Of all the things to do when a new owner finally gets their Airstream, the most popular item has to be “visiting the national parks.” And why not? We’ve been hearing all our lives about the spectacular parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Glacier, Smokey Mountains and Grand Canyon. With an Airstream at your side you can visit hundreds of them in the most convenient and cost-effective way possible.
With my family I have visited well over 140 national parks (with stamps in our National Parks “Passport” to prove it!) and my daughter has obtained about 70 Junior Ranger badges. It has been one of the greatest highlights of our life, and we have the pleasure of knowing that many more parks with RV camping are still waiting for us. There is no way we would ever have seen so many amazing treasures of America without our Airstream.
The National Parks are an American invention and one of our greatest national resources: places where nature, history, geology, art, culture, wildlife and much more are protected and preserved forever.
Over 400 parks exist at present (the number continues to rise as new parks are designated by Congress or the President periodically). Most people don’t know that the National Park system includes National Monuments, Battlefields, Historic Sites, Seashores, Trails, Historic Parks, Memorials and other designations. They’re all “national parks” even if they aren’t called National Park in their official name, and for the past century nearly all of them have been administered by the National Park Service (NPS).
(National Forests are an exception; they’re administered by the US Forest Service. Also, a few National Monuments such as Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Bend, Oregon are administered by the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.)
Most national parks are in the continental United States, but if you care to explore abroad you’ll find them in Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands too.
Of course the ones accessible by road are the ones best explored by Airstream. The larger parks usually have one to three campgrounds, at least one of which is suitable for motorhomes and travel trailers. It’s best to know what the camping options are before you go, and the best way to research that is the official National Parks website .
Being in the national park, rather than camping outside park boundaries and commuting in, brings tremendous benefits. True, you will often have to forgo hookups at your campsite, but the tradeoff can well worth it. National park camping means a generally more natural and quieter environment than a commercial campground, lower prices, and easy access to the best features of the park. Wildlife is close by (mostly birds and small mammals, but occasionally even bears, moose, and elk) with the commensurate photo opportunities. Often you can go hiking or sightseeing right from your front door.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the national park is that they capture the diversity of America. You can visit volcanoes, glaciers, white sand beaches, dinosaur fossils, giant trees, vast deserts, rain forests, caves, and many other things including some you may not have believed exist in this country.
Traveling full-time, it would take a decade or more to see every park site, and at least a year just to cover the major ones. That’s why they are a great ongoing adventure for Airstreamers who want to explore the natural, cultural, and historic world. If you have an Airstream and you don’t visit at least a few of the wonders of our park system, you are missing a fantastic opportunity.
With this article we are going to start an occasional series on America’s National Parks in Outside Interests, including tips on finding camping sites, planning your trips, best picks by season, special programs you’ll want to consider, and specific destinations. We’ll answer your questions, so feel free to write us with anything you’d like to learn about visiting the parks as well.
-By Rich Luhr