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Reader Participation Day: What Destinations Compete With National Parks?


When your family sits down to choose a vacation destination, what possibilities arise to compete with a national park vacation?

We hear constantly that visitation to the National Park System is flat, that Americans are heading to theme parks and on cruises rather than choosing to visit a national park. Is that the case in your household?

If it is, what destinations compete with national parks when you're debating where to head for some R&R? And, perhaps just as importantly, what pushes you to head someplace other than a national park?


We usually spent a little time in NPs to sightsee. Went to Western Colorado this week riding ATVs on BLM land. We stopped in at Black Canyon and drove thru Colorado Monumentonly because we had to get to a wilderness area TH for a planned hike. I try to plan NP visits when there are less crowds in the off seasons.

We plan a National Park trip every year, that includes the whole family, and sometimes friends. We hike, tour and visit the lodges. We hike with the kids, up to 35 miles in a week. Over the years they have gradually increased their hiking ability, and at 14 & 17 can now go up to 11 miles/ day, and can out-hike us.

We also enjoy an occasional Disneyland trip, visit the beach, and go visit family.

National forests that allow mountain biking get my vote. I'll start visiting national parks when I'm too old to ride and ready to put up with the slow pace of hiking.

No. It isn't 'crowded' on a rainy, sleety weekday in February. But then many of the trails are impassable and the waterfalls aren't flowing. Going there in the summer is not just not enjoyable, but positively miserable. The horribly crowded shuttle buses, the tour buses belching diesel, the traffic jams, the freeway-like hike up to Vernal and Nevada Falls. I just don't go anymore. I also think the South Rim of the Grand Canyon suffers from too many visitors. They park, look at the canyon for 15 minutes (so I was told by a ranger) and leave. So no I don't regret that people who are so mildly interested in one of the greatest natural features on earth only spend 15 minutes there. Those people should go to Disney land or take a cruise. Leave the parks for those that truly love the parks and want to enjoy them free of the hordes.

Out of curiosity, if one went to Yosemite Valley on a Wednesday in February, would it be crowded even then? What about a rainy or sleety February or March Wednesday? If I were to go, I think I'd want to go at a time like that.

Not the case in our household. I hate theme parks and cruises because they are too crowded. For the same reason, I am glad that park visitation is flat. I wish it would drop. Parks are often too crowded to suit me, Yosemite Valley has become torturous instead of pleasant.

I prefer remote locations in national forests that offer wonderful outdoor experiences without the crowds, the presence of so many agency employees, and the $25 (I think) entrance fee that some national parks exact.

I think the people who argue that the parks are loved to death have a point.

Regarding employees, I was struck by how many park service trucks I saw being driven around at the very remote Big Basin National Park a couple of years ago. What are the staff all doing? I wondered.

Our family loves the National Parks, and prefer that to any other vacation. We do an occasional trip to the beach, a state park, and if we do a theme park - it's for one day. Why would I want to stand in line, usually in the hot sun with tons of people to ride something that makes me feel sick. I would rather enjoy a hike, gaze at a waterfall or watch wildlife with my family. We are not nature freaks, but find that getting out in the parks makes us appreciate this beautiful world even more. It is relaxing to watch the sunset over the mountains, even though it may have been exhausting to get to the summit. All families are different, but for our family it's National Parks all the way.

Side note: my oldest daughter just started teaching 3rd grade in a rural Mississippi school. Her theme is climbing mountains, and her classroom has a guide and a park ranger as helpers. Most of the kids she teaches have never (probably will never) visit a National Park, but if she can instill the awe and wonder of learning through the parks then I will be so proud!!

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