UPDATE: As of 2017, there are now 417 National Park Service Sites in the US
As many of you might know I’m in the middle of a project to photograph all 59 national parks in the United States. I’m about 75% through with the project and I should be able to finish it sometime in 2017. (I’m also attempting to visit all the national parks in Canada, which is a whole other thing…)
Today I am announcing a new project, to go above and beyond just visiting America’s 59 national parks.
While the national parks are usually considered the highlights of the national park service, the system is much larger than just the 59 places with a “national park” designation. There are national monuments, memorials, battlefields, seashores, lakeshores, preserves, trails, and historic sites.
With the recent addition of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, there are now 413 sites in the United States National Park System.
….and I’m going to visit and photograph all 413 of them!
This isn’t anything new for me. I have been visiting National Park Service sites as far back as the late 90’s when I had to travel for work. I’d bring my National Park Passport with me and visit sites all over the US. Based on my most recent count, which was a while ago, I’ve been to over 150 sites already.
Here are the constraints I’m putting on myself for the purpose of the project. They are similar to what I’ve done for my national parks and UNESCO World Heritage Site projects:
- Any sites I visited before 2007, will be revisited. This is actually a rather hefty number as over 100 of the NPS sites I’ve been to were before I started traveling full time. Thankfully, many of them are in a dense area around Washington DC and New York City.
- I will take at least one representative photo at each site. Some sites, like the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, are really small. Some, like on the Mall in Washington DC, are just statues. Nonetheless, I should be able to get at least one decent photo from each place I visit.
- Each visit is to be a meaningful visit. This is very vague I realize. My intent is that the goal isn’t just to take a photo or get a passport stamp. I’ll try to have an experience like what a normal visitor might have, which includes going to the visitor center (if there is one), watching a film, talking to a ranger, and exploring the site. The sites are all very different from each other, so what might constitute a meaningful visit in Northern Alaska will be very different for an urban park in Washington DC.
- I will walk at least one mile out and back on each national trail. I am aware that this is only a tiny fraction of the size of most trails, but I’m not trying to hike every inch of every trail in the US. That would be over a year of walking. For most trails, I’m assuming I park my car at a trailhead, walk out for at least a mile, and then walk back.
- I will not be collecting passport stamps. I always forget to bring my passport. I’ve purchased 3 of them over the years because I visit a place when I didn’t have my passport. I’m just going to forego it entirely and just focus on visiting and taking photos.
This is a big undertaking and it will take me years to complete. That being said, I’m well on my way there already. Even with the rules I’ve placed upon myself, I’ll probably be well over 100 by the time I visit my 59th national park next year.
Much of this will consist of doing regional road trips throughout the US: fly into a city, rent a car, and drive to the NPS sites in a region. I’m sure there will be a few big road trips as well. Unlike full-blown national parks, it is entirely possible to visit multiple sites in a single day as many of them are quite small and close together (again, New York and Washington DC).
I’m revisiting sites I visited in the past simply because of photography. I didn’t have a camera back then and I’d like to be able to share the images of all the places on the website.
I will not be the first person to accomplish this. According to the National Park Travelers Club, there have been 43 people who have visited all 413 National Park Service sites. Fewer than the number of people who have visited every country on Earth. I’m quite sure that by the end of the project several more people will have completed it, and the number of sites will probably be more than 413. (I remember it being in the 390’s back when I started visiting them in the 90’s)
I’ll try to announce trips on social media before I embark on them, so I can do meet-ups in the various cities across the US that I’ll be visiting. For some of the more urban sites, I’ll also be arranging small group trips as well.