Reader Participation Day: How Do You Decide Which National Parks To Visit?

With the snows of winter on their way, most people are bringing an end to this year's travels and looking ahead to 2012. Which has us wondering: How do you decide which national parks to put on your travel calendar?

Are you looking to expand your list of national parks visited, or are you planning to go back to old favorites?

And what resources do you rely on to help with your planning? The National Park Service website? AAA? Chamber bureaus in gateway towns? The Traveler?

Tell us, travelers, how do you go about planning your national park vacations?


We're changing up the same ol' same ol' plan of visiting the parks out west in AZ/southern UT. This year we spread our wings to Mesa Verde and were blown away by the fall
beauty, wildlife and the cliff dwellings! We hit a few western AZ places that were new plus a stop at Canyonlands Needles district to scope out camping for next year. Our next trip at Christmas
we're doing a wild and furious sweep of New Mexico - Christmas Eve in
Santa Fe - should be awesomely different!

Is "all of the above" an acceptable answer?

Both. We live in the Central Valley so frequently visit Yosemite and even go into the valley occasionally. Yesterday we took a spin over to Point Reyes and spent the day along Tomales Bay; we're planning to head down to Joshua Tree in a couple weeks for our first overnight visit there. In the last year, we have been as far east as the Smoky Mountains and Gettysburg; as far north as Teddy Roosevelt and as far south as Saguaro. Our NP Pass has paid for itself over and over!

After working at Grand Canyon all summer it's time for a road trip. Where else to go but National Parks. Going to Escalante and Bryce right in the back yard. Then off to Capital Reef, Canyonlands and Arches where I haven't been in 35+ years. Plus taking in new sights along the way and including Navajo NM and Canyon De Chelly. How to decide depends on what direction I want to go.

I am super lucky to have already been to a number of parks. Now when I decide where to go, I take the following things into consideration: where I haven't been, what I missed when I was there before, a different time of year.
EXAMPLE: I am lucky to have been to Yosemite before -I've seen the big trees and big granite. I was there both times in the fall though so I have never seen fast flowing waterfalls. Someday, I will get there early in the year to see gushing waterfalls.
I use everything to research: nps website, this site and other websites. The internet is my friend when it comes to travel planning.

Todays economy and proximity is what i go by. This November i will take my yearly trip to Big Bend. I also frequent Guadulupe Mountains NP, and i visited Carlsbad Caverns earlier
this year. When the economy is in good times i venture to parks outside of Texas and New Mexico. Places like Lassen NP, Mesa Verde and Olympic NP.

Depends on how expansive your definition of "National Parks" is. If that includes all units, then it varies.

It can be random. I once made a winter visit to Yosemite on a whim. At other times I planned more carefully, especially when I had a backpacking trip planned.

I had to plan a trip from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon months in advance in order to secure lodging.

If it's local I can decide on the day. I've made last second calls on visiting Muir Woods NM or Point Reyes NS. Even on vacation on Maui we decided to visit Haleakala NP without any previous solid plan to do so. helps.

When I went to a nephew's wedding in Massachusetts a year or two ago I just searched by state. If I hadn't, I would have missed Salem Maritime and Saugus Iron Works, both worth a visit. I suggest using the web help early in trip planning.

I really don't care where I go-- just as long as I can go!! I tell my wife that once we cross that boundry line at the National Park sign for any park I feel like I've steped back in time and all the stress seems to melt away!!

Gaelyn, you should look me up at Capitol Reef! I think we worked at MEVE together in 2005

When I was a seasonal employee, I made sure to take my time travelling and I stopped at all the sites I could along my route and often camped. Now I don't travel as much, but when I do I try and find sites close to where I'll be. In just a few days, I'll be hitting the units in D.C.

try to plan a big trip every year some times around other events. This past summer had to be in Virginia for some training so researched on the web and NPS site and visited Mount Rogers NP was a great side trip. Also visitied sites in DC mostly web research determined the plan.
Previous year after having read so much about Glacier, Yellowstone, and the Tetons on the Traveler planned a long trip that took in all three parks. Researched on the web and NPS park sites ahead of time.
Live in south Texas so try to visit Big Bend or Guadalupe NP annually and use park websites to see whats going on to help make decisions on when to go.

We're partial to the Western parks -- RMC, Bryce, Zion -- but family matters took us east this summer so we had a chance to see Acadia, Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and the Smokies. All of them amazing. We also did the Freedom Trail in Boston and visited the Gettysburg battlefield. (Did I mention my husband is a drivin' fool?)
As the Chief Researcher, I check the NPS sites, naturally. Also Traveler, and often web sites dedicated to the specific park or area. I'm an avid photographer and I've found Flickr and National Geographic to be good sources for images, which can give you a great idea of what you'll be seeing.
We want to return to Glacier someday when we have time and money to really spend some time there. We are always debating whether to go somewhere new (we've seldom been disappointed) or back to one of our favorites.
Overall, I think we probably like the outdoors, wilderness, wildlife-oriented parks (Rockies, Glacier, etc.) best but golly, I'll go anywhere if you pick up the tab!!

I'm just starting to think about next year. I'm lucky enough to live near three national parks -- Mt. Rainier is practically in my backyard, Hurricane Ridge at Olympic is a day trip away, and North Cascades is a weekend trip -- but my favorite park is Yellowstone, and I may be heading back in that direction. I may just keep going, too, because I've had a hankering to visit Theodore Roosevelt NP. Then again, I haven't been to Zion, Bryce, Cedar Breaks, Capitol Reef, etc., in a long time, either.
As for research, I used to be a reference librarian. Planning a trip is at least 1/3 of the fun!

Next year, the Utah Parks!
We've been to Bryce and Zion but it's time to explore Canyonlands, Arches and other units.

Danny Bernstein

We are southern florida people and decide on travel plans based on time of year as we don't like the snow, where new NPS sites are that we haven't been to, and how much time we have off as I am not flying to the other side of the US for only a short vacation. We are always looking for new places and hope to one day visit every NPS site in the US.
I mostly use to find sites, to find additional things to use in the area, and for restaurants.
With week long trips this year, in december we were in death valley, joshua tree, mojave, manzanar, chanell islands and others. In march we were in south arizona and south new mexico and visited organ pipe, chiricua, gila cliff dwellings, white sands, carlsbad, and others. Over the summer i was blessed to have 7.5 weeks off and saw every NPS site in Washington, Northern Oregon, Idaho, Northern Utah, Wyoming, and Northern Utah, Western SD, and Western Nebraska.
Future plans included a week long Christmas trip from St. Augustine up to Charleston to see all the forts. March is up in the air and we may go to Atlanta and East Alabama or perhaps Congaree and sites in western NC or perhaps a week in Puerto Rico. This summer, I may have 3 weeks and head to Hawaii or perhaps San Fran, Yosemite, and everything in northern Ca up to Crater Lake. Who knows!!!