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.
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.
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.
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).