Reader Participation Day: So, How Was Your Most Recent National Park Visit?

Was your latest national park visit picture perfect? Rob Mutch photo of Phantom Island at Crater Lake National Park.

So, how was your latest visit to a national park? Were rangers present to answer your questions? How was the parking? Were the restrooms clean? We'd like to hear from you.

National Park Service officials take pride in the fact that their annual surveys reflect a 90-95 percent approval rating year after year after year. Would you score your national park experience that high? It's not hard to give the agency high grades, as most things in the parks seem to be fairly well managed. But there's always something to nitpick about.

Problem with lodgings? We've all stayed in rooms that were so small it was hard to change your mind and where the linens were a tad on the ratty side.

Were the trails well-maintained? Could rangers satisfactorily answer your questions? Were you surprised by the fees for some interpretive programs?

Bring it on, folks! Tell us how your visit was.

Comments

My most recent visit to Glacier National Park in Montana was awesome. We hiked over 70 miles in the week we were there. I saw several rangers, one in the backcountry, most in visitor's center or ranger stations. They are, as always helpful and informative. The trails were in great shape, having bridges in locations I wasn't expecting them.

We opted to stay in lodging outside the park because the park lodging is expensive and limited.

The last National Park we stayed in was Yellowstone this past June. Our only negative comment is the lack of up to date campgrounds. I understand we are talking about "protected" and "hallowed" land, and I agree. However there was barely room for our rig in the site. I am not sure what the answer it but there is a problem.
The other negative is the reservation system: there was a busy signal for hours, literally.

During the month of June we visited Florissant Fossil Nat'l Monument, Dinosaur Nat'l Monument, The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, and The Badlands with our 9 and 11 year old grandsons. It was an awesome tour. Rangers were present, answered questions patiently, visitor's centers were informative and interesting.

Our National Park System is one of America's best features. We all must work to protect these impressive areas.

We were just at Great Smoky Mountains National Park the first week of August. We were worried about going to our "most popular" national park, but it turns out that if you get out of the car and get on the trails, you can find solitude even here. In terms of nitpicks, the road in Cades Cove is in absolutely horrible shape but apparently will be fixed with extra stimulus money. The rangers at the Gatlinburg visitor center were polite but definitely in a hurry. They handed us a brochure and said that they would answer any questions later. When asked one of our standard questions: "What is your favorite place to hike in the park?" The only response we got was, if you have questions about a trail, I can answer them. At other parks, that question has often generated wonderful half hour discussions.

Went to Acadia in June. Wonderful time. Rained almost every day, which was fine with us, because that always keeps the people away. Every interaction with an NPS employee was awesome. Found a great kayak guide, though he wasn't an NPS person. The Thursday that was our getaway day, the traffic and parking became pretty intense. We were happy to be out of there and on our way to New Brunswick before the weekend!

Last summer we went to Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands, Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic. All of those were wonderful except Yellowstone. The problem was that we did the drive-thru with only a day to spend there. We were driving home on I94 through Bozeman and decided to take the scenic route through Wyoming so I could show my wife the iconic sights in Yellowstone. We all know you can't appreciate Yellowstone from a car, and on a Saturday in August...let's just say I've been less stressed navigating New York City. But that certainly isn't fair, since I've spent two weeks there and know what you have to do to really see the place.

Friendliest rangers were at the Hoh Rainforest station in Olympic. Got into a bird discussion with a ranger there, completely unrelated to rainforests. She was knowledgeable and engaging, but also genuinely interested in hearing some of my experiences that went beyond hers. I tried to get her to help me make fun of the people complaining about rain while standing under a big sign that said Hoh Rainforest, but just got a knowing smile. Then we went out into the rain and enjoyed the Hoh trail sans people on a weekend in August. We pray for rain every time we're in a park on a busy day!

Best campground was the Cottonwood in Theodore Roosevelt. Waking up to strange sounds at sunrise and strolling down to the Little Missouri River 150 yards from our tent to find a herd of bison getting a morning drink is quite the experience. Nice, private tent spots, too.

Yikes, I forgot we went canoeing in Sleeping Bear Dunes this past May...that was an awesome time too. The rangers in Sleeping Bear are some of the friendliest anywhere. That's our "home" park, so we go at least once every year.

We visited Yellowstone last month. The Park RV sites were full and we had to stay outside at West Yellowstone. From what I heard this may have been a good compromise. We had access to great places to eat in West Yellowstone and we were right next to the Park entrance. We also had a breatheable camp space, not the ultra tight spaces people talk about in the Park. Why not expand the spaces in the Park???We stayed a week and could have stayed a month. Wildlife, geysers, rangers all in the awesome category. Stimulus money directed toward our National Parks would be well spent.

Since my visits have been of varied duration, I'll give my last three - most recent first. All were within the last month.

Point Reyes National Seashore. Stopped for a place to sit down and eat lunch (bought at a deli) and use the "facilities". I would say their new ones at the Bear Valley visitor center picnic area are extremely well maintained, they've got the new waterless urinals, and the Xcelerator driers are a nice touch. I'll walk across from the visitor center (which has its own older bathrooms) if I need to go.

I went to Muir Woods National Monument with relatives. I'm all for "sustainable agriculture" but the new snack bar concession only has that and the prices to reflect it. All I got was coffee for $2 which allowed me to get as many refills as I wanted. It was $7 for a hot dog (about double what the previous snack bar used to charge), which is more than I'd pay at a baseball game. If this is all that's ever going to be available, then I think the NPS might be in trouble with shouts of "elitism".

Yosemite is Yosemite - even with low water. My campground was visited daily by bears and one bear managed to score big when a neighbor's bear box didn't properly lock. Yosemite Falls is low on water, but Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall look pretty good. Personally I think Vernal Fall looks better when it's not peak flow - as a sheer curtain rather than as a raging waterfall. Tioga Road wasn't very crowded (parking at Olmstead point was easy enough). The Mist Trail was crowded, but worth facing all those people.

We're doing a few day trips this month. Last Saturday we spent the day driving up into North Cascades and found it as beautiful as ever. We had no [and sought no] interactions with rangers or lodging as we were just doing a wanderabout.

Next Saturday we're driving up to Paradise on Mt Rainier for lunch and back [it's as good of an excuse as any to visit the mountain that I find to be a cathedral]. We last visited Mt Rainier in June, and other than the crowds it was marvelous. In a couple of weeks we'll be over to Olympic NP and in October we'll be visiting the Hoh Rainforest.

Yes, living in the Pacific Northwest is a richness.

Our most recent NP trip was to Great Basin in the spring -- it was a first-time visit, but hopefully not the last. I know better than to doubt the reason any NP visit is worth the drive, and this park was no exception. We toured the Lehman Caves, which was absolutely mind-blowing. The ranger who led us on the tour was great -- she was incredibly knowledgeable about the history and geology of the place and had a great sense of humor. Great trip!

We had a similar experience as the previous Smokies report. Trails were maintained very well. Facilities were all at least adequate, although a pit toilet at Abram Falls would have been appreciated. Rangers on the trails were great. Rangers at the Sugarlands VC (near Gatlinburg) were not very knowledgeable about the trails. They (three of them) went to consult the same book I had in my hands for information. They did save me from making some long, inadvisable drives.
The visitor center near Cherokee has very poor signage, at least from the north. We missed it, and had a bit of an adventure finding the Deep Creek/Indian Creek trail.
The road to Cades Cove could have been better. It would be best if it were two lanes of one way traffic, so that there didn't end up being a train of 20 cars (no exaggeration) because the guy in front was real slow or had never seen a deer before. We would have loved a simple cafeteria at Cades Cove; we ended up making a meal out of various snacks in the trunk.
I would love it if there were signs in the Visitor Centers advising of closed trails. I had to ask to find out that we needed to rearrange plans for a couple days to get a trail open for us.
Having said all of this, it was a great trip, and we are very grateful for everyone at the park. This is entirely meant to be constructive.

WAY TOO SHORT!!!

We've visited a great number of parks within the last year and a half. They are all wonderful and we've done some amazing things! Our most recent trip was to Texas. The highlight of my parks there was watching a turtle release at Pade Islands National Seashore. It was very special to watch these turtles make their trek to the ocean. We also went on a canoe trip in Big Thicket while visiting the Texas area. Very fun. As for rangers who stand out in my mind... last year we were in Boston and went to Minute Man. The ranger there who lead the Wayside House tour was the most passionate about his job of any ranger I've met. He knows his stuff and he shares the knowlegde passionately with the people on his tours. The Superintendent at Fort Larned in Kansas also was excellent. We arrived later than we had planned and got there shortly before closing. The Superintendent kept the buildings open for us to tour and actually reopened the visitor center for us so we could watch the movie and go through the museum. Above and beyond, for sure. I will say that of the 55+ parks we've visited this last year, all the rangers were outstanding with the exception of one. Not bad...

Rangers?

I still can't say enough about Shelton Johnson at Yosemite NP. I know he's currently on tour with Ken Burns promoting the new National Parks series on PBS, but I can't think of a better ambassador for the National Park Service.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADoZHEszdY0

I spent a week at Acadia in July - I think it was one of the only sunny weeks they had all summer! It was wonderful! This was my 1st solo RV trip and Acadia was an excellent destination. The Island Explorer bus made things very easy! I camped out at Blackwoods and would take the bus into Bar Harbor daily and go from there. I took advantage of a number of ranger programs and learned a lot about the island. There was plenty of parking at the visitor center for my RV, in fact a few days I drove my RV out to the VC to charge it's batteries, it was much easier than parking in Bar Harbor and I could get back to Blackwoods via the Park Loop Road!

The ranger at the information station off the Village Green in Bar Harbor was especially helpful! I went in with questions one day and he chatted with me and gave me some suggestions for other activities. A few days later I had more questions and when I went back to ask them the ranger remembered me and asked how the other days had gone! :-)

I enjoyed both the "wilderness" aspect and the "civilized" aspect! One day I hiked to Penobscot and Sargent Mts and saw vistas that many Acadia visitors never see, but after my hike I was able to check my email and get in touch with friends on my phone in Bar Harbor!

Acadia is truly the best of all worlds! Looking forward to returning someday!

I have to give a shout out to our historical parks. My most recent visit was to Harpers Ferry. The facilities were clean and well kept. The shuttle bus had a great audio program that provided interesting information on our ride to the downtown area. I went on a two hour ranger-led hike that not only featured a ton of information but beautiful scenery as well. As always, the rangers were super-friendly and helpful. The park always has interesting events going on--when I was there they had re-enactors camping out and wandering the town--truly making for a "time travel" atmosphere. Every time I've visited there I've had a great experience--and I will go back again.

My most recent visit was to Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument and Lake Meredith NRA, both just outside of Amarillo, TX. I got the quarry tour at Alibates, which was fantastic and interesting. The biggest plus was that I hiked around that morning in my fleece jackets, which is really unusual for a Texas summer.

I went to a few parks in late June in the Maryland region. I spent a couple of days at Assateague Island National Seashore. I visited both the Virginia area as well as the Maryland portion. The restrooms in Maryland were open and as clean as possible with the volume of use. The restrooms in the Virginia section were actually in a visitor's center that seemed to be part of the National Wildlife Refuge system - but tidy and open. The entrance booth in both areas were occupied and offered maps. The bugs were bad - but I can't blame the NPS for that. Trails seemed maintained.

On the same trip, I visited Ft. McHenry in Baltimore and loved it. Rangers all around - bathrooms open. We also hit the Hampton Historic Site -- great tour from a volunteer (I believe) ranger.

Same trip I visited a few battlefields - Monocaccy, Bull Run and Antietam. All seemed to have rangers and resources available.

I ended this trip in Washington DC -- too many Park Service sites to list. I have to comment that I was surprised at the limited hours the last week in June. I never made it to the White House Visitor Center when it was open (closed at 4:00 pm on a Sunday). The restrooms near there (separate outbuilding closer to the White House) also were closed. I get it -- it's a Sunday -- but the number of people that I saw trying to find an open bathoom leads me to believe that they could stand some later hours. Many of the memorials can be greatly enjoyed at night (after official open hours) but I was concerned with 'open hours' so that I could hit a bathroom and get my passport stamped. In DC, I didn't see many rangers and those I did were surrounded by visitors wanting attention. I'm not sure you could actually ever hire enough rangers for DC in the summer.

We also just came back from Glacier National Park, and had a wonderful time. We took the Glacier Lodge Tour and stayed at four great lodges. The food and rooms were wonderful (but the showers were a little snug). All of the people we met at the lodges, in the tour company, on the trails, etc. were wonderful. We'd go back in a heartbeat if there weren't so many other places on our list of places to go.

Went to Yosemite in July. The weather was perfect and the Tuolumne Meadows area was beautiful as usual. But crowded. Wish there were a way to keep large groups of motorcyclists off the Tioga Road. They run through with their noisy engines disturbing the peace.

In early August I drove with a friend along the southern shore of Lake Superior, hitting three NPS sites: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, Keweenaw National Historical Site and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. We also dropped down and spent a few hours at St. Croix National Scenic River in Wisconsin.

Surprisingly, because I usually favor natural spots, Keweenaw was my favorite of the stops. The ranger in Calumet was enthusiastic and informed, willing to talk about copper mining culture and architecture, which was of particular interest to my friend. A trip into one of the mines was an eye-opener -- both literally and figuratively.

Also surprisingly, the rangers at the information desk in Apostle Islands were clueless when I asked about the formation of the Great Lakes and their geologic history. They said no one had ever asked them that before. Hard to believe. Thankfully they directed me to the one ranger who seemed to know something about it.

The Lake Superior trip, from Duluth, MN, to Munising, MI, is worth a week of your time. See www.myhandicapparking.com for more personal essays.

I love our parks and the Rangers and staff.
My pet peeve in all the parks is noise and the people who make it! The only solution I can think of to reduce the volume is a national campaign by the NPS promoting the Natural Soundscape. It barely gets mentioned in the Park Newspapers. We need a visible and repeated reminder for people to respect the quiet. A slogan and a symbol a la "Give a hoot, don't polute" with Woodsy the Owl; "Don't be a Litterbug" was very effective in the past. The whole recycling campaign with the slogan and symbol has accomplished a lot worldwide. You see a blue barrel you know what its for.
A sticker with a symbol (e.g. the index finger over the lips) visible on every sign in the Parks could have an impact over time at little cost to the Park Sevice. Its an idea that needs to be PROMOTED and REPEATED to be effective.

And don't get me started on motorcyles! Require MUFFLERS when riding in the parks.

We spent a week tent camping on Death Valley's back roads in March. It was truly spectacular. I found the more well-known sites had too many people to suit me, but the backcountry was five star. We did go to Scotty's Castle, and I thought the ranger who led the tour through was knowledgable. The ranger at Stovepipe Wells, where we stopped for some information and a backcountry map, wasn't too helpful.

Leaving Death Valley, we stopped at Manzanar. This site gets kudos for a really well done visitors center with interesting and moving exhibits. The ranger on duty was excellent and readily forthcoming about this sad aspect of American history. I do recall using the bathroom there, and it was fine.

We also went to Sequoia National Park on this same trip. It had just snowed and the scenery was spectacular. However, we received conflicting information regarding snow chains. I didn't find the visitors centers that exciting, but the scenery made up for it.

Speaking of bathrooms, how many of the men posting here have seen the new "waterless" urinals at NPS sites? So far I've seen them at Muir Woods NM where they had them at the parking lot restrooms a few years ago and recently remodeled their gift shop/snack bar/office complex restrooms. They've also installed them at Point Reyes.

I think some NPS sites might be a good candidate for them. A lot of remote sites need to provide their own water and sewage treatment and the water often comes from local rivers or creeks.

I know there's a certain "ewww factor" to a urinal that doesn't flush, but I found they didn't smell (I'm sure they were cleaned daily).