s the nitty gritty that matters the most.

On this trip, as I hiked down the John Muir Trail (JMT), my view of Cathedral Peak and Matthes crest became shrouded by trees. Shortly after, I began to notice bent pines, a Nevada fox , and the sound of Budd Creek running next to me. Later, as I caught my breath, I noticed a sea of purple sage, and the more I looked the more I saw. Finally, as I got hiking again, the trees gave way to rocky plateaus and I could see Cathedral Peak, Matthes Crest, and all the great mountains I saw from the road, but from a new angle.

Our national parks expand not shrink, the more you get to know them. It’s their expansiveness and the beauty even in the small things that allows them to offer so much to so many different people. You could spend an entire lifetime just getting to know one of the country’s parks, but the US has over 50.

3. The Release Valve

Midway through my travels, I ran into a vet at one of our nation’s parks. We got to talking and he said he and his Bijon were taking the month to travel and think. He said that his friends were angry and getting ready to grab their guns and he didn’t know why.

People need places to get away from one another and recover. In old times the frontier was called, “America’s Release Valve” because people burnt out on life could head there and start anew, but with a purpose. Today with so little of the world left unexplored and an increasing difficulty to disconnect, we need parks more then ever as a place to escape, recharge, get healthy, and think.

My Fave Five

On that note, here are my five favorite parks in the US.

1. Yosemite

2. Zion

3. Grand Teton

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

5. Shenandoah

And here are 5 parks I haven’t been to, but would love to see:

1. Acadia

2. Denali

3. Sequoia

4. Mammoth Cave

5. Mount Rainier

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