Tag Archives: Top 10

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

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 10 National Park Campgrounds with Running Water

We have not stayed at many campgrounds in National Parks, but enough to have had bad experiences in noisy Zion and Yosemite.  This is our ranking of the top 10 National Park campgrounds with running water (as opposed to those with vault toilets that we will rank separately).

  1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Juniper Campground (50 sites) in the North Unit sits in a grove of mature cottonwood trees on the banks of the Little Missouri River.

  1. Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)

Mule deer frequent Pinyon Flats Campground (88 sites) which overlooks the dunefield.

  1. Catoctin Mountain Park (Maryland)

Owens Creek Campground is thickly forested, offering privacy and quiet.

  1. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Chisos Basin Campground has 360° views and its high elevation keeps it cool even in the summer.

  1. Acadia National Park (Maine)

Away from the bustle of Mount Desert Island, we spent a quiet night at the new Schoodic Peninsula Campground.


  1. Everglades National Park (Florida)

Long Pine Key Campground is open year round and was almost deserted during our April visit.

  1. Arches National Park (Utah)

Located at the end of the road, Devil’s Garden Campground is a great starting point for a hike to Tapestry or Broken Arch.


  1. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)

Probably not as nice in the summer, but we enjoyed our March stay in Twin Peaks Campground with its many trails.

  1. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Indiana)

Campsites are nicely spread out in Dunewood Campground, inland from Lake Michigan.

…and finally our #1 campground in a National Park!

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  1. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Turkeys and mule deer will also be camping with you in the apple orchards of the Fruita District.

Honorable Mention

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

The spots are close together, but it has a great location at the trailhead for Guadalupe Peak and not far from Carlsbad Caverns National Park (without a campground) across the border in New Mexico.

Top 10 Caves in National Parks  

Some of our favorite units in the National Park Service system include caves.  Here is a list of our 10 favorites.  We now have a page just for all of our Top 10 lists.

  1. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Thurston Lava Tube is an electrically lighted half-mile walk through a high-ceilinged cave.

  1. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky)

Reservations are recommended for the ranger-guided two-hour tour of Gap Cave.

  1. El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico)

Short lava tubes are open to the public if you pick up your free cave permit at a visitor center.

  1. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Lehman Caves is only 0.6 miles long, but it is full of beautiful formations, like Parachute Shield.

  1. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)

Boxwork is an uncommon cave formation and 95% of the world’s known quantity is right here (see photo at the top of page).

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  1. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

The many tour options will keep you coming back to this wonderful park.

  1. Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah)

Start by hiking switchbacks up 1,092 feet, then your ranger guide will show you the gravity-defying helictite crystals.

  1. Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)

The Wild Caving Tour here is reportedly the most difficult in the entire National Park Service System.

  1. Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Pick up a guidebook and chart your own course through dozens of unlit lava tubes.

…and finally our #1 cave in a National Park!


  1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

Visit this incomprehensibly huge cave during the summer to witness the Evening Bat Flight Program.

Honorable Mention

Sequoia National Park (California)

Having not yet visited Oregon Caves National Monument, we will defer to Crystal Cave for this spot since it is the first cave Scott ever entered in 1988.