The lowdown on national parks, from a guy who’s on his way to visiting every single one of them

Because who doesn't want to cross all 419 national park sites off their bucket list?

When it comes to iconic bucket-list items and road trip stops, national parks and monuments are often at the top of the list. They make up America’s most unforgettable landscapes and important historical and natural sites, so it’s with good reason that they hold such a revered place in American culture.

Most people probably have one or two at the top of their list—but what’s it like to visit every single one? And not just the greatest hits, either; we’re talking deep tracks, too. That totals out to 419 units in the National Parks System.

Mikah Meyer has been on a marathon road trip, driving almost non-stop on a mission to visit all 419 NPS sites. Since this legendary trip makes Meyer something of an expert, we asked for his advice on crossing some parks and monuments off your bucket list.

What inspired the trip? Why national parks?

“Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed” is a lesson I learned at age 19 when my father passed away from cancer nearly a decade before retirement age. Since then, I’ve done one road trip every year to honor his life, and wanted to do something at age 30 that helped my peers realize they might not survive long enough to complete all their life goals. So I decided to complete one of mine, and visit all the National Park Service sites. But not just the 61 that most people think of—all 419 of them.

What was the one park you were most excited to visit?

The Grand Canyon. It’s the first national park I ever camped in, many years ago, but it’s such a massive place that even after a five-day trip, I’d gotten only a small taste. So my number one goal for this project was to raft the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds in my budget to pull it off, but Grand Canyon Whitewater heard about my mission to spread this carpe-diem message, and helped me fulfill it.

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Chillin' in Havasu Creek

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What park surprised you the most?

Dinosaur National Monument. I’d only planned one day to explore its hikes. That day made me realize this site had so much more to offer than its Monument designation might suggest. So, four months later, I drove 10 hours out of my way to get more time there. As this video shows, it’s a magical place, whether or not a wild Canadian goose follows your rafting group…

Which park was the most challenging to visit?

Aniakchak National Monument, and I won’t reach it until this summer. It’s in the Aleutian Range of southwest Alaska and requires a multiple-thousand-dollar flight that only departs from its small-town launch point—if there’s a day with safe enough weather. It’s the least-visited park in the entire National Park System, with only around 100 visitors per year. ”No Lines! No Waiting,” says their official website.

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A @blueridgenps sunset.

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What are your top tips for visiting national parks?

Think about what type of social person you are before you visit.

Do you like to be alone and have hours to hike in solitude? Then go by yourself (also, don’t go to a popular park or trail, because you’ll more likely have hours of kids screaming and iPads in your view).

Are you an extrovert? Then bring along some friends for that eight-hour hike.

Knowing yourself will increase your joy tenfold at a national park.

Where are you right now? Where are you headed next?

Last night I finished site number 317 of my journey, Kings Canyon National Park. Next, I’ll drive west from Fresno, California to reach Pinnacles National Park and begin the countdown of my final 100 sites!

What route are you taking? What are some awesome stops you’ve made along the way?

The self-converted cargo van I call home, “Vanny McVanface,” doesn’t have heating or air-conditioning when it’s not running. So to sleep comfortably between 30 and 70 degrees at night, I have to chase that temperate weather. That means summers up north, winters down south, and a few friends, family, and hotels along the way to keep from freezing my butt off! You can see my game plan by season, and an interactive map of all the sites, at mikahmeyer.com/map

Awesome stops have included a vast number of national parks I’d never heard about before this journey. Getting to “discover” and share these hidden, unknown gems has been one of the thrills of this unorthodox project.

For the finale, since I started this project at the Washington Monument, I hope to end just across the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial, standing at the top of those steps and not just looking back at where I began, but the thousands of miles between.

Any advice for anyone looking to tackle a national park trip?

Don’t do what I did!

In all seriousness, this is a dream project of mine, and of many. But what I didn’t realize at the beginning was that by visiting sites day after day, and having my job be sharing those parks, it would mean I’d spend any given day sharing about yesterday’s park, experiencing today’s park, and planning for tomorrow’s park, usually to the detriment of enjoying the present.

So for anyone planning to do an epic, multi-park trip, make sure to either schedule in a lot of down-days (even if just to give your legs a rest or do laundry), or meticulously plan everything in advance, so you can just focus on enjoying the time you’re in these special places.

Follow Mikah on his journey on Facebook and Instagram, and sign-up for the email list at mikahmeyer.com to get updates and blogs on all 419 sites.

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