When it comes to sightseeing in the United States, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. America is so large and varied in culture and cuisine that it would be easy to spend an entire lifetime there and never run out of things to see. No wonder so many Americans have never bothered to get a passport!
Places like New York and L.A. are all fine and dandy, but what if you want to see what the rest of the country has to offer? How do you choose where to begin?
Why not start with America's national parks and national monuments? Many are iconic sights that you're probably already familiar with, and if you're into world heritage sites, more than 10 of them have been designated as UNESCO sites.
Think about the Statue of Liberty, Gettysburg and the Grand Canyon. They're all different, right? So whether you’re a city slicker, a history buff or a nature lover, America has parks that you'll enjoy.
Bonus: Most parks are free, some have campgrounds or historic hotels, going off-the-beaten-path is encouraged, and they offer a lot to see and do.
Did you know there's a US National Parks passport book?
But don't worry, it's not required for entry.
We had a lot of fun visiting various national parks with our kids, especially after we bought a Passport® to Your National Parks. It’s a cute, affordable, spiral-bound, pocket-size booklet, with a place to track every national park you've been to.
It's probably the best $10 you can spend in a national park.
While the sticker book was a cheap souvenir of our visits to parks around the country, we found that it's actually a great resource. The Passport contains maps that indicate all the national park locations, broken down and color-coded by region of the country.
ⓘ TIP: Keep your Passports handy by storing them in your car's glove box. You don't want to forget them at home!
Use it to find a nearby national park to visit
We've always enjoyed driving, and wherever we went, we’d check the Passport to see if any parks were along our route. At first glance, that might seem crazy and meaningless, but it's turned out to be a great way to find cool sites that might be otherwise overlooked.
For instance, we only found out about Jean Lafitte National Park when we checked the passport while driving through Louisiana. Turns out it's only a few minutes outside of New Orleans, and none of our travel guide books had mentioned it. Simply by stopping there for an hour, our family saw a new historical site and our kids learned about the War of 1812 in an interesting and fun way.
We even used the book to plan our entire Las Vegas itinerary. All it took was using the map to see where the nearby parks were.
ⓘ TIP: I should mention at this point that the passport does not include all of America's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, only those that are in America's National Parks system. (Hmm…Maybe UNESCO should create its own special passport for that!)
Get a stamp at every park
Some travelers like to collect passport stamps from each country they visit. If you live in the U.S. and don't have the time, money, or desire to go overseas, it can be just as much fun to collect national park stickers.
Collecting park stamps has become so popular that now there's even a club for people who collect them.
The stamps look similar to postal cancellations or immigration stamps. They record the name of the park and the date of your visit, just like you'll see in a regular passport.
How to get a national park cancellation stamp
These cancellations are free of charge, too. All you need to do is pop into the gift shop at the park’s visitor center. Find the stamp and ink pad (usually near the checkout counter), then stamp your Passport yourself.
Stamps are also available at national monuments and national conservation areas.
Add stickers for more color and interest
Kids enjoy stickers, don't they? Meh, who are we kidding, we like them too! Passports have room for both stamps and stickers.
Each year, the National Park Service releases an annual commemorative stamp set. It includes nine regional stamps and one national stamp on one sheet, each with a beautiful photo. At only $3.95 per set, it's a great deal.
Just a note here … the commemorative stamp set is a set of postal service-style, lick-and-stick stamps. I call them stickers in this article to differentiate them from the national park cancellation stamps that require an ink pad.
ⓘ TIP: The Passport has only 104 pages, so you'll need to be selective about your stickers. Or, buy a second book.
Enjoy the memories
Memories are the best souvenirs, but it has been great fun to look through the book over the years. We reminisce about our trips, who we went with, and when we’d been where.
Knowing that our kids would fight about who gets to stamp the passport and argue about which sticker set to buy, we bought passports for everyone in the family.
Along with our travel photos, it has become a wonderful, inexpensive souvenir of our trips as a family. Better yet, this is one souvenir that doesn't collect dust in a drawer!
So what about you? Chime in below—How many of America's National Parks have you been to?
Learn more about the National Parks passport program
To purchase a passport book online, visit www.eparks.com/store/. Passports are also available at most National Park visitor centers.
ⓘ TIP: For NPS' complete list of all stamp cancellation locations, click here.
- Packing Essentials for America’s National Parks
- 10 UNESCO Heritage Sites in America You Need To Visit