The National Park System encompasses 423 national park sites in the US, spanning more than 84 million acres, with parks in each state and extending into the various territories. With the vastness and splendor that each space uniquely offers, it’s impossible to rank any of the national parks I’ve visited. Various aspects such as my mood, the trail I selected, the weather, the food I ate, who I shared the experiences with and so many other factors contribute to my attachment to each of the parks listed. I hope my outlook and experiences might encourage you to explore some of America’s great lands.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK
QUICK NOTE: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Black minister, activist, and one of the most visible civil rights leaders in US history.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park (MLK NHP) in Atlanta, Georgia, includes several sites and over 36 acres centering around the life and work of Civil Rights Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
At the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, you'll find:
- The Reflecting Pool and Eternal Flame (a symbol of the continuing efforts of justice, peace, and equality for all)
- The International World Peace Rose Gardens
- The Behold Monument
- Fire Station No. 6
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King Burial Site
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- 501 Auburn Avenue (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birth home)
- The Gandhi Statue overseeing the Civil Rights Walk of Fame
- The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
- The King Center (features various exhibitions on Dr. King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Mahatma Gandhi)
As a Black woman in America, there are times when exploration on our public lands doesn’t feel safe. When I began hiking in 2015, my greatest fear wasn’t Nature or her inhabitants, rather the people I might encounter there. I lived in Atlanta, Georgia at the time, and I discovered the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park (MLK, NHS).
I’d always heard about the grand adventures folks experienced in the backcountry, and I wanted those experiences too. Only I didn’t own a car, and public transportation didn’t extend to the areas that lend themselves to picturesque life-altering views. I took to Google with the mission of finding such a place. I learned about the National Park Service, which led me to the MLK NHS.
I was excited to go to my first national park but felt disappointed there weren’t mountains or waterfalls. However, within minutes of my first visit to the MLK NHS I came to understand that to freely explore the country, it’s important to visit the place that birthed the civil rights movement. It was a humbling experience to walk the path of those that made it possible for me to experience the plethora of places I’ve now been . I highly recommend a visit to the MLK NHS. In doing so, I believe our perspectives in both the front and backcountry would shift greatly towards acceptance and accessibility.
During my initial visit to the MLK NHS, the park rangers taught me about the park service. While it may sound childish, I became a Jr. Park Ranger. Because of my time at the MLK NHS, I developed an appreciation for the park service that I might not have otherwise. Over the years, until I relocated out of state I returned to the MLK NHS periodically as a reminder of what Dr. King’s legacy affords me. I have led city hike programs for adults at the MLK NHS and first time camping programs for youth at the center. Needless to say, my admiration is high.
THE CÉSAR E. CHÁVEZ NATIONAL MONUMENT
QUICK NOTE: César E. Chávez was a prominent Latino civil rights leader in the US/ during the twentieth century. Chávez played pivotal roles in the labor movement, the Chicano movement, and the environmental movement.
The César E. Chávez National Monument (Nuestra Señora Reina De La Paz “La Paz” is located in Keene, California includes serval sites and 108 acres centering around the life and work of Latino Civil Rights Leader César E. Chávez.
At the César E. Chávez National Monument, you'll find:
- The Quonset Hut
- The Chávez House
- The Chávez Memorial Garden
- The Desert Garden (with spices from Arizona)
- The Villa La Paz (which boasts panoramic views amidst scattered oak trees)
La Paz is ADA accessible, and there’s no fee to explore. Exhibitions, services, programs are in English and Spanish. The park rangers at La Paz are bilingual, which is awesome in terms of accessibility.*
*As of my visit in the summer of 2021 some of the services and programs were still in development.
While I have an in-depth knowledge of Chávez and his contributions to the Labor Movement, I honestly didn’t know the monument existed. I rented an economy car earlier in the day. Instead, I was given a large gas-guzzling SUV. Flustered by the gas mileage, I decided to exit at the first brown sign I saw on the highway (brown is the color used to denote parks and recreation). I happened upon La Paz. Chávez, thought of La Paz as a personal refuge “to reflect on what was happening, to shed all of those million little problems, and to look at things a little more dispassionately.” Upon entering the Monument, I immediately transformed into a state of peace. La Paz provided respite and an opportunity to reflect in tranquility.
Honorable Mention: Great Basin National Park
For reasons unbeknownst to be Great Basin National Park, nestled in eastern Nevada near the Utah border, doesn’t get a lot of visitors. I loved the park, the views, and the Bristlecone pines were magnificent.
About the Author
After a lengthy battle with a rare brain disease, Crystal came to recognize the healing power of Nature. So, with no backpacking experience, Crystal set out to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2016. She completed 600 miles of that journey. Crystal learned a lot about herself, her strengths, and she developed a love for Nature. Her time on the PCT instilled a desire to get more folks to discover the peace that Nature provides.
Crystal is also an author, poet, and storyteller who has hiked and shared stories about her treks throughout the country. Her most memorable experience is sleeping underneath the windmills on the PCT. She found the lights rhythmical, soothing, and poetically aligned with the night sky.
In 2022, you can find Crystal undertaking part two of a three-part trek to complete the Great Western Loop with the hopes of inspiring more folks to venture outdoors. Unlike her predecessors, who completed the journey in a season, she has a neurological implant requiring off days to recharge her implant batteries.