Our annual fall essay contest invites nonfiction submissions of up to 1,500 words in the form of autobiographical essay, reportage, profile, memoir, or narrative nonfiction. We seek essays that express a moment of significance — personal transformation, awakening, adventure, exploration, reward, accomplishment, revelation — that is inspired by or set within a park space or public land. Essays need not be about a U.S. national park—national forests, municipal and state parks, BLM lands, beaches, lakeshores, campgrounds, designated woodlands—and more—are great subjects. Also note that the writer does not need to be the subject of the essay. First, second and third place entries will be published on Parks and Points, as will the names of finalists. All entries are considered for publication.
Contests, Amy Beth Wright
Why You Absolutely Need to Camp in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland
The greatest, best, and most beautiful place I've ever car camped was on top of a cliff in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Here's what you need to know.
Spotlights, Robbie DeGraff
In Pursuit of Bugling Elk at Rocky Mountain National Park
In many parts of the country, the first signs of fall come with cooler temperatures and changing leaves. But for some areas, fall also brings the rut—a time when elk bulls fight to keep their bloodline alive.
Essays, Courtney Johnson
National Parks in Hawaii, Part 1
For our first installment focusing on National Park Service units in Hawaii, we’ll be exploring the islands of O’ahu, Maui, and Moloka’i.
Spotlights, Parks and Points
The Race to National Park 61
With the arrival of National Park #60, Gateway Arch National Park, we’re taking a look at the contenders for #61! Here’s a brief rundown on how they stack up. We’re giving you a bit of each park's story, and a score as to their chances, on a scale of John Muir beards!
News, Derek Wright
Adventure in the 'Valley of Hearts Delight': Silicon Valley for the Outdoor Enthusiast
Before its association with cutting edge technological innovation, the Santa Clara Valley was known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” due to its abundance of wheat and produce, particularly pears, apricots, French plums (prunes), tomatoes, flowers, and grapes. The region is both agriculturally robust and scenic, home to a wealth of state parks that protect ancient old growth redwoods, and municipal parks with steep, rocky chaparral and riparian corridors. San Jose is an hour from Pinnacles National Park and Monterey, and 45 minutes from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge, where millions of migrating birds pass through annually along the Pacific Flyway, is one half hour north. East San Jose overlooks the foothills of the Diablo Range and is home to the first municipal park in the state of California, Alum Rock Park. At Big Basin State Park, find the largest continuous stand of ancient coastal redwoods south of San Francisco.
Spotlights, Amy Beth Wright
Discovering Night Sky Programs at U.S. National Parks
The International Dark-Sky Association was created in 1988 to help minimize light pollution and to protect the night skies. There are 103 Dark-Sky sites worldwide, including Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Staunton River State Park in Virginia, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Texas. The two entities often work alongside each other to preserve what natural night sky still exists. For example, Bob Meadows, a physical scientist and night skies specialist in the NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division took his expertise and equipment to Goblin Valley State Park to help with the park's Dark-Sky designation—at Goblin Valley, one is under one of the darkest skies in the world.
Tips and Tricks, Courtney Johnson
Know This Place
Travel with Lauren Smith as she finds a sense of home on the road, much like the migrating birds she studies. "The month after I moved to Montana I went to an environmental conference in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. There, I heard a Blackfeet elder say this: “We are bound by breath to honor and take care of this place.” The elder was speaking about conservation, and how it is important to care for all parts of an ecosystem—the watershed, the soil, the plants, the animals. To care, the elder said, you need to settle in a place and let it settle in you. Once this happens, you are bound by breath to honor and care for that place."
Essays, Lauren Smith
America the Beautiful Passes
Though many of the parks units have little to no entry fee, roughly one-third do charge an entry fee. Some can be a bit hefty; Grand Canyon and Yosemite run $35 per car. The best deal going is the America the Beautiful Pass, as for $80 you purchase one year of unlimited entry into national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tips and Tricks, Derek Wright
Parks & Points & Poetry 2018
We are delighted to host our second annual poetry series, in honor of National Poetry Month. Poetry presents an extraordinary lens through which to explore public lands, the outdoors, and our instincts for adventure and self-reflection.
Contests, Writing, Parks and Points
Sledding on Sand and Stargazing: Visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park
When you approach the tallest sand dunes in North America at Great Sand Dunes National Park, you almost feel like you are on the set of Star Wars. From a distance, they appear much smaller than they are—the tallest point on the dunes is approximately 13,604 feet (4,146m) above sea level. When we got our closeup look from the visitor center in July, my four-year-old daughter Emma's mouth dropped open.
Spotlights, Courtney Johnson
A Coastal Gem: Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park, comprised of five islands along the southern California coast, is only accessible by boat (a sixty-minute journey from the Ventura marina) or by helicopter. In 2015, the park logged 324,816 recreation visits, compared with more than four million visits each to parks like Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Yosemite National Parks. Like the Galapagos Islands, the seclusion and protection in the Channel Islands allows for species that exist in no other part of the world to thrive and become interdependent. Magnificent kelp forests shelter more than 1,000 species of animals and plants. Rocky reefs are prolific for eelgrass beds, and shelter small invertebrates, fish, and sharks. The park provides nesting and breeding grounds for 99% of California’s shorebirds and seabirds, and half of the world's population of ashy storm petrels and western gulls.
Spotlights, Parks & Points
Discover Where the National Parks and the Arts Intersect
The National Park Service, we know, protects and preserves important historical landmarks and expansive, undeveloped natural landscapes. However, many NPS units also have ties to the creative arts, and are dedicated to honoring and preserving an artistic legacy. We've taken a closer look at parks that focus upon artists, writers, and important creative and cultural pursuits that uniquely reflect and reexamine American culture.
Essays, Derek Wright
A Primer for Planning Your Adventure to Glacier National Park
There's plenty to say about Glacier National Park, one of the most popular and scenic national parks — it is defined by glacial lakes, alpine valleys, vast green meadows and striking mountain tableaus. It is an idyll, with landscapes that might more often be found in a storybook. The vast park stretches over one million acres of northern Montana, and is home to multiple habitats and potential experiences for visitors. Based on our experiences with Glacier National Park thus far, we’ve synthesized our ideas, thoughts and suggestions to get you started in planning a Glacier adventure. Consider it a primer, as there is an abundance of information out there.
Spotlights, Parks & Points
A Case for Bears Ears
With five national parks and over forty state parks to visit in Utah, the Cedar Mesa region in the southeast part of the state—where President Obama designated Bears Ears monument—has been most renowned for being a point of controversy. I journeyed to Bears Ears to better acquaint myself with the landscape as an outdoor enthusiast, and to better understand why so many people have fought so hard to protect it, for so many decades. I also wanted to be able to make a case for this particular body of land that is based on my own experience.
Essays, Courtney Johnson
Spotlight: Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel, Florida
My family and I are standing at the top of Ding Darling’s wooden observation tower admiring the refuge’s long stretch of water, undisturbed landscape, colorful birds and all-around beauty when we hear a jarring and unmistakable sound.
CRUNCH! We look out to the water. “What is it,” my daughter asks. Near the shore, an eight-foot American alligator devours a Frisbee-sized horseshoe crab. The gator’s jaws are deceptively closed, but after a few minutes its mouth opens, and the doomed crab flops inside the gator’s mouth.
Spotlights, Chris Umpierre with additional reporting by Amy Beth Wright
Our weeklong tour covers 1,000 miles of stunning landscapes -- desert canyons, ancient ruins, and petrified forests. You can pick up the tour in the middle if not traveling through Phoenix. You also might choose to stay on longer than we have indicated in a few places, or to adjoin this with our tour of southern Arizona. For both tours, we advise making a daily habit of packing plenty of water and checking your fuel, as at times the next gas station is 50-100 miles away. The optimal time for a visit to northern Arizona, weather-wise, is between May and October.
Spotlight, Parks & Points
Our Guide to Washington, D.C., Part I
Part I of our D.C. guide is focused on National Park Service units in the Washington D.C. jurisdiction area; a few sites in Virginia and Maryland are included. You can visit these sites without a car, either by walking, using public transportation, or taking a quick taxi ride. The parks are in alphabetical order, which the NPS categorizes by the first letter of the park. At the end, we’ll share a great tip to make sure you find all the stamps for your Eastern National Parks Passport. You can also continue to Part II of the guide here.