Our Favorite National Parks of 2019
Episode 3 in our Best of 2019 Series! In this post, we're sharing our favorite National Park experiences from our travels this year. We had an absolutely AMAZING year exploring Texas and part of the central United States. And some of our best adventures of the year came from our visits to several US National Parks and Monuments. Be sure you visit these parks on your travels.
If you haven't seen our Best City, County and RV Parks of 2019 or Best State Parks of 2019 posts yet, let us explain something really quick before we get started... To be included in this post, we had to have visited the National Park in 2019.
Our video above has the details and more information on these parks and why we chose them, so be sure to watch it! (Plus, we talk about a few 2nd place parks in the video as well.) Okey-dokey y'all, here are our Favorite National Parks of 2019:
We stayed in several National Park campgrounds this year and enjoyed them all, so this is a tough category for us to choose. We've decided to select the Belle Fourche River Campground in Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming as our favorite National Park Campground of 2019. This small campground has two loops of pull-through campsites that sit in the shadow of Devils Tower. Like all of the National Park campgrounds we stayed in, the sites here are dry-camping only. We show more about our campsite here on our Black Hills SD to Black Hills WY video.
One of the activities we always enjoy at parks is hiking. We saw some incredible things during our hikes in National Parks this year, but we were really impressed by how accessible many of the trails are at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. While we were there, we saw folks with walkers, canes and wheelchairs enjoying boardwalks. We were really happy to see so many folks enjoying the trails.
Best Visitor Center
We also experienced several really nice visitor centers with great displays about their parks this year. Our choice for favorite might surprise you: the National Grasslands Visitor Center in Wall, South Dakota! Located just down the road from the famous Wall Drug, the National Grasslands Visitor Center offers a movie, museum, shop and park rangers full of information about the National Grasslands across the United States. This FREE center is a hidden gem. Be sure to stop in when you're in Wall.
Best Ranger Programs
Again, another tough category since we attended really interesting ranger programs in many of the parks. In 2019, we're giving the nudge to Mount Rushmore National Monument as having our Favorite Ranger Programs. We attended a program hosted by a Native American Story Teller, and a couple of other programs about the history and construction of Mount Rushmore. They were all fascinating!
Most Unexpected Feature
This was an easy choice for us. We had a TON of folks in North Texas tell us that we needed to go camping in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. We had a phenomenal time there and enjoyed the campground, the visitor center, the wildlife and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) history. But, our most unexpected discovery this year was the Holy City of the Wichitas located inside the Wildlife Refuge. You can see some of our experience at this park in Our Big Trip Begins! video.
Most National Park campgrounds offer dry camping, and none of the National Park campgrounds we stayed at in 2019 had sewer connections at the campsite. So if you are camping for more than just a couple of days, water conservation becomes very important. Not all of the National Park campgrounds offer showers and some that do are paid. But our Best Shower vote for 2019 goes to Grant Village Campground inside Yellowstone National Park. These are paid showers, but as registered campers within Grant Village, we were given vouchers for free showers. The facilities share the same building as the campground laundry facility and had a lot of private stalls. You'll want to see our Yellowstone videos when we publish them so stay tuned!
Best Star Watching
Another very tough decision since so many of the National Parks are located away from the light pollution of cities, we chose Theodore Roosevelt National Park for Best Night Sky Viewing. We could not believe the thick blanket of stars that covered the sky there! You could see so many stars, that it was really challenging to pick out even basic constellations. Luckily, John and Brenda of Geo Astro RV were there to walk us through it with both day and night sky watching programs. They spend part of their summers leading sky watching programs in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If they are there during your visit, make sure to check out one of their programs!
Best Wildlife Viewing
Wow! These categories don't get any easier! Wildlife viewing is one of our favorite things to do in National Parks and this year we saw a bunch of critters that we had never seen before in person. We decided to name Theodore Roosevelt National Park as our top National Park for Wildlife Viewing this year because of the diversity and number of animals that we encountered while we were there. We saw bison, wild horses, prairie dogs, turkeys, chipmonks, a coyote, deer and pronghorn. And yes, they even have Texas Longhorns up there!
We had so many Wow moments this year, but our Biggest Surprise in a National Park came in Oklahoma at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. As we drove through the plains of Oklahoma, we wondered why it was called Wichita "Mountains" and then BAM! We were in the mountains! While these aren't mountains like you'll see in Grand Tetons National Park, they are large for the region. The park had a great little first-come, first-served campground, active wildlife, a great visitor center and lots of space to explore. We extended our stay by 2 nights right after we arrived.
Best Add-On Amenity
We can't believe we almost forgot to mention this in our Best National Parks video! I guess that just shows how many amazing National Park experiences we had this year. By "Add-On Amenity" we're talking about an activity in the park that was offered for an additional fee. We decided (on a whim) to take a lunch boat cruise to Elk Island while at Grand Tetons National Park. And was it ever fun! The boat was clean, the captain and first mate were awesome and full of information, the lunch was good, and we got to see a whole different perspective of the park than we ever would have seen from the shore. We filmed Wingin' It!, Episode 28: Traveling Without Connectivity from Elk Island. And we'll definitely be sharing more of the experience in our Grand Tetons video. So be sure to watch for that!
Our Top Favorite National Parks of 2019:
Honorable Mention: Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Runner-Up: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota
Our Favorite Overall Experience at a National Park in 2019: Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
All of the National Parks we visited this year were amazing. Each one was truly unique and incredible. We would love to visit many of them again in the future. But these three parks really blew us away. They all had amazing scenic drives, great hiking, tons of wildlife, interesting ranger programs, and tons of "WOW" moments. We will 100% be visiting these three parks again in the future!
On another note, we LOVED camping within many of the parks. The number one reason why we chose a smaller motorhome (our 2017 Tiffin Breeze 31BR) was so that we could fit into National Park campgrounds. After our travels this year, we have no doubt that we made the right choice for us.
We hope you enjoyed this look at our favorite National Parks of 2019. We'd love to hear about your experiences in the National Parks. Leave us a comment to share your favorites! And don't forget to to check out our Best State Parks of 2019 and our Best City, County and RV Parks of 2019 posts. And come back again in a few days as we share our Favorite Attractions of 2019!