National Park Centennial – 3 Book Reviews

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service.  Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service on August 25, 1916.

We know a lot of you will want to take some trips out to some of our national parks, whether that is our local Shenandoah National Park or Blue Ridge Parkway, or visiting some other parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon.


We recently picked up a few books to review and thought these were all great resources in planning your next adventure.

National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States: Eighth Edition

National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States: Eighth Edition
National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States: Eighth Edition
National Park Guide
Excursions in the nearby area

This book is the ultimate companion to the national parks.  The book is broken down into regions of the country (color-coded at the bottom) and alphabetized by park name within each region.  Each park covered includes a map of the region and a brief history of the park.  They also point out highlights of each park, camping and lodging available, and information on hikes you won’t want to miss.  Many of the park write-ups also include information on other excursions within the area.  They also feature for each park advice on how to visit the park – understanding how many days you should take explore the area and the best season can help you make some great decisions on how to make the most of your trip.  Of the parks we have visited, I found their write-ups spot on and the photography is always magnificent.  This book has a ton of information packed into its near-500 pages and after flipping through for a short while, you will want to plan many vacations to parks you haven’t seen yet (or plan another trip on all the things you may have missed.

National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A. : Centennial Edition

Map & Checklist
Map & Checklist
Informational Splash Pages
Informational Splash Pages

While you are looking through the official National Geographic Guide, this book is a great companion guide for your kids.  I would gauge this is more geared towards kids that fall within the late elementary school to early high school ages.  The material is definitely more condensed, but does include a map of each park.  For each write-up there is information on Ranger Tips, Take It Easy (for relaxing ideas), Be Extreme (for adventurous ideas from white-water rafting to caving to paragliding), Best View, and All About Animals.  Each of the write-ups also include a checklist, so parents can help them work towards those goals to take in the most out of each park.  And because both of these books are done by National Geographic, you know the photography will be amazing.  This book would also be a great thing to buy for your kids to teach them about the National Park Service and all the features these parks provide.

Backpacker The National Parks Coast to Coast: 100 Best Hikes

by Ted Alvarez

Left page: GPS waypoints for specific points on your hike; right page: overview of each hike

While the first two books give you a wonderful overview of each park, Backpacker put together this 385 page book that give you expert advice on specific hikes within each park.   For most of the parks listed, there are 1-5 hikes selected.  Most of the ones with more than one hike are larger, more popular destinations like Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, Olympic, or Zion.  Some of the hikes listed are simple day hikes, but the bulk are backpacking trips that can be just a simple overnight to a week-long adventure.  Each of the hikes covered include a detailed map and GPS coordinates along the way, which should give you the precise information you need to start your hike.  .  Distance, time required, contact information, difficulty, and trailhead directions are listed at the beginning of each hike.  This book has the ultimate thrill-seeker in mind and if you have a sense of adventure and wanting to get deep into the beauty of each park, they have provided some excellent advice.  While I feel I won’t be able to do but a percentage of what is covered in this book, every one of these could be considered a bucket-list adventure.  The photography is also amazing, with a big splash page for each park.

We also learned that National Geographic is celebrating the 100th anniversary of our National Parks Service by offering the chance to win a spectacular family vacation for four to Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks. Here are the details and a link to the enter which will be live on April 1st.

“This fabulous 8-day family adventure from National Geographic Expeditions is a dream trip come true. Discover the incredible geological treasures of the American Southwest and marvel at the rainbow colors  of the high desert; explore the Grand Canyon’s North Rim on foot or mule; hike amid Zion’s wonderland of slot canyons, hanging gardens, and waterfalls, and splash through the Narrows of the Virgin River; wind  through Bryce Canyon’s whimsical maze of red rock spires, and go on a scavenger hunt. Stay in historic park lodges with Old West atmosphere, and take part in activities and excursions geared for explorers of  all ages.  The National Geographic National Parks Sweepstakes runs from April 1-August 31, 2016. To enter or obtain full Official Rules go to:”

And if anyone wins this vacation, Christine and Adam would be glad to be adopted into your family for this adventure.

A Walk for Sunshine

Jeff Alt - A Walk for Sunshine Presentation

On Saturday afternoon, Adam and I drove up to Big Meadows Lodge in Shenandoah National Park to hear a special guest speaker – Jeff Alt, author of A Walk for Sunshine.  Jeff hiked the entire Appalachian Trail in 1998.  He also put an extra spin on his thru-hike by making it a hike for charity – raising money to help the group home where his brother with cerebral palsy resides. Adam and I first read Jeff’s book over the summer while we were out backpacking. We took turns reading the book aloud to one another whenever we relaxed in our tent.

Jeff was a great speaker.  He was funny, informative and passionate about encouraging people to follow their dreams.  His hour-long talk followed the book and was packed with anecdotes and photos.  Afterward, he took time to sign copies of his book and answer questions. If you ever get a chance to see Jeff speak, don’t miss it!  He visits Shenandoah pretty regularly, speaking and offering a program on hiking with children.

Where We Get Hiking Ideas

We get hiking ideas from many different places. When we’re visiting Shenandoah National Park, we use our Falcon Guide more than any other publication. We also really like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps. So far, we’ve found them to be very comprehensive and accurate. The Shenandoah National Park map (#228) is a great supplement to the Falcon Guide because it shows how all the park’s trails interconnect. It also clearly marks lots of park features that are under-the-radar, too. We’ve bushwhacked to some interesting places using the map.

Some of Our Favorite Books and Maps
Some of Our Favorite Books and Maps

For hikes in George Washington National Forest, we use mostly use online resources and a couple more of the National Geographic maps. (maps #791 and #792 – which cover Great North Mountain, Massanutten and Shenandoah Mountain)

The web resources we use most frequently are:

There is a lot of information on, but their site is a fee service – and we think it’s unnecessary to pay for access to trail information online.

The other way we get ideas for hikes is word of mouth.  We chat with other hikers all the time, and are constantly getting new hike ideas.