Our National Parks are one of the best treasures our country has to offer, with an incredibly diverse offering of monuments of historical figures, national seashores, vast stretches of natural wonders and everything in between. With a total of 424 areas which span more than 85 million acres, there is somewhere for everyone to enjoy. Not only do these parks occupy the states within America, they are also found on US territories such as American Samoa and Puerto Rico. In 2021 alone, there were more than 297 million visitors to National Parks.
While some of these parks have entrance fees, such as Yellowstone with a fee of $35 per vehicle, the vast majority of them are free for all to enjoy as part of our national heritage. When visiting these parks, visitor centers all have stands with special stamps called “cancellation stamps” for collection in National Park Passports.
Started in 1986 and published originally (and still owned) by Eastern National, The Passport To Your National Parks is a book fashioned after the traditional US Passport to be used to collect stamps from parks visited. Similarly to a travel passport, the National Park Passport collects “cancellation stamps” – but instead of countries visited, they are national parks visited.
There are several options for which Passport to use. The classic edition is 112 pages and is compact enough at 6” x 4” to be tossed in a backpack or purse, easy to take along on hiking trips or to keep in your bag in case of any last minute park trips. For the more intense vacationer, there is an Explorer edition which is built into a three-ring portfolio binder measuring 11” x 8”. Not for the faint of heart, it includes a full size map, photo pockets, pen slots and can easily have expander pages added in with the ring construction. Not to forget the youngest and most impressionable visitors, there is also the Junior Ranger edition, aimed towards kids of all ages with colorful stickers and more child-friendly educational information tidbits.
Perhaps one of the most fun aspects of the design of the passport, at least to those of us with a touch of ADHD and who spend way too much time looking at organizational charts on Pinterest, is that it is entirely color coded based on region. With nine geographical regions, it’s a well organized rainbow of fun. The Southeast Region is where we belong here in North Carolina with a total of eight locations listed. The first few pages of each region include information about said region, followed by blank pages split for both official cancellations as well as regional stamps. Each year, a page of regional stamps is published and sent out for sale at all visitor centers. Each region has one park or monument featured each year with a photo from that particular location and information about it.
But, what happens if you forget to bring your passport to your hike in the Smokey Mountains or your visit to Cape Hatteras National Seashore? No problem at all, since all visitor centers also carry packs of stampable sticker sets which you can stamp to affix into your passport when you return home from your adventures.
In the Triad area, the closest place to get started on this fun and educational journey is to visit the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro. One of the many free parks, the visitor center includes a museum along with informational movies. While there, you can also check out the Junior Ranger program while exploring the many monuments and hikes available at the Battlefield.