We are an American family who accomplished an extraordinary thing. Alisa and I (Bill) have been married for over 20 years and have two adventurous sons named Luke and Winston. We traveled together and visited our national parks during our time off from work and the boys school vacations.
Over the years, we have made some life changing decisions and previously lived four generations under one roof. It was a true blessing for all of us. Moreover, it is one of the primary reasons we started traveling together… just the four of us.
It has not been easy. We have had to drive thousands of miles over a limited time while sacrificing certain amenities and traveling on a limited budget. Although the parks are the most majestic places in the United States, the best benefit for us is that we have become closer as a family. The respect for one another and time together is the most precious part of this adventure.
59 before 18 is a quest to see all 59 American national parks together as a family before our children turn 18-years-old. It all began in 2009 when we flew to California to visit with some friends and traveled to Yosemite National Park. This was our first national park hiking experience. Obviously, the landscape was majestic, but the idea that this land that was ours as Americans created a feeling of euphoria for us.
When we returned home we discovered that we enjoyed the feeling of traveling together as a family. Road trips actually brought us closer together. Instead of taking the highway to get to Washington D.C. we drove the entire Blue Ridge Parkway into the Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park. Our friends thought we were nuts, but we loved it. What they did not understand was that the destination was not always the objective. We could have fun just as long as we were together.
Soon we started researching how we could adventure and drive out west across the United States to visit more parks. We planned our first national park family vacation for the summer of 2010. The boys bought park passports as we canceled 12 parks (Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde and Great Smoky Mountains). It took us two weeks and our trip itinerary was focused on the National Park System Map and Guide. We did visit other parks in the system and the boys had fun stamping their passports, but we did not enjoy them as much as the official NPs. I turned 40-years-old driving home on I-40.
When I went back to work on Monday, I was a new person. I diagnosed myself as addicted to exploring our national parks. I was obsessed. My customers said it was a good addiction. To my surprise there was a park about 90 minutes from our home. So the next weekend we canceled Congaree and hiked 15 miles in the swamp. It was the most difficult hike to this day we have ever done. We were cocky since we just came back from our vacation. Giant spiders were hanging from trees along the trail and there was no place to sit or relax. However, a new discovery about ourselves was revealed. We can overcome and be happy, as long as we are together, even when the most difficult things happen to us.
We took advantage of the extended Labor Day weekend and drove to cancel Mammoth Cave. During the boys winter break we drove south to cancel Everglades, Dry Tortugas and Biscayne. During the next few weeks we came up with the idea to see all of the 58 parks (the 59th park Pinnacles was upgraded from a national monument to a NP on 1/10/13). When I wanted to film our adventures, create a website and so much more, my boys thought I was crazy. They did not understand that thought of creating a goal and trying to accomplish it yet. Luke was 14 and Winston was 12 at the time.
For our 2011 two week summer vacation, we had to fly to Portland, Oregon and rent a car. We drove over 4,500 miles and canceled seven more national parks (Mount Rainier, Glacier, North Cascades, Olympic, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic and Crater Lake). A friend of ours from North Carolina actually moved to Portland, Oregon that week and we drove more than he did. Once again, he thought we were insane, but we have the time of our lives. Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio was canceled a month later during the Labor Day weekend.
The next winter break we planned a wild drive to New Mexico and back in less than 11 days. We canceled Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns and Hot Springs. We were blessed with no bad weather and so far no major issues pertaining to any of our trips. We spend a lot of time planning these excellent adventures and experiencing each new place for the first time and sharing every moment together is the best part.
During the summer of 2012 our vacation was ambitious. We flew to Las Vegas, rented a car and within two weeks canceled 11 parks (Death Valley, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Channel Islands, Joshua Tree, Saguaro, Petrified Forest, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain and Great Basin). We arrived in Death Valley at 3:00 am and never stopped our desire for the making the most out of each day.
Now with 42 parks successfully canceled, the quest started becoming strategic. Therefore, for Christmas we went to Virgin Islands National Park. To save money on the plane flight to St. John we drove to Miami. Our lodging was at a campground and we slept in a modified screened porch. This became Luke’s favorite park. It was certainly a treat with the warm weather, our first underwater snorkeling trail and hiking across the entire island in one magnificent day.
In 2013 we planned a massive road trip across 27 states to cancel the last four parks in the lower 48, not including Pinnacles. During our planning for this, we realized that this quest had provided us with an added bonus of visiting every state in America. This 17 day journey began with a drive to North Dakota (Theodore Roosevelt), up to Minnesota (Voyageurs), northeast on a boat into Michigan (Isle Royale) and all the way east to Maine (Acadia). Finally, we drove south back home for a total of 6,600 miles in the same 2008 Honda Accord we took on our first national park family vacation.
So with 47 out of the 59 canceled, only two trips were left. The first was the most luxurious. We flew to Hawai’i during our winter break in December of 2013. Our 48th park was Haleakala on the island of Maui. Next, we flew to National Park of American Samoa. This is the most remote national park. The Samoan people are absolutely wonderful. The 50th park was Hawai’i Volcanoes. This has become our mutual family favorite national park. Lastly, we flew to Los Angeles, rented a car, drive to cancel Pinnacles, drove back to LA and flew home. Therefore, 51 American national parks were canceled together as a family.
All that was left were the eight national parks in Alaska (Glacier Bay, Lake Clark, Katmai, Denali, Wrangell St. Elias, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, and Gates of the Arctic). It has taken us over three months to plan and organize this trip. However, we have everything figured out and scheduled for July and August of 2014. It will take us three weeks, but can be accomplished. Our dreams are coming true right before our eyes. We are spending quality time together, visiting the most beautiful places in the United States (our national parks), as well as seeing our great nation of America.
What do you do when all of your dreams come true? On August 7, 2014 – 59 before 18 was accomplished! Together as a family we have explored all 59 American national parks before our children turned 18-years-old. As a bonus, we have also been to all of the 50 United States.
Our quest is complete and our family adventures will continue.