National Parks Are Boring – A Parent’s Lament

“America’s best idea,” said filmmaker Ken Burns in his documentary film series on the National Parks, but he wasn’t traveling with teenage girls staring into their phones.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE America’s National Parks.  My wife and I honeymooned at Yosemite National Park, and celebrated my PhD defense at Yellowstone National Park.  So imagine my dismay when our 16 year old daughter exclaimed “National Parks are boring!”  Uugh.  Continue reading for what elicited this proclamation, and, more importantly, what we parents plan to do about it.

Yosemite National Park, May 1995

Yosemite National Park, during our honeymoon May 1995


Labor Day has passed, ushering in a new school year, 8th and 11th grades for our 13 and 16 year old daughters.  I desperately try to hang on to the summer before it drifts away on the autumn breeze into another long winter.  It’s not too difficult to think summer as temperatures still peak in the upper 80’s and even 90 degrees.  But my go-to strategy for extending the summer is to start planning next year’s family vacation.  I love to dream about where we can travel once the kids finish their last days of the school year.  My wife and I have wanted to take the family to the grand National Parks out west, but for a myriad of reasons it has never worked out.  So no more messing around, we’re going to make this happen, and, I announce at the dinner table, “let’s go to Yellowstone next summer!”  I sit back and wait to bask in the cheers of excitement and praise…

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, May 1997

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, May 1997


My daughter looks up, sucks her teeth, and sighs, “National Parks are boring!”  Whaaaa?!?  Oh no, where have I gone wrong as a father?  How could I not have instilled my love for our National Parks in her.  Memories of our trip to Yosemite are indelibly inscribed in my cortex.  Granted, it was our honeymoon, but surely that’s not the only reason the trip was so impactful.  Yosemite Valley has inspired visitors for eons; even caused President Abraham Lincoln to pause during the height of the Civil War to sign the Yosemite Grant protecting the valley from 1864 onward.  Surely, our teenagers would naturally want to experience America’s treasures first hand.

Yosemite National Park, May 1995

A bride gazes upon Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, during our honeymoon May 1995


In the early 1900’s a young, teenage Ansel Adams took his Kodak Brownie camera along on a family vacation to Yosemite, and fell in love with a National Park that served as his muse.  I even channeled my own inner-Ansel on our honeymoon, and loaded black-and-white film into my SLR that I developed and printed myself.  Ansel Adams was close to the age of my own daughters when he first visited Yosemite, and I want them to have that same experience of marvel and awe as they come face to face with our natural wonders.

Yosemite National Park, May 1995

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, May 1995


The sun is setting on opportunities to take a National Park family vacation while both of our daughters are still living at home.  There is but one remaining summer before Maggie (our 16 year old) heads off to college.  I’m sure we’ll be busy with college tours, admission decisions, and financial planning, but I’m hoping we can squeeze one more family vacation together that will turn our theme park rangers into National Park lovers.

Lake Tahoe, California, May 1995

In the meantime, in the coming months I’ll share our previous first-hand experiences with the outdoors and National Parks, and keep planning for our next summer adventure.  Parents out there, here’s your call to action, have you heard this response about the National Parks from your kids?  Leave a comment below, let me know, and, more importantly, let me know your response.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on Twitter and “like” our Facebook page, too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.