Does driving through and stopping at the visitor center count as actually visiting a National Park Unit? Yes, in some cases. There are lots of National Park Units that are just a museum and a film. Well worth the visit, but it wouldn’t be a vacation destination all on its own. For example, Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is inspiring, but it is just one of the many museums and historic sites in greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Smaller Parks, Plan Your Visit
We always try to include visits to the surrounding National Park Units in all our travels. For example, if you are visiting friends in Dayton, Ohio make sure to plan a visit to Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and visit the bicycle shop where the Wright brothers made aviation a reality.
Or if you are planning a trip to New Orleans, be sure to drop by the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park and experience jazz music where it all began. Nowhere else will you see National Park Rangers on stage performing. They provide live jazz performances almost every day at the old US Mint – that’s where the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park can be found. You won’t want to miss it!
HINT: Build visits to National Park Units into all your travel plans.
Larger Parks, Take Your Time
On the other hand, there are many many park units that deserve a longer visit. Simply driving through a huge park like Death Valley National Park really doesn’t do it justice. You really need to get out of the car to really experience it.
You know that it is hot and dry. In fact, Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in North America (282 feet below sea level) but from there you can look up at snow capped Mount Whitney (14,505 feet), the highest summit in the lower 48.
Upon arrival, you would look at Death Valley and only see the desolation. But in actuality, there are over 400 species of animals. When you start exploring some of the trails, you will find an incredible diversity. There are trails through salt flats, sand dunes, canyons, waterfalls and forests. You can even find snow at Wildrose Peak! There is also a ton of history. Be sure to explore the Visitor Center and the Borax Museum. You can even golf below sea level.
Death Valley is a great example of a park that you can’t really see in one hour or one day.
So, should I stay or should I go? Do your research – check out what is there – then stay as long as you can, see as much as you are able to, and plan your return trip!!!