Reader Participation Day: What Destinations Compete With National Parks?

When your family sits down to choose a vacation destination, what possibilities arise to compete with a national park vacation?

We hear constantly that visitation to the National Park System is flat, that Americans are heading to theme parks and on cruises rather than choosing to visit a national park. Is that the case in your household?

If it is, what destinations compete with national parks when you're debating where to head for some R&R? And, perhaps just as importantly, what pushes you to head someplace other than a national park?


Great question. My family does all three each year: a theme park trip, a trip to the Jersey Shore, and a National Park trip. If the draw of all three could be summed up into a National Park trip, we could skip the other two. So what's missing? The Disney touch. We love going to Disney World because of the touch. They are simply excellent in all they do. And when they are not, they are usually excellent in making it right. Many corporations worldwide attempt to model the Disney experience but few succeed. The feature most attractive to my family over the years is the Disney magic. Small moments that create lifelong memories. Like when Snow White helped my autistic son stop crying. Can a Ranger do that while helping cast the spell of all that is truly magical about our Parks into the hearts and minds of families? I know that Disney is doing their own ventures into the Parks and while that is nice, I won't ever do one. I don't want the Parks to be Disney-fied. I want vicariously live my boyhood dream of being a Park Ranger lived out in the most magical, romantic, Daniel Boone way that I always imagined through the eyes, words, and actions of the real, live NPS Rangers. I was fortunate to have such an experience this year at Manassas with Ranger Wolf.

We take a trip to a National Park for a week of heavy hiking each and every year. This is a trip we make without the kids - this is our adult's only trip and is always scheduled for after school starts in the fall. We also do a family ski trip every winter and a family summer trip to visit my father-in-law who lives by the beach in Flordia. So, each week long trip we make per year is activity specific - hiking, skiing, family visit/beach.

About the only other places we visit are somewhere with a nice beach-ocean, Destin, Sarasota, Ft. Myers beach, Sanibel and Captiva etc.

I second your comment! We tend to visit a national park (or two!) in the summer when we can take a longer trip and spend a little more time. Then we like to visit Disney every couple of years to get our fix there as well. As exhausting as Disney can be, it can also be very relaxing. When we visit the national parks we love to hike and bike and that can be tiring and wear on the kids. We want them to love the national parks and their memories of them, and overdoing it might hamper that!

should add that the kids are still young, 5,8 and 10 and have been to Shenandoah, Arches, Canyonlands and Acadia in the last two years. Next summer will bring Mt. Ranier and Olympic Mat'l parks in a loinner trip including time in Idaho as well.

State parks, obviously. California has a great state parks system (for now, at least). Anza Borrego is amazing.

I was just in Shenandoah NP last week, and I noticed how much less crowded it was than I expected. So, for some of us, this "flat" attendance makes it a great time for the rest of us!

The ONLY non-National Park vacation I ever take is to the Siesta Key condo in Florida. Otherwise, nothing in the U.S.can compete. Worked at Disney - hate the place and all the faux-entertainment parks. It's all illusion and deception - from fake rocks to the fake-smiling-have-a-great-day attitude. National Parks and God's beautiful country will always be the winner in our minds, whether it's driving the Natchez Trace or climbing Angel's Landing in Zion .... boating on Lake Powell or exploring old forts.

Growing up my dad always wanted the National Park trips and sometimes won, but as we grew up and only I of the three daughters continued to be a National Park fan, my mom started to win out more and more on vacation. We ended up going to the same place every year: La Quinta Resort in the Palm Springs area for R&R. Sometimes my dad and I would slip away to Joshua Tree or Anza Borrego during these vacations.

As an adult in charge of my own vacation destinany now: it's all about parks. Not just national parks, but state parks and national forests too-- which I suppose would be the main competition in my case. I want my kids to experience the natural wilderness and joke that IF I were to have a Hawaii honeymoon it would be exploring old lava tubes at Volcano National Park and not on a beach somewhere. Vacation for me is about exploration and experience, not lounging around. And no theme park can offer that.

Our family loves the National Parks, and prefer that to any other vacation. We do an occasional trip to the beach, a state park, and if we do a theme park - it's for one day. Why would I want to stand in line, usually in the hot sun with tons of people to ride something that makes me feel sick. I would rather enjoy a hike, gaze at a waterfall or watch wildlife with my family. We are not nature freaks, but find that getting out in the parks makes us appreciate this beautiful world even more. It is relaxing to watch the sunset over the mountains, even though it may have been exhausting to get to the summit. All families are different, but for our family it's National Parks all the way.

Side note: my oldest daughter just started teaching 3rd grade in a rural Mississippi school. Her theme is climbing mountains, and her classroom has a guide and a park ranger as helpers. Most of the kids she teaches have never (probably will never) visit a National Park, but if she can instill the awe and wonder of learning through the parks then I will be so proud!!

I prefer remote locations in national forests that offer wonderful outdoor experiences without the crowds, the presence of so many agency employees, and the $25 (I think) entrance fee that some national parks exact.

I think the people who argue that the parks are loved to death have a point.

Regarding employees, I was struck by how many park service trucks I saw being driven around at the very remote Big Basin National Park a couple of years ago. What are the staff all doing? I wondered.

Not the case in our household. I hate theme parks and cruises because they are too crowded. For the same reason, I am glad that park visitation is flat. I wish it would drop. Parks are often too crowded to suit me, Yosemite Valley has become torturous instead of pleasant.

Out of curiosity, if one went to Yosemite Valley on a Wednesday in February, would it be crowded even then? What about a rainy or sleety February or March Wednesday? If I were to go, I think I'd want to go at a time like that.

No. It isn't 'crowded' on a rainy, sleety weekday in February. But then many of the trails are impassable and the waterfalls aren't flowing. Going there in the summer is not just not enjoyable, but positively miserable. The horribly crowded shuttle buses, the tour buses belching diesel, the traffic jams, the freeway-like hike up to Vernal and Nevada Falls. I just don't go anymore. I also think the South Rim of the Grand Canyon suffers from too many visitors. They park, look at the canyon for 15 minutes (so I was told by a ranger) and leave. So no I don't regret that people who are so mildly interested in one of the greatest natural features on earth only spend 15 minutes there. Those people should go to Disney land or take a cruise. Leave the parks for those that truly love the parks and want to enjoy them free of the hordes.

National forests that allow mountain biking get my vote. I'll start visiting national parks when I'm too old to ride and ready to put up with the slow pace of hiking.

We plan a National Park trip every year, that includes the whole family, and sometimes friends. We hike, tour and visit the lodges. We hike with the kids, up to 35 miles in a week. Over the years they have gradually increased their hiking ability, and at 14 & 17 can now go up to 11 miles/ day, and can out-hike us.

We also enjoy an occasional Disneyland trip, visit the beach, and go visit family.

We usually spent a little time in NPs to sightsee. Went to Western Colorado this week riding ATVs on BLM land. We stopped in at Black Canyon and drove thru Colorado Monumentonly because we had to get to a wilderness area TH for a planned hike. I try to plan NP visits when there are less crowds in the off seasons.