Top 10 Gifts for National Park Lovers

It is gift buying season again, so we decided to take a shot at a list of ideas for that special someone in your life who loves National Parks.  There are currently 63 National Parks among the 420+ units in the National Park Service (NPS) system, which are the main focus of these items.  We have been two parks short of visiting all 63 since 2016, but we already have our plane tickets to American Samoa for January 2023 and we plan to drive to Alaska this summer so we can fly to the last of that state’s eight National Parks.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists, including some book lists that may help you find a special gift for your favorite reader.  As always, products we have created are available under the Shop tab above. We also have a Pinterest board for National Parks gift ideas, as well as those harder-to-find National Forest gifts.

10. Postcards

For someone on the quest to visit all 63 National Parks, pick up a packet of postcards showcasing all of them (or a set of notecards highlighting their favorite one so far)

9. Quarters

The U.S. Mint finished releasing its America the Beautiful series in 2021; there are books and maps highlighting all 56 quarters (and you can buy the entire set for little more than the coins value)

8. Stuffies

Seeing wildlife is a big draw to most of the large National Parks, so what better way to remember an encounter than a stuffed animal version?

7. Coasters

We often purchase a Lantern Press coaster from the National Park Service bookstore during our visits, but there are also sets for sale online

6. Games

If your lover of National Parks likes board games, there are branded versions of the classics (like Yahtzee and Monopoly) or original games available

5. Mugs

Why not recall a favorite park every time you enjoy a hot beverage?

4. Jewelry

Artists on Etsy offer some awesome jewelry highlighting the National Parks, including coin-rings and bracelets

3. Guidebooks

Especially if your National Parks lover is just getting started, a good guidebook can help with planning the travel logistics

2. Clothing

T-shirts, hoodies, socks, and anything else people wear have all been emblazoned with National Park logos and images

…and finally our #1 gift for National Park lovers:

1. Posters

Artwork or photographs of our beautiful National Parks make a great gift and there are an overwhelming number of options (try starting at Creative Action Network)

Honorable Mentions

Calendar

There are many nice calendars published every year with artwork or photographs from our wonderful National Parks

Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles had a renaissance during the pandemic and there are plenty of National Park-themed options

Blanket

There are some cool ways to keep warm under a stylish National Park blanket, like one from Rumpl

Map

For someone on the quest to visit all 63 National Parks, they can track their progress on a map or scratch-off list

Photo album or photo board

We passport stamp all of the “unigrid” pamphlets (like the ones Echo the Raven poses with for each NPS blog post) from the parks and collect them in a photo album (actually three since we have visited 378 units so far)

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Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona

Managed by National Park Service

Established 1906 National Monument, 1962 National Park

221,390 acres

Website: nps.gov/pefo

Overview

East of Flagstaff, Arizona on Interstate 40 (the historic Route 66) is Petrified Forest National Park, which started as one of the first National Monuments created by President Teddy Roosevelt.  It is hard to believe in the dry expanses of the Painted Desert, but 225-million years ago this land existed in a tropical climate where trees grew to 200 feet in height.  Some of those trees were buried in mud when they fell and over time silica crystalized in their decaying cells forming colorful rocks.  You can still see annual growth rings and rays from the wood preserved on the cross-sections that look like they were cut by a chainsaw.  The rocks are protected inside the park, so for a souvenir head to the gift shops around the park’s borders. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Rainbow Forest Museum, Giant Logs Trail, Agate House, Newspaper Rock, Painted Desert Inn, Blue Mesa Trail

Must-Do Activity

It is the kaleidoscope of colors that makes this park so beautiful and unique.  The intricate weave of minerals in each bit of petrified wood is found in an array of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, purple, black, and white.  A paved walkway behind the Rainbow Forest Museum is a great place to start, as rangers give guided tours there throughout the day.  In the warm season, watch for the bright colors of a collared lizard hiding among the rocks.  It is worth a hike to Agate House and a connection to the Giant Logs Trail to see more petrified wood, but be sure to bring water with you in the summer since there is no shade.

Best Trail

Blue Mesa Trail is only one mile in length, but you will stop so often for photos that it seems much longer.  In this area the blueish bentonite badlands are striped by reduced iron and rust (as depicted in our logo illustration).  The trail can be muddy if there has been recent precipitation.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Painted Desert often lives up to its name during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset when the pink adobe walls of the Painted Desert Inn can positively blaze.  After summer thunderstorms, watch for rainbows that hang under the billowy cumulus clouds.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/pefo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads in the park are paved and the 28-mile paved scenic drive is nice in either direction.

Camping

There are no overnight facilities within the park, but there are private campgrounds in both Holbrook and Winslow, Arizona.  Lyman Lake State Park also offers camping.  A free backcountry permit is required to camp in the Wilderness area north of the Painted Desert Inn.  There are no trails and the only requirement is that you cross Lithodendron Wash about a mile from the rim, which sometimes means walking through shallow water.

Related Sites

Coconino National Forest (Arizona)

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (Arizona)

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

This design we created to celebrate this National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How many pounds of rock are mailed back to Petrified Forest National Park every year by people who claim their theft led to a string of bad luck?

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Cleveland National Forest

Cleveland National Forest

California

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region

568,634 acres (439,281 federal/ 129,353 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cleveland

Overview

In southwestern California, Cleveland National Forest was established in 1908 and named for the U.S. President who added 21-million acres to the Forest Reserve system in the 1890s.  The National Forest is notable for its Mediterranean climate and low elevation (its highest point is 6,271-foot Monument Peak).  Most of its acreage is chaparral, not forest, making it more prone to frequent wildfires.  Despite its proximity to San Diego and the densely-populated Pacific Coastline, it contains four designated Wilderness areas. 

Highlights

Sunrise Scenic Byway, Henshaw Scenic Vista, Monument Peak, Three Sisters Falls, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, Cedar Creek Falls, Sunset Trail, Noble Canyon National Recreation Trail, Agua Tibia Trail, San Juan Loop Trail, Desert View Nature Trail, Pioneer Mail Trail, Observatory Trail

Must-Do Activity

Located ten miles north of Highway 76, Palomar Mountain is best known as the home of Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, which was established in 1928.  It is open daily for tours of the A.W. Greenway Jr. Visitor Center and the 200-inch Hale Telescope, which reigned as the world’s largest from 1949 until 1975.  Two miles downhill is the Forest Service’s Observatory Campground and the trailhead for the 2.2-mile one-way Observatory National Recreation Trail.  An Adventure Pass is required to park here, but not if you start at the observatory.  The trail gains about 900 feet in elevation as it climbs through an oak-pine forest to the Palomar Observatory (that sits at 5,598 feet in elevation) providing views of the Mendenhall Valley. 

Best Trail

The Sunset Trail makes a 4.6-mile loop from the Meadows Trailhead at mile marker 19 on the Sunrise Scenic Byway.  The trail provides a view of the Pacific Ocean after passing meadows, ponds, and oak savannahs. 

Watchable Wildlife

Despite its proximity to the San Diego metropolitan area, Cleveland National Forest is home to black bears, gray foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  Black-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, and coyotes are more likely to be encountered by visitors.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Look for acorn woodpeckers’ seed caches riddled into some of the Jeffrey pine trees in the forest.

Peak Season

Winter

Fees

An Adventure Pass is required to park at several trailheads (including the Observatory Trail) throughout the National Forest, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

The Sunrise Scenic Byway and the road to Palomar Observatory are both paved, although there are many unpaved routes through the National Forest.

Camping

Two miles downhill from the Palomar Observatory is the Forest Service’s Observatory Campground, a great place to stay if you plan to attend a star party on moonless nights.  Palomar Mountain State Park also has a campground.

Wilderness Areas

Agua Tibia Wilderness (also run by the Bureau of Land Management)

Hauser Wilderness

Pine Creek Wilderness

San Mateo Canyon Wilderness

Related Sites

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Nearest National Park

Joshua Tree

Conifer Tree Species

Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine, white fir, California juniper, Arizona cypress, Tecate cypress

Flowering Tree Species

Engelmann oak, coast live oak, California black oak, manzanita

Explore More – Who was the U.S. President that established the first 13-million acres of Forest Reserves starting in 1891, prior to Grover Cleveland?

Learn more about Cleveland and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Clearwater National Forest

Clearwater National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

1,722,132 acres (1,679,952 federal/ 42,180 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nezperceclearwater

Overview

In central Idaho, Clearwater National Forest was established in 1908 and administratively combined with Nez Perce National Forest in 2012.  A great place to start is the Forest Service visitor center at Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana border southwest of Missoula, where you will learn about the Corps of Discovery’s visit in 1805.  Elsewhere, the North Fork of the Clearwater River ends in the Dworshak Reservoir where a separate section of the National Forest can be explored on the White Pine Scenic Byway and Elk River Backcountry Byway.  The latter accesses Giant Cedar Grove and Elk Creek Falls, which is three separate waterfalls totaling a 140-foot drop.

Highlights

White Pine Scenic Byway, Lolo Pass, Lolo Motorway, DeVoto Memorial Grove, Colgate Licks, Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, Shoestring Falls, Elk Creek Falls, Giant Cedar Grove, Aquarius Natural Area, Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Down River Trail, Beason Meadows National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

Most of the recreational activity in Clearwater National Forest occurs along the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (Highway 12), which runs west from the Lolo Pass visitor center along the Lochsa National Wild and Scenic River.  The legendary dirt road called the Lolo Motorway (see below) can be accessed from several points along this route.  Both the famous Jerry Johnson Hot Springs and the smaller Weir Creek Hot Springs are reachable from roadside trailheads.  Also along Highway 12, short trails lead through the DeVoto Memorial Grove of western redcedars and Colgate Licks mineral springs.

Best Trail

From parking areas on both sides of Highway 12, it is only about a one-mile easy walk to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs where multiple pools can be found creekside and uphill at the source.  The trail continues along Warm Springs Creek into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and beyond. 

Watchable Wildlife

The North Fork of the Clearwater and the Lochsa Rivers provide habitat for fish and water-loving animals like moose, raccoons, river otters, muskrats, beavers, fishers, ospreys, and bald eagles.  The mountains are home to elk, mule deer, mountain goats, black bears, martens, red foxes, gray wolves, and mountain lions.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A short trail leads through the DeVoto Memorial Grove of western redcedars, named for author Bernard DeVoto.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The scenic 73-mile Lolo Motorway is a single-lane, dirt road that tracks both the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trails.  Also labeled Forest Road 500, it follows a ridgeline north of the Lochsa River and several steep access roads climb to meet it from Highway 12.  High-clearance vehicles (or motorcycles) are a must and four-wheel drive is required on the rougher western end of the route.  Driving up Parachute Hill Forest Road 569 and down Saddle Camp Forest Road 107 makes for a good four-hour loop with short stops at the Indian Post Office and Devils Chair.

Camping

Although it is close to Highway 12, the pleasant Jerry Johnson Campground is one of several campgrounds found along the Lochsa National Wild and Scenic River and located only a short drive from the trailhead for the hot springs.

Wilderness Areas

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (also in Bitterroot, Nez Perce, and Lolo National Forests)

Related Sites

Challis National Forest (Idaho)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Montana)

Nearest National Park

Glacier

Conifer Tree Species

western redcedar, western larch, grand fir, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, western white pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, limber pine, whitebark pine, Pacific yew, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Pacific dogwood, red alder, balsam poplar, paper birch, Piper’s hawthorn

Explore More – What famous group built the 73-mile-long Lolo Motorway in the 1930s?

Learn more about Clearwater and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Cibola National Forest

Cibola National Forest

New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

2,103,528 acres (1,633,783 federal/ 469,745 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cibola

Overview

Cibola National Forest is spread across many mountain ranges in central New Mexico, including the Bear, Datil, Magdalena, San Mateo, Gallinas, Manzano, and Zuni Mountains.  Due to their proximity to Albuquerque, the most visited are the Sandia Mountains, which have a ski resort that is only open during good snow years.  You can reach the top by riding the aerial tramway (admission fee), driving Sandia Crest Scenic Byway (fee), or hiking La Luz Trail that climbs 3,800 feet in elevation. 

Highlights

Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, Tajique Canyon, Continental Divide Loop Auto Tour, Mt. Taylor, Cienega Canyon Picnic Area, McGaffey Lake, Mt. Withington, Kelly ghost town, South Baldy Peak, Whitehorse Canyon, Paxton Cone, La Luz Trail, Kiwanis Trail

Must-Do Activity

Sandia Peak rises to 10,678 feet in elevation, dominating the skyline east of Albuquerque.  The mountain makes a great backdrop for photos during the International Balloon Fiesta held every October, but we can imagine it would also be fun to watch the balloons launch or do their night lighting from the summit.  Once atop the busy peak, the North Crest, 10K, and South Crest Trails are all good hiking options that do not lose too much elevation.  Some hikers choose to ride the aerial tramway up and then take a steep trail back down to the parking lot (trekking poles recommended).

Best Trail

In the Manzano Mountains, both the Red Canyon (3.5 miles one-way) and Fourth of July Trails (two miles) climb to the 22-mile-long Crest Trail, which offers stunning views along its length.  Further south, the Crest Trail also accesses 10,098-foot-tall Manzano Peak.  In the San Mateo Mountains north of Interstate 40, a trail (six miles roundtrip) summits 11,301-foot Mt. Taylor, an extinct stratovolcano that is one of four mountains sacred to the Navajo.

Watchable Wildlife

The “sky islands” of Cibola National Forest rise high above the surrounding landscape, providing habitat for numerous isolated and rare species.  Mule deer and pronghorn are the two main large ungulates found in Cibola National Forest, while its carnivores include black bears, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  Due to its proximity to the Rio Grande Valley, many migratory birds pass through the National Forest during the spring and fall.  If you take the Sandia Peak tramway, watch for birds of prey flying the updrafts along the steep mountain grades.

Instagram-worthy Photo

From either the point where the Sandia Peak aerial tramway unloads passengers or the end of the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, it is an easy one-hour roundtrip hike through the subalpine forest to the Kiwanis Cabin and its awesome views.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is a day-use fee to park along the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, although you can use the America the Beautiful Pass. Sandia Peak Tramway tickets are about $29 roundtrip.

Road Conditions

The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway is paved to the top, but Road 165 offers a rough dirt road alternative partway up.  Most of the roads in the Manzano Mountains are well-maintained gravel.

Camping

The Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque are a great place for dispersed camping, and there are also several campgrounds.

Wilderness Areas

Apache Kid Wilderness

Manzano Mountain Wilderness

Sandia Mountain Wilderness

Withington Wilderness

Related Sites

Carson National Forest (New Mexico)

El Morro National Monument (New Mexico)

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Nearest National Park

White Sands

Conifer Tree Species

Rocky Mountain juniper, alligator juniper, Engelmann spruce, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, subalpine fir

Flowering Tree Species

Gambel oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth maple, boxelder, New Mexico locust, Fremont cottonwood, netleaf hackberry

Explore More – How did the Manzano Mountains get their name?

Learn more about Cibola and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.