How I Fell in Love with Yellowstone and Other National Parks


National ParksNo, not the Amazon Prime phenomenon, but Yellowstone National Park instead.

I feel like I should begin this with a disclaimer. No one would describe me as outdoorsy, my idea of “roughing it” means access to one electrical outlet instead of two, and I avoid risk at all costs. So you might be surprised to learn that I love visiting National Parks.

My husband, Brett, introduced me to lots of new things during the early years of our relationship, one was the Catholic faith, and another was the National Park system. He started slowly with weekend camping trips to State Parks around the Shreveport area, then a long weekend in Arkansas, culminating with my first visit to a National Park–The Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

I learned two things on that trip: National Parks are underrated and never set a tent by a stream (the sound of running water can lead to frequent restroom visits).

As time passed and we added children to our family, we also introduced them to the National Parks. Some of my favorite vacation memories and photos took place during our park visits. I must warn you that, for the good and the bad, not all parks are created equally. Some parks merit a one-day visit, never demanding a return. While others captivate you, require several days, and beckon you to return time and again.

We visited 17 National Parks together over the past twenty-nine years, some with kids and some without. We also visited National Historical Parks, National Monuments, National Seashores, and so on. For this article, I specifically feature National Parks.

Of the parks we visited, I love these three most: Yellowstone, Denali, and Haleakala. I might not possess the words to accurately describe how I feel about these places in nature, so I will share my favorite personal photos instead.

Yellowstone National Park

National Parks

My favorite Yellowstone memory involves an unplanned hike to one of the most picturesque places ever-Trout Lake. We spent the early part of the day seeking bison in the Lamar Valley and found ourselves with some time to kill in the afternoon. After that, we stopped at the Trout Lake turnoff, ignored the “beware of bears” signs, and hiked just around the bend. To top it off, we found a beautiful lake with the reflection of the mountains dancing on the water.

Denali National Park


If you go on an Alaskan cruise ending in Seward, take a few extra days and make the drive to Denali. If you see her, she will not disappoint. I did not know that “she/Denali” only makes an appearance for about thirty percent of travelers. From afar, she is majestic, and from within, she is full of majesty. We choose the eight-hour bus trip into the park with four kids. No one complained, and no one fell asleep. We found brown bears, bald eagles, reindeer, and countless other wildlife.

Haleakala National Park


At over ten thousand feet above sea level, Mount Haleakala offers a peek into the heavens. We traveled there in the summer of 2019 with our four children to celebrate my husband’s fiftieth birthday. We watched the sunset from above the clouds and admired God’s handiwork in the colors of the sky. For many reasons, it was a night I will never forget.

Now, if I haven’t scared you off and you feel inspired to visit a National Park trip, here are some travel tips:

1. Plan Ahead

Like really ahead, as in three hundred sixty-five days ahead. The more popular parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon have limited lodging within or near the parks. You must make a reservation well in advance, or you will find yourself spending too much time driving to and from the parks each day. Some parks limit the number of visitors per day. Restaurant reservations must also be made well in advance. Understand the rules at your park before you travel; the rules vary from one park to another.

2. Set Reasonable Expectations

Each park is unique. Some parks can be fully viewed in a day, and some parks can never be fully viewed. Study your park, pick your must-dos. Plan an itinerary that works for your party. If you are traveling with small children or someone with special needs, make sure your daily plans allow plenty of time, downtime, break time, snack time, potty breaks, etc.

3. Take Photos

While photos never fully do the experience justice, take them anyway. Be in the photos! Whether or not you love yourself in photos, be present. Your children will want to have photos with their parents, and they will not scrutinize your hair or your outfit. Shortly after the photo of Brett and I was taken on Mount Haleakala, he suffered a massive heart attack and had emergency open-heart surgery in Maui. Fortunately, he made a full recovery, and we will have opportunities for more photos. We could have experienced a different outcome.

4. Take Advantage of these National Treasures

Just go. During the world pandemic, I longed to travel. A group of friends arranged an adult spring break trip to National Parks in three states. This trip of wander and wonder filled my cup and restored my soul. I encourage you to follow our lead and do the same.

In the words of George B. Hartzog, Jr., “The national park idea has been nurtured by each succeeding generation of Americans. Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.”

If you visit one (or more) of the parks and open your heart and mind to the wisdom it has to share with you, you will leave a different person. How you are different, well, that depends on you.



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