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AFAR Staffers on Their Favorite National Parks

The best parks, must-have items, and other AFAR pro-tips to make it in the wild.

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a big birthday coming up. This August the National Park Service is turning 100 years old, and AFAR staffers are ready to celebrate—by getting outside. Here are a few of the national parks that have stolen our hearts, and the must-haves that make the trip that much better.

1. Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park
“Hawaii’s Big Island has a park called Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau, often referred to as the City of Refuge. It’s great in that I’ve never seen it busy, so it’s easy to take your time walking around look at the scenery, tikis, and authentic canoe replicas. It’s right on a beach, so sometimes there’s a nice ocean breeze, but since there’s not a lot of tree cover, it’s best to go before noon if you want to avoid the most intense sun.” —Nicole Antonio, editorial production coordinator

2. Everglades National Park
“Everybody thinks of the Everglades as a place for swamps and gators, but there’s a lesser visited region of the park called “10,000 islands” that’s worth seeking out.  Consisting of mangroves and (probably 10,000) sandy islands, it’s a wonderland of birds and dolphins.  You can register with the National Park Service and reserve your own private island for overnight camping—but you’ll need to get there by kayak or canoe.”Lou LaGrange, director of custom content 

3. Zion National Park
"Hands-down, Zion.  Be sure to do a night with a backcountry wilderness permit—requirements are that you camp miles from any trail, vista, or other campsites.  So you will truly feel like you have the entire park to yourself.  Since you’ll have to backpack in, it always helps to pack light, and I never enter into the backcountry without one of these Vermonter flasks!” —Bryan Kinkade, publisher

Death Valley in California.

4. Death Valley National Park

“There’s so much Death Valley, so much. Spring is the best time to visit, partly for the wildflower bloom, but if you miss that, you’ll also miss the crowds. There’s also a number of incredible sand dunes (I think I read somewhere that there are nine different dune sites). My favorite are the Eureka Sand Dunes, which seem to have been plopped in the middle of red-stone mountains and abandoned mining towns, which are eerie and fascinating. Even the living communities like Stovepipe Wells seem absolutely stuck in time. Must-have items? Sunblock, sunglasses, and a spare tire.” —Maggie Fuller, editorial assistant

5. Grand Canyon National Park
"Out of the ones I’ve been to, I love the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, but who couldn’t love them? They are truly awe-inspiring and incredible. If you get a chance, you have to hike down the Grand Canyon. The expansive landscape that looks so distant from above is home to many micro-ecosystems that are fascinating, and amazing to see—I didn’t know there could be areas so full of growth, followed by desert, and of course the Colorado River at the end, all in one canyon. When hiking Half Dome a few years ago, we opted to leave our camp at 1 a.m. and start up the granite mountain, reaching the peak around sunrise. I’d definitely recommend it to avoid hiking in the hottest part of the day. It also makes the trek up very mysterious because it’s dark most of the way, even with a full moon. You don’t realize how high you’re climbing, so the view when you reach the top is even more spectacular!" —Samantha Juda, audience marketing specialist

And again...
“There is no place like it for seeing and experiencing the millennia of time on earth.  Do not even think about going and just looking over the edge.  Bring some hiking shoes and go down at least an hour into the canyon to get a better impression of it.  I hiked down and up each year for most of the 20 years I lived in Arizona.  But be careful and know your capabilities.  Coming back up is much, much harder than going down.  Make sure you have water, shade or sunscreen, and a jacket (depending on time of year and time of day)." —Greg Sullivan, cofounder & editorial director

6. Yosemite National Park
“Yosemite is awesome and the Ahwahnee Hotel Restaurant had THE BEST mushroom soup I’ve ever had.  Recipe took hours to make, with sauteeing beef bones and slow braising vegetables, and about 40 other steps.  Worth every minute!” —Barry Brown, executive sales director

7. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
“Look online or in your guidebook to learn about going on one of the bootleg tours that occur every night.  You’ll meet these ‘tour guides’ on their private properties—usually near the area of the park where the lava hits the ocean, and they’ll guide you over the terrain for a close–up that’s as good as what you’ll see on the more official boat tours.” Lou LaGrange, director of custom content

Deep in the Redwood National Park.
8. Redwood National Park
“An amazing experience of some of the few huge redwoods remaining after humans largely decimated over 95% in under 100 years.  You can’t help but be awed by these beautiful trees that have been alive for hundreds of years.  Prairie Creek Loop is fantastic. It takes you through huge trees, to the beach and through Fern Canyon.” —Greg Sullivan, cofounder & editorial director

9. Rocky Mountain National Park
“I love the Rocky Mountains. My siblings and I spent a lot of our childhood playing in these mountains, and when I go back for a visit it’s a mix of nostalgia and the amazing smell of the alpine trees that really makes the trip. I never go into the woods without water, a snack, and a jacket—you never know what’s coming with Colorado weather.” —Kyana Moghadam, editorial intern

10. Joshua Tree National Park
“I am head-over-heels in love with Joshua Tree National Park. If you’re visiting Joshua Tree for something more nature-centric like climbing or hiking, make sure you take time to explore the funky bohemian community that has sprung up around it.” —Maggie Fuller, editorial assistant

>> Next: 10 National Park Events You Can't Miss This Summer