What is the best way to eat an elephant? The same way you approach America’s national parks: one step at a time.
It all started in 2009 for the Goldstein family of Charlotte, North Carolina, with a trip to Yosemite.
“It was just stunning… overwhelming,” dad said. Bill remembered. “‘Yeah, I want to see more of that,’ I said.”
Many people have fantasised about visiting every national park, but the Goldsteins made it a reality before their two children, Luke and Winston, turned 18.
“At first, I thought the whole thing was a little out there,” said Luke, who was 11 at the time the family began. There were only 59 national parks back then, compared to today’s 63, but it was still intimidating, as their family describes in their new book and website, “59 Before 18.”
Here’s how they visited every national park in the United States, and how others can do the same:
Can you visit all of the national parks?
Yes, but it takes time and money to do so. It took the Goldsteins six years to complete.
“We would try to see another park during their school breaks,” Bill explained. “The whole goal was to pull it off without going broke and, of course, without upsetting our family.”
“Spent a lot of time with these three people, maybe a little too much time,” Luke joked as he looked at his brother and parents. “However, it caused us to strengthen our bonds and become a very close family.”
Bill credits his wife, Alisa, with meticulous budgeting and cost-cutting, particularly in the areas of lodging and meals. Winston, who was 10 at the time, recalls his friends having a good time during summer vacations.
“I was out there eating granola bars, ham, and bread out of a cooler in our trunk that had served as our refrigerator for weeks,” the now 23-year-old recalled. He also complained about driving his mom’s old car to school, which was covered in national park bumper stickers. “I would always arrive early and park in a location where no one would see me leave that car. It took me a while to realise that thing was cool.”
“You know, we went to the Virgin Islands (National Park) instead of having a nice car,” Bill added.
“We made some sacrifices,” Alisa chuckled.
What should I do to begin visiting national parks?
“I would recommend parks closest to your area first,” Alisa advised, encouraging visitors to venture further afield as they gain confidence.
If you have the time, you can visit several parks in one trip. The Goldsteins, whom Bill compared to “modern-day Griswalds,” took a road trip to 11 parks the summer following their first visit to Yosemite.
“It doesn’t have to be with your family,” Winston pointed out. “It could be just a couple of close friends.”
What you need to know about national parks
You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment.
The National Park Service has compiled a list of ten must-have items, including sun protection, first aid, and water.
“The most dangerous thing I’ve experienced on our hikes was probably dehydration,” Luke said, recalling a time when they ran out of water miles before the end of a hike in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. “It took a lot of praying, faith, and patience to get back. We eventually arrived and soaked ourselves in ice-cold water.”
Water and good hiking boots are his top two priorities, “because your feet are important when you’re on these hikes, too.”
What are some pointers to keep in mind when visiting national parks?
Alisa may have been the family planner, but she understands the value of being able to respond in real time. She became entangled in an undertow while swimming in the American Samoa National Park.
“I noticed the reef moving quickly beneath me. I was in a panic out there, and I couldn’t get back “She stated. Fortunately, her family and the locals came to her aid. “You never know what kind of situation you might find yourself in… so be aware and prepared.”
Bill also advises visitors to be adaptable when things do not go as planned. “It’ll never be perfect,” he admitted.
You may not make it up a mountain before it becomes too dark to safely return down, or you may arrive only to discover that your camera has become clogged with a banana you had in your bag. Both of these things happened to him, at Haleakal and Arches. He admits to losing his cool, but he’s also laughed and grown.
Winston encourages everyone to enjoy the journey. “Make yourself happy,” he advised. “Just take a deep breath and thank the Lord that you’re here today when you’re out seeing this majestic beauty.”
“And if you do go to these parks, please leave no trace behind,” he added.