Deano’s Favorite National Parks and Monuments

This is THE goal.  The United States has 61 national parks.  I’ve been to only a couple of these so far.  It will take many years to accomplish this goal but if fully accomplished I believe it will be very satisfying and quite an accomplishment. There are also many more National Monuments along the way (and National Memorials). While we are traveling the country we’ll hit all the state parks that interest us along the way. We’ll hit those too!

Deano’s Favorite National Parks (Force Ranked)

There are 61 National Parks in the US.  I plan to visit them all over my remaining years on this rock (it is a life goal).  I’ll force rank them here as I visit each of them.  I feel like this is going to be kind of like picking your favorite child…damn near impossible.  I’ll give it a try however!

#1 – Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah / visited 2019) – Emily and I spent a day here.  One day was not enough, but we saw most all of the high points.  We hit all the highlighted scenic overlooks.  So, we technically saw it all.  We even took an unplanned hike and saw some of the low points.  But we could easily spend much more time in this place.  As we hiked, I kept bumping into people because I was so busy looking all around.  It seemed everywhere I looked there was an interesting view to take in.  Emily and I think it is the prettiest, most interesting place we’ve ever seen.  We stayed a bit too late.  We stayed busy just past sunset (which is pretty late in Summer).  This caused us to drive a lonely drive to get to Zion in the dark.  We were in the middle of nowhere and (I) misjudged food and fuel.  It was a bit of a nerve-wracking drive (and made our trip feel more like an adventure than it should have felt like)! Read a post about this trip HERE.

#2 – Zion National Park (Utah / visited 2019) – On the same trip where we went to Bryce we also went to Zion.  They are pretty close together out in the middle of nowhere so most people do them together.  They even cut the tunnel through a mountain in Zion to make the trip between the two parks easier.  I don’t know what everybody was talking about how Zion is so beautiful?!?!  All the views were being blocked by a bunch of big rocks!?!?  Ha!  The scale of Zion is hard to explain.  There are so many different formations and the size of them makes a human feel pretty tiny.  We only had two days on this trip which was only enough time to skim the surface.  I told Emily I could spend days/weeks (maybe months) there hiking and biking.  We were not able to even make it to all the stops that the shuttle bus has and didn’t get to do several of the hikes that I was very interested in doing. We will definitely go back when we can stay for a long time. Read a post about this trip HERE.

#3 – Great Sand Dune National Park (Colorado / visited 2011) – This place is down in southern Colorado in the middle of nowhere.  It is such a strange occurrence because it just feels so out of place.  You are driving along flat, desert farmland with a mountain range on one side and then you start to see a desert spring up.  Once you are there it is so vast that you don’t even see the surroundings. It was like we had stepped onto another planet!?!  We visited it one afternoon while in route from Colorado to New Mexico.  This was not enough time to fully explore but it was enough to quickly take in the vastness of the landscape.  Pretty fascinating place.

#4 – Olympic National Park (Washington / visited 2017) – The North Pacific Coast is spectacular.  It is cloudy and rainy almost all the time and the landscape that thrives in this environment is very different than many other places.  I could spend months in/around this park taking it all in.  We didn’t spend nearly that amount of time there while we were in this part of the country.  So, there is more to see (meaning we will need to go back).  We drove through the area while driving from one part of Washington to another part.  We were not there just to see this park.  We did, however, see Ruby Beach along the way.  We were traveling with a group but I kept finding myself wanting to dart away for side trips as we passed sign after sign detailing interesting spots.  We stayed in Port Angeles and drove into see Crescent Lake one day.  This is the prettiest lake I’ve ever seen.  Emily liked it because there was a story of some murder that happened there (and she is a sicko like that).  We also drove up to Hurricane Ridge one day and hiked around at the top.  The views of the

#5 – Great Smokey Mountains National Park (Tennessee / visited 1998, 2006, 2014) – This is the most visited National Park in the nation. It is also the one I have visited the most.  This is mainly due to it being so close to our home base in Nashville. The area has been on our family vacation itinerary several times. For many visiting this area means you will also spend time in Gatlinburg and/or Pigeon Forge and we have done those things as well. My preference is to spend the majority of my time not in either of those two places however.  I’d much rather be in the park. That said, nobody much gives a hoot what Dad wants to do usually.  This just means there are many, many unexplored areas within this National Park that remain to be seen.  There are tons of hikes I want to take (and I haven’t even really built out a well-researched to do list for this area).  I would imagine I could spend many months in/around this park.  The last time we were there was in 2014.  We played in a creek and had a picnic and we did a sunrise hike at Clingmans Dome (which was so fun and pretty and cold).  We’ve done several of the other popular hikes over the years.  We haven’t even scratched the surface however.  Time to get to work!

#6 – Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky / visited 2003) – I’ve been to Mammoth Cave a couple of times because it is pretty close to where we live.  I think one trip was as a child with a group.  When our kids were smaller, we went with Emily’s Dad.  We stayed in the lodge and spent a day or so there.  It has been a while since we’ve been and I’m positive there is more to see than what I’ve seen.  Of course, it is pitch black dark in the caves so ‘see’ might not be the correct term!  The scale and size of this cave is pretty crazy.  I’ve been in several caves in my life that were fun (but much, much smaller).  I have to admit I get a little freaked out being underneath that much rock.  We will likely go back soon and take our time to make sure we see everything that interest us.

#7 – Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado / visited 2010) – These are cliff dwellings and it is very interesting to see how these places are built but also a bit eerie to think about all the humans that lived there before we came along to look at things.  We are basically going through an open house through someone’s old bedroom/kitchen.  Very interesting place!

#8 – Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri / visited 1990) – I went with my parents to see this when I was in high school (and we were visiting a relative in St. Louis).  I didn’t even realize it was a National Park until I saw it on the list recently.  I don’t remember it being ‘National Park’ level impressive to be honest.  Don’t get me wrong the arch is impressive and I get the symbolic nature of it and how important ‘the West’ is to our Nation.  I just kind of find it strange that a man-made structure is on the National Park list.  Maybe I missed something in my young and foolish teenage days.  Emily and I will need to go back.  St. Louis is on our list anyway.

Zion National Park – Our Two Day Adventure

Zion Canyon, The Narrows, Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools, Big Bend, Pa’rus Trail, South Entrance, Cable Mountain Lodge, Zion Canyon Shuttle, Swimming, Hiking.  We saw all that but two days at Zion National Park wasn’t nearly enough to see everything! Phenomenal! If you have not been…GO! Zion National Park is currently duking it out …

Deano’s Favorite National Monuments (Force Ranked)

There are 129 protected areas in the US that are known as National Monuments.  These are the ones I have been too (force ranked):

#1 – California Coastal (California / visited 2014) – Most people don’t realize that most of the California Coast is a National Monument.  We spent time on a beautiful part of it on our visit to Carmel-By-The-Sea.  We drove the 17 Mile Drive up to Monterey, saw Pebble Beach, drove down the coast to Big Sur, and visited Point Lobos State Natural Preserve.  Hard to imagine any part of the California Coast being more beautiful than this section of it.

#2 – Capulin Volcano (New Mexico / visited 2005) – On our way back to Denver to fly home from one of our New Mexico visits we stopped by Pop’s ranch in northern New Mexico and had a picnic with his ranch manager.  We headed north from there and went by Capulin on the way back to the interstate.  It was windy because storms were rolling in and such a fun hike with the kids.  The views at the top were awesome and made better by the ominous weather that day.

#3 – Muir Woods (California / visited 2014) – We visited here while on one of our San Francisco trips.  The trees are amazingly large and the hike is very peaceful…except for the part where my mother-in-law, Mimi, broke all the ‘trail rules’ with her excessive loudness.  The trees have survived forest fires and decades of weather and wind…but barely a visit from Mimi!  Ha!

#4 – Browns Canyon (Colorado / visited 2005, 2011) – I’ve rafted here multiple times in the Arkansas River on some of our stays in Colorado.  The last time was on our trip to Aspen in 2011.

#5 – Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico / visited 1999) – I think I visited this in 1999.  We had been to Santa Fe and swung by here on the way to Pop’s cabin.  Just outside Los Alamos, New Mexico this is a pretty phenomenal place in terms of living history.  These are cliff dwellings and it is very interesting to see how these places are built but also a bit eerie to think about all the humans that lived there before we came along to look at things.  Very interesting place!

#6 – Statue of Liberty (New York / visited 1990) – Visited this on a band trip in high school.

Deano’s Favorite National Memorials (Force Ranked)

#1 – Lincoln Memorial – (Washington DC / visited 1990) – Visited this on a band trip in high school. My favorite President and I love the words from the Gettysburg Address which are featured on this monument.

#2 – Washington Monument – (Washington DC / visited 1990) – Visited this on a band trip in high school.

#3 – Vietnam Veterans Memorial – (Washington DC / visited 1990) – Visited this on a band trip in high school. I’ve learned a ton about the Vietnam war since visiting this. I want to go back to it now.

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