Backpacker Magazine's National Parks Collector's Edition

Do you think Carlsbad Caverns should be tossed out of the National Park System? NPS photo of Temple of the Sun.

Backpacker magazine has devoted its June issue to the national parks, and the 112-page mag packs quite a lot of information -- some great features on park destinations and a discussion-spurring list of parks the editor-in-chief would do away with in favor of new units -- between the covers.

I must admit I struggled a bit with how Casey Lyons approached his story to a long backcountry loop hike in Glacier National Park with a friend who suffers from biopolar II and "hypomania."

Doctors describe the latter as a persistent and pervasive euphoric, or "elevated," state characterized by infinite energy, fierce competitiveness, and a gluttony for risk. Mike described it has "a 24-7 cocaine high!" and laughed his crazy laugh.

That's not something you might imagine to find in Backpacker. But, to Mr. Lyons' credit, he deftly pulled off twining his friend's condition with the wonders of Glacier's backcountry into an interesting read.

Elsewhere in this issue you'll find Michael Lanza's story about introducing his two young children to the Grand Canyon during a family backpack trek, Ted Alvarez' adrenalin-spewing journey into Denali National Park's backcountry, Steve Howe's adventures deep in the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park, and, among others, Brian Beer's suggestions on how to flee the crowds at Yosemite National Park with a four-day exploration of the Clark Range.

Those all are good reads, the kind of stories that not only pull you into the landscapes but, at the end, leave you thinking, "I need to add that to my to-do list!"

But the editor's note, well, that one leaves you thinking about justifications made around the qualifications for units of the National Park System. True, this is not a new debate for Traveler, but it's always interesting to see how others would approach the selection process. Here's the bottom-line of Jonathan Dorn's position on the matter:

Tough times call for touch decisions. If Congress won't make new parks, we'll swap 8 for 8.

In: ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), Bruneau and Upper Owyhee Rivers, Glen Canyon, Lost Coast, Maine Woods, San Juans, White Mountains, Wind Rivers.

Out: American Samoa, Biscayne, Carlsbad Caverns, Cuyahoga Valley, Dry Tortugas, Hot Springs, Virgin Islands, Wind Cave

Quite the list, no? Not sure about adding Glen Canyon, since, technically, it's already part of the park system. But I like Maine Woods, the White Mountains, and the Wind Rivers. At the same time, I definitely would argue against removing Virgin Islands, Carlsbad Caverns, and Biscayne.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts here, and at Backpacker's website.


What a dumb argument. They are only looking at the national "parks"? Why? Those 58 places are less than 15% of the areas in the National Park System. Are they suggesting they be maintained, but under a different title? Equally dumb since the Redwood Act and General Authorities Act make it clear that all areas in the National Park System are equal, regardless of title. So, how would "exchanging 8" make a difference? Why not just add 8 to the 394? How much longer is the National Park Service and Congress going to allow the silliness of titling parks continue to confuse the public and generally diminish understanding and appreciation of the all the parks?

Any new lands that can become protected are good! I especially would love to see ANWR protected from any type of interfernece with life there. I do not think it is neccesary to remove land from the NP lists, just keeping adding. "...oh give me land,land, lots of land..." something like that!

Glen Canyon will make a great national park, with boundaries expanded to include adjoining roadless areas now managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Some day Glen will be better known for its extraordinary wild lands than for the reservoir.

I would hate to see the 100 Mile Wilderness become a National Park. The current corridor is well protected by its Wilderness status and putting it in the park system would likely deteriorate rather than enhance this fabulous hiking experience.

Similar thoughts on the Whites - which already have become overly commercial and controlled with their hut system.

I am torn but generally in favor of a Maine Woods park. I do not favor adding ANWR as a park. It is already protected as a refuge and so isolated, most people will never see it anyway. Plus, let's be realistic, we do need the resources there and to stop depending on other countries for our energy. No, solar & wind are not going to cut it. I am not going to stop driving to beautiful places nor running the A/C in my home.

Anyone wanting to get rid of NPSA has never been there, and must operate on the "if I can't see it myself it must not be important". The National Park of American Samoa is incredibly beautiful and helps preserve not only the natural splendor, but also helps to respect and preserve the cultural fa'a Samoa of the islands. "Trading off" people, landscape, artifacts... just sounds wrong, to me.
Disclaimer - I've actually seen what I'm talking about here. This is viewed as a liability in most online flame wars.

The National Park System would be much poorer without DryTortugas NP. Not only does it contain some of the most pristine coral reefs in the nation, breeeding grounds for sea sea turtles and terns, and quantities of marine life, it also is home to a historic resource of considerable significance, Ft Jefferson, garrisoned during the Civil War by Union troops, and the prison cell of Dr. Samuel Mudd. Backpacker should be careful about suggesting the deletion of such an important park.


I am vehemently against dropping ANY of the current parks in the NPS. They are all valuable in their on right. Also, the parks suggested aren't big budget drains as they already have all the infrastructure and some charge for tours and admittance (wind cave, and Carlsbad Caverns).

I'm a subscriber to Backpacker, and I have read the full Editor's Note. While I can understand Kurt's truncation in his summary to provoke discussion, I wanted to point out the true meaning behind the magazine's ill begotten idea. The magazine is not asking to delete or swap out the aforementioned Parks because they do not think them valuable---their list of eight to trade out is simply constructed because they do not consist of any appreciable backcountry for their readers to go tromping and camping in. So everyone can take a breath and relax.

Well, Toothdoctor, perhaps we should pitch Backpacker a story on the 85 miles of backcountry trails in Carlsbad's 33,000+ acres (roughly 52 square miles) of officially designated wilderness, eh? That would seem pretty appreciable to many folks, I'd think;-)

And, the backcountry wilderness in Carlsbad is incredibly beautiful and rugged. I am sure that somewhere out there, there are more caves to be discovered. This is not, however, a wilderness to underestimate. There are few water sources. The hiker needs to be self-reliant and careful as the rescue resources there are not as easily-accessed as they are in some parks.


Glad somebody mentioned the Carlsbad backcountry, which is on my list of things to do.

As for my own "next national park" list, how about Dinosaur National Monument? Wonderful, wonderful place.

That "somebody" who mentioned the Carlsbad backcountry is a former superintendent of Carlsbad.

Not sure about Wind Cave. Its backcountry is pretty spectacular--prairie mixed with ponderosa pine forest, limestone cliffs, rushing streams; bison, prairie dogs, pronghorns--and I didn't run into another soul out there. Is the backcountry not officially designated wilderness? Is that the case for swapping it out?

Their selection is made entirely on the value of a park in terms of its potential for backpacking, whereas there are more criteria for any park. A place like Wind Cave, which I enjoyed, doesn't have the extensive back country of, say, Yellowstone or Canyonlands, but is preserved largely because of its caves, a worthy thing to do. A backpacker who has hiked extensively may need the more spectacular parks like Canyonlands or Grand Canyon, but I found Wind Cave to be a quiet, pleasant park, a good place to relax, and a good place to hike. I'm sure others who venture to Wind Cave will enjoy it. I'll be going back shortly and look forward to it. It would be a mistake to remove its national park status.

There's another little thing about the Backpacker list that makes me uncomfortable. Since 1872, with the establishment of Yellowstone, each generation of Americans, speaking through their congressional representatives, gets to add places to the National Park System that they believe deserve protection in perpetuity. It is a matter, it seems of me, of generational equity that we give these places the highest standard of care that we can. I would hate to think that some future generation of Americans would remove the parks that my generation added such as Guadalupe Mountains, Martin Luther King Jr., Kings Canyon, etc. No, let's not start down that path. Just because an NPS area does not offer significant opportunities for hiking and camping does not mean that it is a sub-standard area that should be deauthorized. Backpacker should know better


Rick Smith:
I would hate to think that some future generation of Americans would remove the parks that my generation added such as Guadalupe Mountains, Martin Luther King Jr., Kings Canyon, etc.
If you don't mind me asking, how old are you? I checked, and Kings Canyon was added in 1940. Maybe you meant Canyonlands?


I'm old but not that old. Fingers engaged before brain. But you can choose any park created after 1960 and I consider it of my generation. I first worked as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1959 during, for God's sake, the Eisenhower administration. Thanks for the good catch.


Yeah - I figured that you probably weren't over 90 years old. It just seemed out of place since Kings Canyon wasn't added in the 60s/70s.

Heck - I remember meeting a ranger at Timpanagos Cave NM in Utah. He mentioned how he had personally seen the growth of one particular limestone feature in the cave. I asked how long he'd been working there, and he said he was a seasonal every summer there since 1944, and my visit was in 2006.

I enjoyed this discussion. Love that NPT attracts such an educated and well-traveled