A friend of ours asked us this week about one of the park units we had visited and what there was to “do” there. He was asking about Channel Islands National Park. Apart from a really nice boat ride to get there, once you arrive at the islands there isn’t much in the way of activities. It is really up to you to make your own experience come alive. Visit the old lighthouse; go for a walk; sit and listen to the waves and the seabirds; soak up the feeling of being on a deserted island… Thinking about it this way, there is lots to “do”.
Why visit a national park unit?
We recognize that everyone has a different objective when visiting a national park unit, but sometimes we think that folks focus so much on visiting the high points that they miss out on the real experience. A great example is the Grand Canyon. Does the lookout in front of Bright Angel Lodge really give the visitor the full perspective? Or do you need to step away from the crowd and sit quietly to take in the vastness and awesome silence of the canyon?
Sometimes it seems that people rush through places just to say they have been there, without really taking the time to see and experience the place. We have actually met folks who have done all 419 national park units in ONE year. Yes they did it, but did they really take the time to appreciate each one?
There are so many different types of national park units, many with seemingly nothing to “do” – but that might actually be the point!
It reminds us of a few stories. We hear people complain that there is no internet and their kids can’t access their movies or games. But we have seen lots of kids (and adults) having a great time getting their Junior Ranger badges! Sometimes it is good to disconnect from technology.
But it seems that is easier said than done. Picture being in Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana. This is not an easy place to get to. After a stop at the visitor center, there are a few trails where you can walk along and visualize how the tragedy unfolded. On one of the trails a man stopped us, very excited to share something. We were expecting to hear him say something about the park or that he spotted an animal, but instead he declared: “my phone has 5 bars here!!!” Really?
We had the same thing happen to us in Isle Royale National Park. We rented a canoe to go to one of the outer islands where there was a hike to the top of a mountain, known for 360 degree views. When we reached the top there was a couple there, very excited, not because of the view but because their phones had reception! So instead of enjoying our lunch and the view in the silence of nature, we got to hear them talking on their cell phones.
Isn’t there one place where people can get away from their phones and technology?
Things to “do” at national park units..
There are lots of things to do at national parks; it’s just not commercial. You can go to visitor centers and participate in ranger-led activities. We can think of many places where you really can’t get the full experience without the help of a ranger. For example, Russell Cave National Monument. Without the ranger explaining the history, it just looks like any other cave!
But there are also a lot of parks where the whole idea is to get away from it all; sit or walk quietly (without your music or your phone) enjoy nature and reflect. Let the animals make their presence known and let the experience unfold…