I had a pretty unique childhood. Dad had a more than 30-year career with the National Park Service. His final assignment, before retiring, was at the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. I was able to live in the park for 11 years before heading off to college.
Our family vacations often included visits to other national parks. Dad, being a historian, always made sure we had a good grasp of how important the park we were going to visit was, prior to our visit. He provided background information on the park and did a few other things that made our visits special.
Here are some of the things Dad did to make sure we made the most of our national park visits:
Before Your National Park Visit
Select a national park (or two) that appeals to your family. If you are having a hard time deciding which park to visit, find a park that fits your interest area. Do you want to see spectacular landscapes or visit a place with great hiking and camping? Do you want to see areas of great historical significance, or all of the above? Keep in mind that it takes an Act of Congress for an area to be declared a national park, so all of the parks have been deemed special places that must be protected for future generations. Finding out what makes the park unique before you visit will make your visit more meaningful. Online searches and books can provide more information on the park.
During Your National Park Visit
Once you arrive at the park, there are a few more things you can do to help make your visit special.
Go to the visitor center. The visitor center displays provide a wealth of information about the park. Some parks have more than one visitor center. If you’re short on time, go to the visitor center that is in the area of the park you would like to visit. Once at the visitor center, pick up a park brochure. The park brochure is a wonderful souvenir and offers all sorts of information specific to the park.
To help the park save money, only take one brochure per family. If you decide not to keep the brochure, please return it to the visitor center so that they can reuse it.
Make time to visit the gift shop. People who are well versed in the park history (and the local area) tend to order the items to sell in the gift shop. Having an “insider” order the gift shop items means that the gift shop often sells hard-to-find, park-related items that serve as great reminders of your visit to the park. Don’t rush through your visit. People who rush through their visits often miss things that would have made their visit extra special. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to thoroughly appreciate all the park has to offer. You can usually find out about how long it should take to visit a park by visiting the park’s website and reading through the ‘frequently asked questions’ section.
People who rushed through their Pu’uhonua o Honaunau park visit often missed petroglyphs, carved into black lava rocks, which were hundreds of years old. The petroglyphs are easy to miss because they are not easy to see when the sun is shining overhead and they are off the beaten path.
If you arrive at the national park and you have a limited amount of time, ask a park ranger or volunteer at the visitor center what you should see during your visit. These folks spend a lot of time at the park and if you let them know what types of things you’re interested in seeing (for example, historical areas, wildlife, plant life, etc.) they can direct you to the areas of the park that you are most likely to enjoy.
Following these simple tips will help make your national park visit even more special and much more memorable.