‘Hiking America’s National Parks’ – a Q&A with the author (2023)

From half-mile nature walks on accessible boardwalks to strenuous full-day hikes and backpacking adventures, this new book has information for all skill levels. Or, you can just sit back and enjoy the pictures.

Hiker on precipice of Taft Point, Yosemite National Park. An image from "Hiking America's National Parks," published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

This spring, NPCA and Rizzoli published a new hardcover book — “Hiking America’s National Parks” — with 384 pages of stunning photography and detailed information for people of all hiking abilities. Each of the book’s chosen hikes showcases what is possible: trails that are long, short, hard and easy over terrain as diverse as the continent has to offer.

Hiking America’s National Parks - book cover ‘Hiking America’s National Parks’ – a Q&A with the author (1)

“Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.


Karen Berger, who has hiked thousands of miles of national park trails over the past 30 years and written 20 books, is the author. Jonathan Irish, who documented all of America’s national parks for the 2016 National Park Service Centennial, among his other work on seven continents, was the book’s photographer.

I asked Berger about “Hiking America’s National Parks” and why it’s a must-read (and -view) for park lovers. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Fireweed, with Alaska Range in the background. An image from “Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

Q: What do you love most about our national parks?

A: I love that each park is unique and has its own character, scenic highlights and history. I love that they are relatively inexpensive, which makes them accessible. I love that they aren’t over-developed with amusement parks and gimmicks that distract us from the landscape, which is the star of the show. I love that their core values include conservation and protection for the future.

Hoodoos, Bryce Canyon National Park. An image from “Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

Q: In the book’s introduction, you write that trails allow us to be in touch with the land — “to feel it, hear it, smell it” — and offer an opportunity to walk away from our country’s political extremes and ongoing pandemic. What role did these current events play, if any, in why you chose to publish this book now?

A: The timing did seem perfect because I started thinking about the book during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic. I think Americans discovered their inner outdoorsperson during that time: kids’ sports were canceled, school was canceled, indoor activities were canceled — but the outdoors was not canceled, and it was perceived as safe. So, people who had never walked beyond the pavement found skis and snowshoes and hiking boots and bicycles and headed to our rural areas and forests — and our national parks.

It’s one thing to drive into a national park and take selfies at a viewpoint. It is quite another to don a pair of hiking boots and throw on a backpack and walk away … and gasp at what lies ahead.

Karen Berger, author

I got to see this up close and personal because I live only a couple of miles from the Appalachian Trail — which is itself a national park unit — and the trailheads were packed in a way I’d never seen before. Benton MacKaye, who proposed the idea of the Appalachian Trail about 100 years ago, saw our outdoor spaces as an antidote to industrialization and the increasing pressures of urban lives. His words seem strangely prescient, when he writes, “There would be a chance to catch a breath, to study the dynamic forces of nature and the possibilities of shifting to them the burdens now carried on the backs of men.”

I would say that social media — to which we also turned during the pandemic — has made us increasingly anti-social in some ways, as we hurl emojis and sarcasm and memes and cliches at each other. But when a group of strangers is appreciating the same thing — in this case, nature — I think we focus more on what we have in common than how we are different. And I think we all agree with author and historian Wallace Stegner, who said our national parks are among America’s greatest inventions. I think we need common ground these days, and we have that in the national parks.

Trail through Paradise Valley, Mount Rainier National Park. Image from “Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

Q: You’re an experienced hiker, having logged thousands of miles on national park trails. Do you have a favorite trail — and if so, which one? And for what reasons?

I have a lot of favorite trails, including whatever trail I just happen to be on in the moment. But I hesitate to name a specific one, first, because the true answer is “it depends” (and it is always changing), and second, because I think that we have gotten a bit too hooked on “10 best hikes” bucket lists and the spectacular Instagram shot, and I’d rather give readers a big menu and a lot of description and then have them choose what resonates with them.

I will say that for me personally, my heart lies in big mountains, and I seem to immediately gravitate to the big Western mountain parks; places like Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Rainier, Olympic, North Cascades. But there are many other spectacular environments, and the National Park System has trails through all of them.

Rainbow over Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. An image from “Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

Each hiker has their own reasons for hiking: they love challenge, or solitude, or big mountains, or they hate climbing, or they love lakes and streams, or islands, or long hard hikes, or short easy hikes, or unique environments like dunes or caves or thermal features. When I was writing this book, I wanted to give a sampling of trails that gave a broad canvas of what the system offers to a wide range of visitors. And I wanted to offer trails that would encourage visitors, from hard-core hikers and athletes to families to people in need of accessibility features, to get out and explore.

Hawksbill turtle swimming along the Trunk Bay Underwater Snorkel Trail, Virgin Islands National Park. An image from “Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

Q: In the book, you write that you were first introduced to national parks through icons of national pride, namely the Statute of Liberty and Liberty Bell. Tell us more about that early introduction.

A: I’m an East Coast kid, and where I grew up near New York City, the national park properties that were most accessible were national monuments, or historic sites, or battlefields, or seashores, or recreation areas. The nearest actual national park to me was probably Shenandoah — but that was too far for a family trip. So, we did family trips to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Cape Cod National Seashore, and I went on summer camp outings to the Appalachian Trail, and on school trips to the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell — all of which are managed by the Park Service. Over time, I think I saw the great variety and range available in the Park System.

Q: How did your interests expand to what you call “big-ticket marquee parks”?

I was getting to know myself and develop my own passions, and one of those was a love for mountains. Perhaps that was from a combination of visiting the Appalachian Trail on top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and reading (and ogling pictures of mountains) in too many National Geographic books and magazines. I had a bit of a delay in actually getting myself to big mountains, though, because I went to a university near Chicago, where contour lines on a map are a theoretical concept.

When a group of strangers is appreciating the same thing — in this case, nature — I think we focus more on what we have in common than how we are different.

Karen Berger, author

But a few years after graduation, I had the opportunity to travel to Rocky Mountain National Park for a conference, and that pretty much set my course for me. I honeymooned on the John Muir Trail, and then started ticking off the big Western parks, and even though I still live in the East, my heart keeps hankering for those big Western vistas, and I travel to them every chance I get.

Q: The book includes spectacular, soulful images by photographer Jonathan Irish. Which is your favorite photograph in the book, and why?

A: Asking me which of Jonathan Irish’s amazing pictures is my favorite is even more difficult that asking which is my favorite trail.

Hiking America’s National Parks - Trail Along Max Patch ‘Hiking America’s National Parks’ – a Q&A with the author (2)

Trail along Max Patch, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. An image from “Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

I think what Jonathan did so well was that he showcases the variety of the national parks, not only of landscapes and scenery, but of environments, animals, plants, geologic features like the amazing arches at Arches National Park or the white Sands of White Sands National Park — and he also features some of the human elements of the parks, from historic and archaeological features to people enjoying the parks today on trails, boardwalks, bridges and kayaks.

But I’ll pick one photo that to me captures one of the core ideas of the book. On page 142, in the Great Smoky Mountains chapter, Jonathan has a picture of two Appalachian Trail blazes leading the viewer toward the endlessly undulating mountains. It’s a picture of a national scenic trail (itself a national park) within a national park, and it communicates the idea of infinity by suggesting that if you start following that trail and those blazes into those mountains, you could just keep walking, the landscape changing before you like pages turning in a book you don’t want to put down.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from this work? And must they be hikers to appreciate it?

A: I want readers to take away a sense of the Park System’s grandeur, as well as a sense of how unique each unit of the system is. I want people to know that visiting the national parks is almost an American birthright — albeit one we share with visitors from the rest of the world.

Hiking America’s National Parks - Boca Chita Lighthouse ‘Hiking America’s National Parks’ – a Q&A with the author (3)

Boca Chita Lighthouse, Biscayne National Park. An image from “Hiking America’s National Parks,” published in 2023 by Rizzoli and NPCA.

©Jonathan Irish

But most of all, I want to push people into going farther and taking a deeper look, because the farther you go and the deeper you look, the more you see and experience and feel. It’s one thing to drive into a national park and take selfies at a viewpoint. It is quite another to don a pair of hiking boots and throw on a backpack and walk away from the front country and come face to face with your first buffalo or reach the top of a mountain pass and gasp at what lies ahead.

Even after as little as a half an hour, in many cases, you’ll find yourself away from the crowds, away from chatter, away from the signs of civilization — litter, music, bustle — and immersed in a completely different experience.

But I would say that yes, the book also speaks to those who are at present traveling in the armchair and imagination mode. In his famous 1980 “Wilderness Letter,” Wallace Stegner wrote, “We need wilderness preserved — as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds — because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it.“ I think the same is true of the national parks.

Interested in purchasing “Hiking America’s National Parks”? Learn more

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Which national park to visit first? ›

Yellowstone National Park: As the world's first national park, officially established in 1872, this is an obvious choice.

What is the most beautiful national park? ›

Most Beautiful National Parks in the USA
  • Yellowstone National Park. ...
  • Grand Teton National Park. ...
  • Glacier National Park. ...
  • Grand Canyon National Park. ...
  • Denali National Park. ...
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ...
  • Acadia National Park. ...
  • Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Dec 3, 2020

What are the 2 newest national parks? ›

for fun!
  • New River Gorge National Park - December 27, 2020.
  • White Sands National Park - December 20, 2019.
  • Indiana Dunes National Park - February 15, 2019.
  • Gateway Arch National Park - February 22, 2018.
  • Pinnacles National Park - January 10, 2013.
Feb 12, 2023

Why you should visit a national park? ›

Healthier. A 30-minute visit to a park can improve heart health, circulation and lower cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure. Walking in nature reduces inflammation and boosts your immune system, which decreases the risk of certain diseases and cancers.

What is the number 1 national park in Canada? ›

1. Banff National Park – 4,121,062. Banff National Park is not only considered one of the most beautiful places in Canada. It's widely considered one of the most beautiful places in the world.

What is Canada's most visited national park? ›

Banff is Canada's oldest—and most visited— national park.

What is America's number 1 national park? ›

1. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

What is the most expensive national park? ›

Save even more by visiting the most-expensive parks:

Glacier National Park, Montana. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California.

What is the least popular national park? ›

National Park of American Samoa: The least-visited US national park in 2022 saw just 1,887 visits. Most visitors will need a passport to travel to American Samoa. 2. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska: This vast park contains no roads or trails.

What is the new national park in Canada? ›

At its core is Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve, Canada's newest national park. Here is the place where the barrens and subarctic boreal forest converge on the shore of one of the world's largest freshwater lakes in a stunning display of rugged, northern beauty.

What is the name of Canada's newest national parks? ›

Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve

What is the youngest U.S. national park? ›

The New River in West Virginia may be one of the oldest rivers in the world, but it's also the namesake of America's newest national park: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

Why are national parks important to Canada? ›

Protection and Preservation

The goal of Canada's national parks system, in addition to representing and protecting examples of the country's geographic heritage, is to preserve its natural heritage for future generations by encouraging public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of nature.

What is cool about national parks? ›

There are 879 visitor centers in the National Park System. National parks contain at least 247 species of threatened or endangered plants and animals, more than 75,000 archeological sites, and nearly 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures.

What do national parks protect? ›

Parks and public lands serve an essential role in preserving natural resources and wildlife habitats, protecting clean water and clean air, and providing open space for current and future generations.

What is the smallest national park in Canada? ›

Georgian Bay Islands National Park

What is the least visited national park in Canada? ›

The least visited parks of Canada are too gorgeous to ignore (...
  • Sable Island, Nova Scotia. Visitors: 205. ...
  • Wapusk, Manitoba. Visitors: 83. ...
  • Gwaii Haanas, British Columbia. ...
  • Ivvavik, Yukon. ...
  • Aulavik, Northwest Territories. ...
  • Nááts'ihch'oh, Northwest Territories. ...
  • Nahanni, Northwest Territories. ...
  • Tuktut Nogait, Northwest Territories.
Mar 2, 2023

Which city in Canada has the most parks? ›

Ottawa. Ottawa has the most urban parks in Canada, with approximately 8 hectares (20 acres) of parkland for every 1000 residents. In comparison to: 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres) of parkland per 1000 residents in New York City.

What is America's most visited park? ›

Great Smoky Mountains remains America's most visited national park by a long shot. Nearly 13 million people visited the park straddling North Carolina and Tennessee last year, according to newly released National Park Service numbers.

What is the first most visited national park in the US? ›

Most Visited National Park FAQ

The most visited national park in the World is Great Smoky Mountains National Park which received 14.1 million visitors last year.

Which national park has the most wildlife? ›

Not only does Yellowstone have the highest population of wildlife in the contiguous 48, it also allows guests to witness the vital predator-prey relationships that persist and impact the greater ecosystem inside the park and beyond.

Are there 62 or 63 national parks? ›

The National Park System encompasses 424 national park sites in the United States. They span across more than 84 million acres, with parks in each state and extending into the territories, including parks in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.

What is America's most remote national park? ›

Key West is home to one of the country's most remote parks; the Dry Tortugas are located 70 miles offshore past uninhabited mangrove keys until you reach Fort Jefferson.

What state has the best national park? ›

Wyoming is home to America's first and prettiest national parks. 96% of Yellowstone, the US' first established national park, is in Wyoming — but that's not what put the Cowboy State at top of my list. In my opinion, Grand Teton is simply the most beautiful place in America.

How much is Hells Gate national park? ›

Hell's Gate National Park Entrance Fees and Opening Hours

East African Adult Citizens and Kenyan Residents pay 300 Ksh to gain entry during the high season (July – February), while children pay 215 Ksh. For Non-Residents, the fee is $30 for adults and $20 for children.

What is the only state without a national park? ›

National parks showcase natural beauty like Yosemite and historic venues like Independence Park.

What is the biggest wild park in the US? ›

The largest national park is Wrangell–St. Elias in Alaska: at over 8 million acres (32,375 km2), it is larger than each of the nine smallest states. The next three largest parks are also in Alaska. The smallest park is Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri, at 91 acres (0.37 km2).

What 5 states have no national parks? ›

In fact, 20 states don't have any national parks at all. These include Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

What is America's least visited national park? ›

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska is the least-visited US national park.

What national park is being renamed? ›

The National Park Service announced last week that Yellowstone National Park's Mount Doane would be renamed First Peoples Mountain. The agency said Thursday the change was taken to remove an "offensive name" from America's first national park.

Is Niagara Falls a Canadian national park? ›

Niagara Falls State Park is located in the City of Niagara Falls in Niagara County, New York, United States. The park, recognized as the oldest state park in the United States, contains the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and a portion of the Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls).

What is New Mexico's only national park? ›

White Sands

Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world's largest gypsum dunefield. White Sands National Park preserves a major portion of this unique dunefield, along with the plants and animals that live here.

What national park starts with G? ›

G is for Glacier National Park.

Which country has the most national parks? ›

Australia leads the list of countries with the most national parks by an incredible distance, home to over 600 national parks. This compares to second position Thailand where there are 147 national parks.

What famous national park in England is called New? ›

The New Forest became a National Park in 2005 – it's one of 15 National Parks in the UK and part of a worldwide movement. The New Forest National Park is mostly in south-west Hampshire although a small part of it – around Redlynch and Landford – is in Wiltshire.

What is the oldest park in us? ›

Considered the oldest public park in the United States, Boston Common played an important role in the history of conservation, landscape architecture, military and political history, and recreation in Massachusetts.

What is the oldest state park in us? ›

The first state park was conceived in California in 1862. Captain Israel Ward Raymond and California's U. S. Senator John Conness wanted to have natural land areas at Yosemite set aside purely for the purpose of preservation and public enjoyment.

Which city has the oldest park in the USA? ›

Established in 1634, Boston Common is America's oldest public park. Puritan colonists purchased the land rights to the Common's 44 acres from the first European settler of the area, Anglican minister William Blackstone.

Why was Yosemite made a national park? ›

Thanks to John Muir's passionate writing to further protect the delicate ecosystem of the High Sierra, Yosemite later became a national park. A view of Yosemite Valley from the Merced River by Jaganath Achari (www.sharetheexperience.org ). 2. Yosemite's granite rock formations glow like fire at sunset.

What is the difference between a national park and a national forest? ›

Perhaps the greatest difference between the two is the multiple use mandate for National Forests. While National Parks are highly vested in preservation, barely altering the existing state, National Forests are managed for many purposes—timber, recreation, grazing, wildlife, fish and more.

How many national parks are in Mexico? ›

Mexico recognizes 67 federally protected natural areas as national parks (Spanish: Parques Nacionales), which are administered by the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP), a branch of the federal Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources.

What is the biggest threat to national parks? ›

Overfishing. This global environmental problem threatens healthy ecosystems.

What is the largest national park? ›

Look to Alaska

Elias National Park & Preserve may be the largest national park in the U.S., but some of its neighbors aren't too far behind.

What is the major threat to national parks? ›

Climate change is the greatest threat the national parks have ever faced.

Who owns our national parks? ›

The national parks are owned by the Federal Government. The legislative branches of the U.S. House and Senate have the power to determine the use of federal lands and can pass laws affecting the sale or preservation of those areas including national parks.

How safe are national parks? ›

It bears mentioning that the United States' national parks are remarkably safe: In 2018, the National Park Service estimates it saw less than one death per million visitors, and some of the parks on our list saw less than one death a year.

What is the motto of the national parks? ›

NPS's mission is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” To learn more about NPS, visit their website at nps.gov.

How do I decide which national park to visit? ›

To decide which national park to visit, you must take into consideration several factors including what activities you would like to do, budget, amount of time for your trip, area of the country, and time of year.

Should I go to Yellowstone or Yosemite? ›

If you want to see cliff faces, wildflower meadows, waterfalls, lakes and soaring sequoias, then Yosemite's the one for you. If you'd rather explore rolling hills, bubbling hydrothermal basins and colourful hot springs (without missing out on a plethora of waterfalls!), then Yellowstone is a good choice.

How do I start going to national parks? ›

Tips to Get You Started
  1. Most national parks don't even charge an entrance fee. ...
  2. Find A Park gets you where you want to go. ...
  3. Check out park maps and National Park System maps.
  4. Once you've decided where you're headed, check out the park's online Plan Your Visit section.
Nov 4, 2019

When should I visit all national parks? ›

Most American parks are ideal in late September and October: it's warm but not too hot, kids are back in school, there are lower accommodation rates and most trails and restaurants still open before the winter season kicks in.

Which national parks would be the hardest to get to? ›

The 5 Hardest National Parks to Visit
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park.
  • Dry Tortugas National Park.
  • Isle Royale National Park.
  • Katmai National Park and Preserve.
  • Kobuk Valley National Park.
Sep 22, 2022

What is the most visited sight of the national park? ›

Top 10 most visited NPS sites in 2022
  • Blue Ridge Parkway, 15.71 million visits.
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 15.64 million.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 12.94 million.
  • Gateway National Recreation Area, 8.73 million.
  • Lincoln Memorial, 7.83 million.
  • George Washington Memorial Parkway, 7.4 million.
Mar 1, 2023

What time of year is best for national parks tour? ›

The best time to visit most U.S. National Parks is during the summer. The wildlife is its most abundant, the weather is beautiful even after dark, and, frankly, is there anything better than sipping a lawnmower beer in a hammock by the campfire?

What month is best for Yosemite? ›

May through September is the most popular time in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park attracts about 75% of its annual visitors between May and September. These months correspond with the best weather and are also when all the roads, trails, lodging, shuttles and attractions in the park are open.

What are the best months to go to Yellowstone? ›

Yellowstone National Park can get very crowded during peak season (June, July, and August). The best months to visit Yellowstone are April, September, and October. These “off season” months provide more chances to catch a glimpse of the local wildlife and enjoy thinner crowds.

What months are best to go to Yosemite? ›

If you don't want your Yosemite experience to be limited by road, trail, and campground closures, your best bet is to visit between June and September, when everything is typically open and accessible (and several degrees warmer).

What are tips to remember when you are in a national park? ›

Always hike with a buddy; if someone gets hurt, the other can go for help. Pack enough water and food in case you get lost while hiking. Wear the proper gear – good footwear and lightweight, layered clothes for varying weather.

How much does it cost to get into most national parks? ›

Surprisingly the majority of United States National Park units are free to enter all year long. Only 116 of the 419 National Park Service units charge any sort of entrance fee. Admission to these parks can range from $5 per person to $35 per vehicle.

What are the three most visited national parks? ›

The Most-Visited National Parks in 2022
Rank (2022)National ParkExact Visitation
1Great Smoky Mountains National Park12,937,633
2Grand Canyon National Park4,732,101
3Zion National Park4,692,417
4Rocky Mountain National Park4,300,424
6 more rows
Mar 13, 2023

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