I didn’t visit my first national park until I was 22.
I grew up in southern Ohio, and while there were several national parks within driving distance, my family always opted for vacations to Florida instead.
But last year, when I moved from Cincinnati to Los Angeles, my boyfriend and I made a pit stop at the Grand Canyon. When the friendly national parks ranger at the entrance asked if we wanted to buy an annual pass instead of a single entrance, Luke and I figured, “Sure, why not?” We were going to be living out west in the state with the most national parks, so it only made sense. Plus, if you visited just three or four parks, as the man explained, the pass basically paid for itself.
A little while later, we found ourselves standing by the Desert View Tower on the eastern edge of the park, looking out at the deep chasm in awe.
Now, almost a year later, my national parks checklist isn’t in the best shape, but at least it exists. Luke and I have driven through Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Rocky Mountain, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks.
I’ll readily admit that I’m not the kind of person to camp out and spend a week in a national park. Call me crazy, but I enjoy indoor plumbing and I hate bugs.
We haven’t spent the night in a national park or gone backcountry camping. Instead, we drive.
Others may frown upon the way I’ve experienced these five national parks, and I’ll admit, it may not be the best way, but it is my personal favorite.
I adore road trips — probably because of all those long car rides from Ohio to Florida. I love getting behind the wheel or jumping in the passenger seat, playing something good to listen to, and watching the world pass by my window.
You’d be surprised by how much you can observe just by looking out the window on a drive through a national park, how much beauty can be seen by hopping out every so often to take in the view.
In Joshua Tree, the only way to comprehend just how many of the unusual eponymous trees there are is by driving along the long roads in between the campsites. In Rocky Mountain, the pull-offs along the park’s main stretches provide stunning looks at the mountain range. And in Bryce Canyon, the viewpoints around the Amphitheater left me speechless.
I loved getting to know five of the nation’s best ideas through these road trips. With Luke in the driver’s seat and the window cracked slightly, our dog Indy sometimes sticking his head out the back, I found contentment in these places — the hoodoos, mountains, spiky trees, and canyons brought a smile to my face as the landscapes slipped by.