Maybe you know the story, maybe you don't.
Here's a quick version:
About three or four years ago, on a trip to California for Coachella (of all things), I made my way to Joshua Tree National Park on a day trip after the festival. It was there that I realized the diversity and magnificence that the National Parks of Canada and America share. I had never seen anything like Joshua Tree National Park, not back at home in the parks I affectionately refer to as my backyard (Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho). I resolved on that trip that my bucket list in life (because I had never had one longer than: 1. Skydive, 2. Retire as the little old lady who owns a bed and breakfast, and delivers fresh squeezed orange juice to everyone's room at the crack of dawn) would simply be the list of National Parks through Canada and the United States of America!
^ This is me, jumping for joy in Joshua Tree National Park in the spring of 2015, the year I realized my love for not just mountains but all outdoor spaces.
There are 107 national parks between the two countries if you count the nine national reserves that belong to the parks system. Those nine reserves and 39 parks belong to Canada, and 59 parks have been established in the United States.
It's important to mention that there are a lot of other types of parks: provincial parks, state parks, preserves and reserves, national monuments, and more. To be completely honest, I'm interested in ALL of them. Every wild and outdoor park or space is something that I am very much so interested in seeing and experiencing. The national parks seemed like a really great way to at least get started. After all, the best things must be the parks that are being protected at a national level, right? (Not always right, but let's go with that.) I've been catching a lot of other places along the way, too.
I had visited some national parks prior to that day in California, when I resolved to see all the parks. HOWEVER, not all of my visits were conscious: a lot of them were simply a drive through, or a quick sight-seeing tour that barely scratched the surface of what a park had to offer. Or they happened when I was too young to appreciate the visit. As I was preparing for my summer 2017 road trip through the western United States, I pushed myself to determine what it would take to really cross a park off of my list, because certainly a drive through when I was six years old could hardly count as having intentionally experienced a space or park.
I still don't have a solid "do this or do that" kind of scenario by which I measure the cross-off validity of a park, but I can say that I know it when I really feel it. Sometimes it takes experiencing both a sunrise and a sunset in a park. Sometimes it means getting caught in a storm and being forced to spend a few nights in a park. Sometimes it means traveling the trails into the backcountry for an intimate long weekend. Sometimes it just means feeling an emotional connection that I haven't experienced anywhere else.
In order to start judging my level of connection with every park, I started a list of parks and places that I visited this summer in my journal. (I call this journal my "trip encyclopedia"; it's photographed at the beginning of this post: those are the first few pages of my estimated trip itinerary this summer!) In this list, I make note of the year and days that I was in each place, and my most favourite thing about it. If the thing that was my most favourite it was a material object or memory attached to an item that could have existed just as easily outside of the park, or if it's a bit too airy fairy, I don't consider that park to be well explored enough to qualify.
There are some parks that I have spent a day or less in, and though they sparked an emotional connection, I feel they are worthy of and require further exploration. These parks are getting tentative checkmarks for the time being. I'll get back to them at some point. Not that I won't get back to all of them again at some point in my life - and I sincerely hope that I do.
ANYWAYS. I thought I would share a post with an up-to-date list of which parks I've been in so far, and what's still left to come, plus my notes on the favourite bits. I'm working up get some of my trip content up on the blog these days too, so I will link to those posts where applicable as well. So, here we go (a tally is at the end; parks visited are in bold) in alphabetical order, starting with my home country:
1. Akami-Uapishku-KakKasuak-Mealy Mountains National Reserve, Newfoundland and Labrador
2. Aulavik National Park, Northwest Territories
3. Auyuittuq National Park, Nunavut
4. Banff National Park (and World Heritage Site), Alberta
I can't tell you how many times I've been in this park, or when I first visited it, but I can tell you that I've spent time in it as if it were my backyard, and it is very much so checked off of the list! I can't choose a favourite part of this park. I'm pretty sure that would be like choosing a favourite child - and that's just wrong.
5. Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario
6. Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia
7. Elk Island National Park, Alberta
8. Forillon National Park, Quebec
9. Fundy National Park, New Brunswick
10. Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Ontario
11. Glacier National Park, British Columbia
This is one of those parks that I have driven through a thousand times and adore, but don't feel like I've done it enough justice to completely cross it off my list yet. I'm working on it!
12. Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
13. Gros Morne National Park (and World Heritage Site), Newfoundland and Labrador
14. Gulf Islands National Reserve, British Columbia
In 2004 I spent an incredibly memorable week sailing around the islands of this reserve. Pender Island was one of my most favourites.
15. Gwaii Haanas National Reserve (and World Heritage Site), British Columbia
16. Ivvavik National Park (and World Heritage Site), Yukon
17. Jasper National Park (and World Heritage Site), Alberta
Apparently I've spent a lot more time in this park than I suppose I will ever remember, as a child. In any case, I re-explored it in 2016. Maligne Canyon was gorgeous (especially having it alone on a rainy spring day), and sitting on a dock of Maligne Lake watching the sunset while I reflected on the Berg Lake backcountry trip I had just finished will always be a special memory for me. I learned so much that weekend.
18. Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia
19/20. Kluane National Park and Reserve (and World Heritage Site), Yukon
21. Kootenay National Park (and World Heritage Site), British Columbia
It is so hard to choose favourite things about parks I have spent so much time and so many years in. The Kootenay mountains are an escape for me. Numa Falls (which I finally explored in 2016) is beautiful, but most memorable is how beautiful this park still manages to be, even after being burned so terribly so many times.
22. Kouchibouguac National Park, New Brunswick
23. La Mauricie National Park, Quebec
24. Mingan Archipelago National Reserve, Quebec
25. Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia
Like Glacier National Park, this is another one that I've spent a lot of time around and driving through. I have yet to spend much quality time in it.
26. Nááts'ihch'oh National Reserve (and World Heritage Site), Northwest Territories
27. Nahaani National Reserve (and World Heritage Site), Northwest Territories
28. Pacific Rim National Reserve, British Columbia
Uhm, hello - Long Beach? One of the most incredible beaches that I know, even if I did walk it with feet like open wounds thanks to a pair of sandals that tore my feet up into two giant blisters during a stay in Tofino. I've been in this area a few times, but my most memorable visit was a solo trip in 2014.
29. Point Pelee National Park, Ontario
30. Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan
31. Prince Edward Island National Park, Prince Edward Island
32. Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario
33. Qausuittuq National Park, Nunavut
34. Quttinirpaaq National Park, Nunavut
35. Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba
36. Rouge National Park, Ontario
37. Sable Island National Reserve, Nova Scotia
38. Sirmilik National Park, Nunavut
39. Terra Nova National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador
40. Thousand Islands National Park, Ontario
41. Torngat Mountains National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador
42. Tuktut Nogait National Park, Northwest Territories
43. Ukkusiksalik National Park, Nunavut
44. Vuntut National Park, Yukon
45. Wapusk National Park, Manitoba
46. Waterton Lakes National Park (and World Heritage Site), Alberta - Read all about it here.
I only recently became aquatinted with this park, despite my general proximity to it for so many years. Unfortunately, most of it burned prior to my arrival (Thanksgiving 2017). The thing that made the biggest impression on me was the fierceness of the lake water. I didn't expect it to carry white surf! Some beaches have been so worn by aggressive lake water that all of the rocks have been polished into picture-perfect pebbles. I love them. I'm looking forward to exploring this park in more depth in the coming years, and watching it bounce back from extensive wildfire this summer.
47. Wood Buffalo National Park (and World Heritage Site), Alberta + Northwest Territories
48. Yoho National Park (and World Heritage Site), British Columbia - Read all about it here.
Obviously Lake O'Hara is way up there on a list of favourites in this park, but I think Lake Oesa takes the cake - I don't think I'll ever get enough of its sapphire blue hue. Though, watching the Perseid Meteor Shower over Lake O'Hara in 2016 waaaaas pretty wild...
SUB-TOTAL OF CANADIAN PARKS: 7 PARKS + 2 TENTATIVE
United States of America
49. Acadia National Park, Maine
50. American Samoa National Park, American Samoa
51. Arches National Park, Utah
Storm watching in and around this park was absolutely insane. I spent almost an entire night awake, sitting in my car in the middle of an electric storm like I had never experienced before in my life. Most of the park was closed for construction during my 2017 trip, but storm watching and Delicate Arch still left a lasting impression on me here.
52. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
53. Big Bend National Park, Texas
54. Biscayne National Park, Florida
55. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
I've been in this area twice now - the first was in 2009 but I didn't enter the park proper. I finally visited the park itself on my 2017 trip back to the area. The undulating, ribbon-esque, "painted" walls of the canyon were my favourite here. I do hope to get back here and spend some more time down in the canyon on the river one day.
56. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce, oh Bryce! This was a surreal park experience for me. I will never forget driving into this park and thinking "where is it...? This is just a forest..." until I hit a viewpoint mesa edge, and everything opened up to swallow me whole. The colours here will always have my heart - I love the hills that graduate from mandarin to peach to coral and white, and pillars of salmon and lavender and pink. I took more photos in this park than I probably did anywhere else on my 2017 trip.
57. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Hands down, the sunset over Green River Overlook was one of my most favourite views of my entire 2017 trip. What a stunning and unbelievable landscape. There was a secret little hike I made it out to on this trip that captured my heart to, but you'll have to get in touch with me for the details of that one!
58. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Downclimbing waterfalls like a badass in Sulphur Creek was one of the most bold and exhilarating things I have ever done solo. And I'm so glad that I made it out before the thunderstorm that was sooooo NOT in the forecast!! (Also the personal apple pie that I swallowed whole was amazing, even though I said material things don't count as favourites.) This was a great place to get off the grid in the middle of my 2017 trip.
59. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (and World Heritage Site), New Mexico
I am pretty sure I was in the caverns back in 2009, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Thank goodness there was an elevator at the end to take you back up, because this was well before my ambitious hiking days. This was the first cave I ever explored, and it's sheer scale blows others like Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park and Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park out of the competitive water.
60. Channel Islands National Park, California
61. Conagree National Park, South Carolina
62. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
63. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
64. Death Valley National Park, California
65. Denali National Park, Alaska
66. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
67. Everglades National Park (and World Heritage Site), Florida
68. Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
69. Glacier National Park (and World Heritage Site), Montana
So many waterfalls! And we all know how much I LOVE waterfalls. But my real favourite in this park was the wildflowers. It really changed my perspective on the destruction of wildfires. Despite fire, this park is so gorgeous, and the multitude of colour in new vegetation is like something out of my dreams. This was my first stop on my 2017 trip, and the perfect way to kick it off.
70. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
I think it was 2006 when I left Canada for the first time with my parents and grandparents, on a 7-day cruise to Alaska, and what an impression it left. Most of my photos and videos of this amazing place were lost on a faulty memory card, but my memory of the thunderous calving glaciers will never be lost to me.
71. Grand Canyon National Park (and World Heritage Site), Arizona
I got caught in an INSANE hail storm on the south rim of the Grand Canyon on my 2017 trip. I never expected THAT! But my more sincere and favourite memory here was sneaking down to Greenland Lake and the little cabin, to watercolour paint buttercups in the forest of the north rim.
72. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
I will never stop marvelling over the Grand Teton mountains. They look so fake! They look like cardboard cut outs, painted, and then grey washed just to make them look far away. I couldn't get over the scale and the drama of them rising up out of flat lands. The morning I set out to hike to Hidden Falls around Jenny Lake, the moon was setting over the mountains. I pulled over and made coffee while I watched it set, it looked so surreal in the morning light. Best moonset of 2017. (As if it had competition!)
73. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
My favourite memory here will always be laying in the visitor centre parking lot to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower with a group of fellow campers and park goers. This was also the first night I got to see the rings of Saturn through a telescope, and the sky-nerd inside of me went straight to heaven. (My most memorable experience here though, will probably the night that mice tried to nest in my cabin air filter! That might be one of the most memorable parts of my entree 2017 trip though, haha.)
74. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
One of the best sunrises I caught on my 2017 trip was out on the dunes of this unreal landscape. I also could not get enough of the buttery texture of the sand while running back down the dunes - so much fun!
75. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (and World Heritage Site), Tennessee + North Caroline
76. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
77. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
78. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
79. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
80. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
81. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Realistically, I only spent a couple of hours in this park in 2015, but it was one of my first experiences of a park that wasn't in the Rocky Mountains, so it holds a special place in my heart. I'm really excited to get back here.
82. Katmai National Park, Alaska
83. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
84. Kings Canyon National Park, California
I was in and out of this park within a day during my trip in 2017. I wasn't prepared for it - I came here and to Sequoia NP instead of doing Death Valley, kind of at the last minute. Beyond that, I was struggling emotionally with a few things, that I also wasn't prepared to face in this park. Though the gold velvet hills and mountain sides of this park had a huge impact on me, there is much left to be explored for me.
85. Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
86. Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
87. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
88. Mammoth Cave National Park (and World Heritage Site), Kentucky
89. Mesa Verde National Park (and World Heritage Site), Colorado
I couldn't stop myself from repeating over and over "THIS PLACE IS SO COOL" while I ran from viewpoint to ruin to viewpoint to ruin. I made it out on a tour of the Cliff Palace during my 2017 trip, with a such an insightful guide - David Nighteagle. He was my favourite part of this park, basically. He was full of so many facts and so much passion, that I ended up doing his Balcony House tour later that same day.
90. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
91. North Cascades National Park, Washington
92. Olympic National Park, Washington
93. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
94. Pinnacles National Park, California
95. Redwood National Park (and World Heritage Site), California - Read all about it here.
You know all the NPS marketing material that urges you to "find YOUR park"? This is my park. Resoundingly. I explored the Tall Trees Trail on my birthday, and it was the BEST part of my 2017 trip. I loved it so much that I did it twice. In the same day.
96. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
97. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
98. Sequoia National Park, California
I ended up here and in Kings Canyon National Park instead of Death Valley National Park on my 2017 trip because I decided (the day that I thought my car's AC was shot) that I was done with the desert for the time being, and desperately needed trees. Obviously this park did not disappoint, but my favourite part was actually all of the winding roads. I drove up and down through the park several times, and I loved every minute of those hairpin corners and valley views.
99. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
100. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
101. Virgin Islands National Park, United States Virgin Islands
102. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
103. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
104. Wrangell–St. Elias National Park (and World Heritage Site), Alaska
105. Yellowstone National Park, Montana + Wyoming + Idaho
I made my first ever summit in this park, on my 2017 trip! After so many failed attempts for all various kinds of reasons back in Canada, I still hadn't made a summit until I hiked Mount Washburn. I crossed paths with another female solo hiker at the trailhead and we churned this hike out up and back down again together, and faster than we could believe - chatting about everything from politics to our home lives. I will never forget that. Or how disappointingly smokey the view was from the top, and how heartbroken I was over it. Yellowstone has so many gems though. The Grand Prismatic didn't disappoint, and I could have walked for days to see every hot, coloured pool in the park.
106. Yosemite National Park, California
107. Zion National Park, Utah - Read all about it here.
Oh boy. Zion in general is one of my most favourite parks, so again, it's hard to choose just one thing about it. Hiking The Narrows was something that I don't think I will be able to experience anywhere else in quite the same way, so that's probably my favourite part. But the sheer scale of this park was so awe-inspiring. It's really no wonder that so many artists have been instrumental in the conservation and adoration of this park. It's amazing.
SUB-TOTAL OF AMERICAN PARKS: 17 PARKS + 2 TENTATIVE
TOTAL PARKS VISITED: 28
TOTAL PARKS MARKED OFF MY BUCKET LIST: 24
Last Updated: November 6th, 2017
Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.
First: My trip encyclopedia 2017 | Second: Joshua Tree National Park 2015