Reader Participation Day: Which Is Your Favorite National Park Gateway Town?

West Yellowstone's ties to Yellowstone National Park are evident throughout town. NPT file photo by Kurt Repanshek.

Gateway towns to national parks can be fun, eclectic, unusual places. There's the electric vibe that runs through Bar Harbor on the doorstep to Acadia National Park, the outdoor pulse to Moab near both Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and the urban environment Tuscon offers Saguaro National Park.

With that in mind, which gateway town do you look forward to visiting on your national park vacation?

Would it be West Yellowstone, Montana, with its laid-back attitude, eclectic Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near Great Smoky Mountains, Estes Park with its Rocky Mountain National Park backdrop, or Jackson Hole with its Old West flavor?


I have to say West Yellowstone is probably my favorite! (It stems from visitng Yellowstone at least once a year.) From staying at the Stagecoach Inn in Winter waiting for the snow coach to take us in, eating at The Gusher Restaurant right across the street, watching a movie at the IMAX theater or hitting some of the shops, it's a treasure! In the past, while the guys have taken a strenuous hike, the gals will go into West, get the laundry done, eat lunch, shop and hit some of our favorite stores (Smith& & Chandler). There is an exceptionally well-stocked scrapbooking store there (Out West) that carries great supplies with local themes as well as a wonderful bookstore (Book Peddler) and "The Cradleboard" has a large variety of turquoise/coral etc jewelry.

I don't know that I would ever want to live in a gateway town when we retire because of the tourist traffic but West Yellowstone is one of my favorites!

I truly feel in love with Durango, Colorado while working at Mesa Verde. There's the train ride to Silverton and a feel of old west with the energy of a college town. Of course Jacob Lake is sweet on the way into the North Rim Grand Canyon, yet may barely be considered a town.

Springdale, Utah -- just outside of Zion. There, the community has worked hand-in-hand with park people. Despite traffic, it's a pleasant, clean and reasonably quiet place. The Springdale/Zion Shuttle is the result of outstanding city and park leadership.

As for West Yellowstone -- it has improved a whole lot since the 1960's when it was known as West Yellowstain.

Bar Harbor, Maine. The shops and eateries there are so eclectic and the people so friendly that a walk through town is surprisingly pleasant, even with summer crowds.

Malibu. At the foot of Santa Monica Mountains NRA. But I can't afford to live there!

Traveling from Florida, my favorite town is Dahlonaga, Ga. I love stopping and walking the old brick sidewalks, checking out the old stores, and of course, panning for a little gold. The museum is my favorite. They have a short film about the gold rush days of the Smokey Mountains. A lot of gems are still being searched in the hills. It is a wonderful old town to stay and explore. Then I'm off to Cherokee. Since I am 1/3rd Cherokee, I always make sure I stop to see "Unto These Hills" out door theater. It is absolutely breath taking!!!!! The Cherokee Museum has interactive technology for the public. I go to the museum and learn a little Cherokee language each time I go. The drive through the Parkway into Virginia has always been a different experience each time I go. Favorite place I would love to live?.....Bryson City.

I have to agree with Lee and go with Springdale. I like it because it is a tourist town but it still keeps that small town feel. Plus it has a great candy store and the Spotted Dog Cafe...mmmmm!

Gaelyn, your name rings a bell. When did you work at MEVE?

Jasper, Arkansas has none of the trappings of most National Park Gateway towns. No cheesy souvenir shops or amusement parks. Just really nice people who all know the river and the area. Some good eats too. Of course it is the same for all the gateway towns to the Buffalo National River - The country's FIRST National River!

This is tough! I've been to Gatlinburg and Jackson Hole and love both of those towns for different reasons! Owning a nice cabin in the hills around Gatlinburg would be pretty tempting, but I think I'll need to visit these other places first!

San Francisco is the gateway to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and could be considered a portal for Muir Woods National Monument and Point Reyes National Seashore as well. Where world-class urban amenities are concerned, I'll take The City over any of the choices I've seen posted here so far. Traveler's note (no extra charge): The 100th anniversary Bay to Breakers (aka "Bare to Breakers") is slated for May 15, 2011 (always held third Sunday in May).

i really liked cooke city,montana,coming off the beartooth highway,into yellowstone,this little town was the start of our adventure into yellowstone,i got up early,about 4:30am,to pack the truck up,and what did i see,a big wolf lopeing down the city woke me up...

Pahrump, Nevada, gateway to Death Valley.

I jest.

Springdale is great, as are Cody, Port Angeles and Flagstaff. Not sure I can pick one over the others as a favorite.

While we just returned from a visit to Zion and stayed in Springdale - which is a lovely town with way above average accommodations, if I were to consider a gateway town to live in - it would probably be Cody, WY. Cody has a great "feel" to it; has an extraordinary museum; and is a gateway to so many beautiful locations and enjoyable things to do: Yellowstone & Grand Teton (can't get enough of these two parks), Jackson Hole for skiing, and world-class trout streams for fishing.

I also have to say that I love the town of Bedford, VA. It isn't a gateway to a Naitonal Park, but is one of the towns off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's a great little town with plenty of history and the D-Day Memorial.

It sounds to me that some people are expanding things a little bit too far. If all NPS units are fair game, it gets overly broad since there are some units that are located right in urban areas. If that's the criteria - then I'd say Honolulu which is right at the USS Arizona Memorial or Kona near a couple of National Historic Sites.

However - I was under the impression that the criteria is one of the 58 full-fledged National Parks. If that's the case, then I'd say Key West, Florida. That's the primary point for traffic to Dry Tortugas National Park, which I wasn't able to visit due to a certain hurricane. Other than that - Moab, UT or Jackson, WY. I think the key to a really good gateway town is that it isn't necessarily dominated by traffic to the National Park that it serves. The Moab area has plenty of recreation other than Arches or Canyonlands. Jackson is a destination in and of itself, especially with a world-class ski resort. The Olympic Peninsula is pretty interesting too, with several gateway towns around Olympic NP, including Forks, Port Angeles, and Sequium. On the other hand, there are some towns that look like they wouldn't (or would barely) exist without a National Park to support it, such as West Yellowstone, MT. My family couldn't find any redeeming qualities about West Yellowstone other than they had places to eat.

Jackson, Wyoming. Even without Grand Tetons National Park, it's a great place to visit.

There are all good because then I know I'm close to a Park. Being in Indiana, I don't get that opportunity enough. I will agree with Cooke City. It is small and close to one of the best drives (Bear Tooth Hwy).

If we expand to the other NPS sites, I will choose Bayfield in Apostles Island. I do so not only because of its beauty on Lake Superior but also for the wine break done in the bakery there. It is unmatched and completely unique. Dare you to find some more like it (but seriously if you do tell me where to find it).

*Wine Bread* not break

Since Congress and the NPS itself has made it clear that there is no difference between parks related to their name, I don't see why we can't pick something other than a national "park."

I'm fond of "off the beaten path" and being in the farthest corner of the lower 48 I find Bellingham, WA a hidden dream in the North Cascades. Aside from being a quaint low key town with progressive attitudes, North Cascades is a short drive away and you also have the San Juan Islands just across the bay.

Since Congress and the NPS itself has made it clear that there is no difference between parks related to their name, I don't see why we can't pick something other than a national "park."
Like I said, it can get too broad.

Gateway (how appropriate for the subject) National Recreation Area has New York City as its gateway town. The National Mall is right in Washington, D.C.. These places are barely associated with the NPS sites in or around them. OK - maybe not the National Mall.

I say "National Park" because all the examples that Kurt cited in his article were the full congressionally designated units, which are supposedly the crown jewels.

A common myth - that the areas designated "parks" are supposedly the crown jewels. It's nonsense. Many "national parks" got their designation through chamber of commerce advocacy or the efforts of the local Congressman. Cuyahoga Valley NP, Congaree NP, Petrified Forest NP, and Great Sand Dunes NP had their names changed expressly as a result of efforts to increase tourism. Colorado State University even did a study showing how the name change for Great Sand Dunes would increase tourism. And Hot Springs National Park? A crown jewel? But the likes of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Glen Canyon NRA with its unmatched Anasazi sites, and the phenomenal Pictured Rocks NL are not? The NPT has devoted a number of articles the haphazard and misleading use of NPS nomenclature. There is a bill before Congress now that would reduce the designations. I hope it becomes law and we can clear up these silly ideas of what park is better than one park based on their names.

I dislike towns that are nothing but T-shirts, motels, and fast food. I do like Springdale, Moab, and Jackson Hole, for reasons noted by other commenters. To that list I'd add Three Rivers, at the southern entrance to Sequoia NP.

A common myth - that the areas designated "parks" are supposedly the crown jewels. It's nonsense. Many "national parks" got their designation through chamber of commerce advocacy or the efforts of the local Congressman. Cuyahoga Valley NP, Congaree NP, Petrified Forest NP, and Great Sand Dunes NP had their names changed expressly as a result of efforts to increase tourism.
I did qualify it with "supposedly". I even thought of saying something about Cuyahoga Valley and Hot Springs, where I know a lot of people question whether or not they deserve the "National Park" designation.

Still - Kurt gave seven examples, and all are the full "National Park" designation. If anyone is planning a "national park vacation", would they really be thinking of New York City? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Golden Gate NRA is a large collection of disparate sites; technically Fort Point NHS and Muir Woods NM are under the same management. I'm not sure if Mill Valley (I love the "downtown" there and have eaten at Avatar's Punjabi Burritos) or should Stinson Beach qualify. I enjoy Point Reyes Station, which has a history long before the NPS took over. If you're there stop at Cowgirl Creamery for some cheese. Maybe even the St Pat's which is made with stinging nettle leaves (freezing is supposed to take care of the stinging sensation). There are also a couple of National Historic Sites in nondescript towns. I used to drive to Martinez every day for weeks on jury duty, and passed by John Muir NHS every day. Eugene O'Neill NHS is in the bedroom community of Danville. Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park is in Richmond. I took a look at the memorial once, and it was essentially just a city park with nobody else interested in the display.

Now - I have seen my fair share of "gateway towns". It can be debatable what communities are in some cases. Yosemite has a couple in Mariposa and Oakhurst, although both are at least 25 miles from Yosemite. Despite the distance, both are heavily dependent on the Yosemite tourist trade for their economies, and Mariposa is where a lot of park employees live. El Portal is a place on a map with a little bit of lodging and a gas station, but not much else except a few NPS failities. Hawai'i Volcanoes is interesting. Volcano Village is right there, but it's about 3 restaurants, a few bed and breakfasts, and a lot of residential housing. Hilo might even be considered the real gateway town.

Bar Harbor, ME outside Acadia National Park