Category Archives: List

Top 10 National Monuments

National Monument is the most common designation in the National Park Service (NPS) System.  Many of our favorites among the roughly 130 National Monuments are wild places managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.  The NPS typically has a more developed, tourist-friendly infrastructure with visitor centers, trails, and tours.  Here is a ranking of our top 10 National Monuments of the 88 run by the NPS.

10. John Day Fossil Beds

Fantastic colors in the hills of Oregon

9. Organ Pipe Cactus

28 species of cacti in southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

8. Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island and Lady Liberty make an unforgettable day trip

7. Cedar Breaks

High-elevation amphitheater of red rock in Utah

6. Fort Stanwix

An exact 1750s replica surrounded by Rome, New York

5. Timpanogos Cave

Make the climb to see incredibly delicate helictites in Utah

4. White Sands

These sledding hills in New Mexico could be the next National Park

3. Bandelier

Climb into these cliff dwellings in northern New Mexico

2. Jewel Cave

Tour the world’s third longest cave under South Dakota

…and finally our #1 National Monument managed by the NPS:

1. Lava Beds

Explore below ground in this remote section of northern California


Honorable Mention

World War II Valor in the Pacific

Pearl Harbor is one part of this diverse monument

Why do we travel?

Travel is our passion.  It can be challenging, both mentally and physically, but the rewards are incalculable.  Travel is always unpredictable.  We have to be adaptable and self-sufficient, whether we find ourselves in a city or a wilderness.  Travel can also rejuvenate.  It provides perspective on work and the media; a mental reset that lets us focus on the important things in our lives.  Working out in a gym can become tedious after an hour, but when we are hiking we find that we can keep going for hours.  Perhaps it is that “explorer’s high” that keeps us going when we experience a new place.

We enjoy the logistics of travel.  Preparation and anticipation are two fundamental components of any trip.  We hope that Raven About The Parks inspires our readers to plan their next excursion to one of the 418 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system.  The NPS recorded more than 330-million visitors in both 2016 and 2017.  More than half of them were tallied at the top 30 parks alone.  Only the top 81 sites see more than one-million visitors annually.  That leaves 337 other parks for the rest of us to discover the historical and natural wonders of America without the crowds. 

We love learning new information when we travel.  Even when we return to a place our experience is never the same, since we change as we age, gaining a fresh perspective as though seeing through a different lens.  Many of the units in the NPS system are historical in focus.  We have fun finding similarities with the present time and take solace in the fact that most every challenge of today was faced in past.  We are inspired by people that stood strong in the face of adversity.  The greatest acts of bravery often came from the least likely sources.

We are truly humbled to be in the presence of the natural wonders of America.  Given the perception of one human lifetime, it is often impossible for us to comprehend how many of Earth’s features formed on a geologic timescale.  We relish being able to interact with a landscape beyond the designated pullouts and overlooks; to feel the ground beneath our feet and not just look at it.  We enjoy photography, but find the immersive experiences are more satisfying than taking a good photo.  We believe that the best photos will trigger a fond memory in the future, in comparison to just having something pretty to look at.

Even though we have visited 323 of 418 NPS units, we realize we will probably never make it to them all.  That is not our goal, though we will strive to see more of them.  We have had great experiences at most of these special sites, many of which we visited without high expectations.  In 2019, we plan to explore 35 NPS sites new to us in the Northeast U.S. and Virgin Islands, as well as some old favorites in new ways (like a paddling trip through Dinosaur National Monument).  We thank you for following Raven About The Parks as you plan your next adventure in a National Park.

Happy new year!

Scott and Tiff

Scott and Tiff in Rocky Mountain National Park in June 2018

Top 10 Sand Dunes in National Parks

Sand dunes are like giant sandboxes for big kids to play in and hike on, so we came up with a list of our favorites from across the National Park Service (NPS) System. Unlike most NPS backcountry trails, dogs are allowed on many of these dunes if they are leashed and picked up after.

10. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

9. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana)

8. Salt Basin Dunes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

7. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

6. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

5. Eureka Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

4. Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve (California)

Sand sledding on the gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument

3. White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)

2. Panamint Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

…and finally our #1 sand dune in a National Park:

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)


Honorable Mention

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Top 10 Non-Fiction Books Set in Multiple National Parks

The only thing that is nearly as fun as visiting National Parks is reading about them. Here is a list of our 10 favorite non-fiction books that cover multiple units of the National Park Service (NPS) System. Our previous list was limited to those set in a single park.

10. Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks
by Jim Burnett (2012)
Like the historic Oh, Ranger! books, this one covers the lighter side of interactions between NPS employees and tourists.

9. My Wild Life: A Memoir of Adventures within America’s National Parks
by Roland H. Wauer (2014)
The first half of this autobiography of a National Park Ranger is an interesting look at research in Big Bend, Death Valley, and other National Parks before devolving into his life list of international bird species.

8. Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks
by Mark Woods (2016)
This Florida journalist received a grant to explore National Parks across the United States of America and brings an interesting perspective on them.

7. The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest
by Timothy Egan (1990)
The author visits many National Park Service sites in this good introduction for outsiders to the landscapes and people of Washington and Oregon.

6. Travels in the Greater Yellowstone
by Jack Turner (2008)
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem also includes Grand Teton National Park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, and this is an interesting journey across its many corners by an always opinionated and interesting writer.

5. Desert Time: A Journey through the American Southwest
by Diana Kappel-Smith (1992)
The author’s pencil illustrations add a wonderful layer to her vivid descriptions of American deserts from Idaho to Texas, including numerous National Park Service units.

4. House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization across the American Southwest
by Craig Childs (2007)
Craig Childs has written several great non-fiction books set in the Southwest U.S. This one describes the world of the Ancestral Puebloan (formerly called Anasazi) people at multiple sites including Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park.

3. The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
by John Wesley Powell (1874)
The author, a one-armed Civil War veteran, led the first expedition down the unmapped and untamed Green and Colorado Rivers through the Grand Canyon in 1869.

2. Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks
by Michael Lanza (2012)
The writer travels to some of the most imperiled National Parks with his family to experience them before they are permanently altered by climate change.


…and finally our number one non-fiction book set in multiple National Parks:

1. Our National Parks
by John Muir (1901)
Famous preservationist John Muir wrote many colorful descriptions of America’s wonderlands in his books (especially his beloved Yosemite), but none covers as wide a range as Our National Parks.


Honorable Mentions
Travels with Charlie in Search of America
by John Steinbeck (1962)
Perhaps a bit dated now, but this is a cherished travelogue from a national treasure.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
The Pacific Crest Trail crosses many parks in the National Park Service System and is considered an affiliated unit. This sometimes painful-to-read autobiography contains beautiful descriptions of the natural landscape.

Top National Park Service Site in Each State

We kicked off our travel blog by highlighting our favorite National Park Service site in each of the 50 states.


Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site


Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument


Buffalo National River


Lava Beds National Monument


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve


Weir Farm National Historic Site


First State National Monument


Dry Tortugas National Park


Andersonville National Historic Site


Kalaupapa National Historical Park


City of Rocks National Reserve


Pullman National Monument


Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore


Effigy Mounds National Monument


Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site


Mammoth Cave National Park


Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve


Appalachian National Scenic Trail 


Catoctin Mountain Park


Lowell National Historical Park


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore


Grand Portage National Monument


Vicksburg National Military Park


Ozark National Scenic Riverways


Big Hole National Battlefield


Scotts Bluff National Monument


Great Basin National Park

New Hampshire

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

New Jersey

Thomas Edison National Historical Park

New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument

New York

Fort Stanwix National Monument

North Carolina

Cape Lookout National Seashore

North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park


Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park


Chickasaw National Recreation Area


John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 


Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Rhode Island

Roger Williams National Memorial

South Carolina

Congaree National Park

South Dakota

Jewel Cave National Monument


Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area


Big Bend National Park


Capitol Reef National Park


Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park 


Fort Monroe National Monument


Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

West Virginia

New River Gorge National River


Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

…and finally our home state…


Yellowstone National Park


Honorable Mention

District of Columbia

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site