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America’s National Parks: Exploring Our Own Backyard

Contributed By: The Travel Institute



If you are wondering about fun places to send your clients, the national parks in the United States just may be the ticket!


Your clients are turning to you for suggestions on places that they can explore but that don’t put them too far from home. For in-depth learning about local destinations, enroll in our NEW North America course, included in our Premium Access Lounge.


After months of sheltering in place, people want somewhere to go that is clean, safe, and uncrowded. America’s National Park Service (NPS), which is turning 104 years young this month, provides many opportunities for your clients to seek the great outdoors and return to nature. And your clients don’t have to travel far to find a place to go. According to NPS Regional Director Michael T. Reynolds: “From New York to Topeka to Honolulu and places in between, parks are in all corners of the United States and four U.S. territories.”


The purpose of the NPS—established in 1916 to manage the parks in the national park system—was to conserve scenery, wildlife, and natural and historic objects and to leave them unimpaired for future generations, which remains its goal today. Writer and historian Wallace Stegner called national parks “The best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”


When Yellowstone National Park was established by Congress on March 1, 1872, it was America’s (and the world’s) first national park. In addition to visiting our oldest park, your clients also might find interesting a trip to our largest park—Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, offering rugged volcanoes, icy glaciers and wild rivers on 13.2 million acres of wilderness—or to our smallest—Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, the downtown Philadelphia home of the Polish freedom fighter and American Revolutionary hero.


Although the 62 national parks understandably are what come to mind when people think of the park system, it’s important to know that the NPS also includes 133 historical parks and sites, 83 national monuments, 25 battlefields and military parks, 19 preserves, 18 recreation areas, 10 seashores, five rivers, three lakeshores, and two reserves.


The NPS also helps administer the National Register of Historic Places, National Heritage Areas, National Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Historic Landmarks, and National Trails. Most of the NPS areas offer free admission: only 116 of the 419 sites charge entrance fees, from $5 per person to $35 per vehicle.


National parks can offer a unique experience to each of your clients. Your ecotourism and environmentalist clients may be interested to know that the NPS welcomes citizen scientists to work with researchers, collecting data, studying important issues affecting parks, and learning and contributing information about parks and their resources. And you can tell your clients looking for a unique wedding venue to apply for wedding permits for locations like California’s Sequoia National Park, New Mexico’s White Sands National Park, or Indiana Dunes National Park on Lake Michigan.


There are lots of other fun things your clients can do—like stargazing (Alibates Flint Quarries in Texas), geocaching (Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona), hiking in a tropical rainforest (Virgin Islands National Park), studying women’s rights (National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York), or watching a sled dog demonstration (Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska).


Here are the five most-visited national parks in the US and some things to do there:

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park spans the Tennessee-North Carolina border and contains some of the tallest mountains in the Appalachian mountain chain. It offers backpackers, hikers, and other visitors panoramic views of breathtaking mountain scenery, roaring waterfalls, and hardwood forests stretching in all directions.


  • Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is an eye-popping canyon that is one mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 river miles long. Your clients can immerse themselves in unique combinations of rock colors by backpacking, camping, resting in a lodge, riding a mule, or rafting through the canyon on the Colorado River.


  • Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is one of America’s top wildlife-watching destinations because of high concentrations of bighorn, elk, mule deer, and 60 other species of mammals. Visitors can enjoy the breathtaking scenery by driving or hiking through lowland meadows, along rushing rivers and up through alpine forests ascending to peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation.


  • Yellowstone National Park stretches across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. It allows visitors to explore thermal basins, watch wildlife, and photograph its awe-inspiring scenery. Your clients also can hike, bike, ride horses, swim, ski, and ride snowmobiles, not to mention explore the thousands of hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles (vents that emit hot steam) that dot the wild landscape.


  • Yosemite National Park in California encompasses 1,200 miles of deep valleys, ancient giant sequoias, spectacular rock formations, and vast subalpine meadows. It also includes a museum, a National Historic Landmark hotel, and the Ansel Adams gallery.


To  learn more about different sites, attractions and activities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, enroll in The Travel Institute’s North America destination specialist course.


Information from the National Park Service’s website,, was used in compiling this column.