The Insider’s Guide: One thing you should do at every national park

In honor of National Park Week this week, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of our favorite tips related to visiting our nation’s amazing parks. So over the next few days we will be curating our favorite content aimed at helping you plan your next great adventure. To start off, we’re talking about the one thing we think you should do at every national park:

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Over the years our national park visits have varied—hiking here, a ranger program there, kiddos working on Junior Ranger badges, etc. Sometimes we have a lot of time to spend exploring an NPS site, other times we are on a tight schedule. At some sites we are surrounded by nature, while other locations are nestled in urban hubs. But no matter the nuances, there is one thing we always do at every national park: We stamp our National Parks passport book.

National Park Passport book

So what is the NPS passport? It’s a little book in which you can document your visits to the nation’s parks through dated cancellation stamps. Aside from the cost of purchasing the book, it has the added benefit of serving as a free souvenir, since each stamp can be recorded in the book at no additional cost. But I will warn you: For some people, collecting stamps in the NPS passport can become a bit of an addiction and a competition. Ask me how I know. 🙂

You can buy the official “Passport to Your National Parks” for about $10 in the gift shops of most national park sites. (Or you can head over here to pick one up online.) The various national park sites are divided by region in the book. The start of each region offers a brief overview of the location of the NPS sites in that area, which is helpful when planning road trips. On our winter Texas adventure those regional overview maps led us to three impromptu National Park stops that we didn’t realize were so close to our route and/or campgrounds.

Nearly every NPS site offers a passport stamp, and you can usually find the cancellation stations in the NPS visitor’s centers or gift shops. The cancellation stamp includes the name of the park as well as that day’s date. (Quick tip: Always test to make sure it is set on the correct date before stamping in your book!) Some sites also have a special image stamp for their park, such as Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands stamps pictured below.

National Park Passport stamp book

National Park Passport book

In addition to the cancellation stamps, the passport book also has room for a select number of special edition passport sticker stamps. Each year the park service produces a new set of stickers featuring about 10 different parks. The NPS gift shops usually have a variety of past years on hand as well. (We have picked up a few of these sticker sheets over the years—but of course not all of the stickers have made it into our book yet as we seemed to have misplaced a few of the sheets. Hmmm…note to self to look for those soon.)

We have had so much fun collecting the cancellation stamps during our visits to national parks that our camping buddies got our kiddos the kids’ NPS passport edition. This book is set up a little differently—it has more educational content—and it doesn’t have a dedicated area for the cancellation stamps, but our kids turned the “ranger autograph” section into their special spot to collect the stamps.

Kids National Park Passport book

As our whole family works to collect stamps at all the national parks we visit, the books will serve as a wonderful souvenir for years to come. Since starting our National Parks Passport book in 2012, we have logged 29 unique NPS site stamps. The only problem we now have is our pages are getting filled up and we’ll soon need to purchase a second book. In the meantime, the back of the book offers some additional blank pages for more cancellation stamps.

In the future, though, Jarrett and I have been considering whether we might switch gears entirely and buy an unlined leather journal for our next “passport” stamp book. We think it would be neat to be able to stamp the book and then have space to jot a few memories from the visit, including who was with us and what we did.

Do you have a National Parks Passport book? If so, how many cancellation stamps have you collected so far?

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