5 Creative Ways to Track National Park Visits
Travel is more about the memories made than the miles traveled – and when you have a personal, creative method of holding onto these memories, they’ll mean even more.
7 Min. Read | Home & Backyard
Whether that means keeping a journal, creating artwork or collecting keepsakes, each physical reminder of all the places you’ve been makes it more concrete – and it might even start a new tradition.
We asked our partners, ambassadors and employees to share some creative ways they’ve found to track their travels and create lasting memories.
1. Keep a Journal or Sketchbook
The same way a book or a work of art can transport you to a different place, a journal or sketchbook can help you relive your own story – flipping through the pages and instantly recalling the sensations of your trip.
You don’t have to be a great writer or artist to make your own book. You don’t even have to follow any particular format! Make lists of trails you hiked, jot down your impressions of an exhibit, sketch the birds you saw swooping through the skies. Simply getting the words and images down on paper will cement them in your mind, especially when you return to them later.
“I used to make journals for each of my trips,” says employee Julie M. “I would make drawings, take notes and collect various items to keep in the journal. I did a little journal with my oldest daughter for a trip three years ago and we often look at it. I love that she remembers so much of the trip because of the journal.”
Drawings, notes, stickers or sketches – fill your journal with whatever's most meaningful to you.
A few decorations can transform the simplest objects – like a wastebasket – into beloved keepsakes. (Photo: Betsey S.)
2. Decorate Your Gear With Stickers
If you’ve ever put a bumper sticker on your car or a photo in your locker, you know the power of a little decoration to express your identity and bring up fond memories. It's also a great way to track your travels and show off where you’ve been.
Collect stickers and stick them to whatever you want to decorate. Put national park stickers on your vehicle to catalog the parks you’ve visited; add them to your hiking poles to memorialize the trails you’ve hiked; or stick them to your luggage so it’s more colorful (and easier to find at the airport) with each destination. Or simply decorate a special object in your home to bring back the memories when you aren’t traveling.
“My mother went on a trip around the world when she was 12 and this is how she used the stickers she saved to decorate a wastebasket,” says employee Betsey S. “It's funny how precious this wastebasket is to my siblings and me today. We grew up with it in our house, and heard stories about the trip all our lives.”
The Jr Ranger program keeps kids engaged when visiting national parks.
Add more stamps and memories to your Park Passport with every visit. (Photo: National Park Service)
3. Become a Junior Ranger or Stamp Your Park Passport
At almost every national park, kids can participate in the Junior Ranger program, completing an activity book filled with a day trip’s worth of learning and exploration activities. In addition to the activity booklet, kids receive a patch and a certificate from a park ranger, becoming a part of the National Park Service “family.”
“The Jr. Ranger program is a big way to keep our kids engaged on national park visits!” says Madison Bowman of the Bowman Family, L.L.Bean ambassadors who have visited every U.S. national park. “It gives them activities to do within the park and as we're driving around, and they love taking the ranger pledge and earning a badge or patch. The more they (and we!) learn about a place, the more engaging our visit. Our kids do the Jr. Ranger program at each park site, so they have a shoebox full of badges that they like to look at and organize.”
Another great way that NPS can help track your visits is through the Passport Program. At every national park, you can bring your special park passport to the visitor center or park store and get a unique stamp. With every trip, the passport becomes more personalized – plus, there’s plenty of room for stickers, notes and other ways of marking your experiences.
4. Make a Physical Photo Book
Be honest – how often do you actually go back and look at all the photos in your phone? Being able to store thousands of photos in the cloud is amazing, but it also makes them kind of weightless – unmoored, easy to lose, harder to remember.
A fun way to make them weightier – literally – is to print out your favorite photos and make photo books. You can create a massive book of your very favorite moments, or get more creative and put together multiple books based around themes: specific national parks, favorite mountaintop views, unforgettable family moments, and more. Whenever you bring out the book to share, you can relive all those moments like you’re there again.
Employee Emily B. recommends uploading photos to a digital service that can quickly turn them into a printed photo book. There are many services available online, ranging from simple to elaborate – the important thing is that they make creating a memorable book easy, so you can get a beautiful keepsake while the memories are still fresh.
Make your photos more tangible by bringing them out of the cloud and into the real world.
Looking back at maps is a great way to remember all the places you've been.
5. Collect Maps, Brochures and Postcards
The maps and brochures available at visitor centers are perfect keepsakes for tracking and remembering your journeys – and they double as great planning tools for your return trip. The wide variety of images, shapes and sizes in brochures – including the classic National Park Service “ Unigrid” – make each one a memorable work of art.
Maybe you want to keep your park brochures in a memory box (decorated with park stickers) so you can pop it open whenever you’re feeling nostalgic. Or, you could cover a wall with maps, highlighting the trails you’ve hiked and the routes you’ve driven, or sticking pushpins in to mark the parks you’ve visited. However you choose to organize these souvenirs, the intricate maps and stunning photos will take you right back to the moments you experienced them.
“My father collected trail maps from the places he hiked and went over his routes in marker,” says employee Jake C. “The maps used to hang all over his office. When I inherited them, I put them up in my own office – and started doing the same thing with the trails I hiked. They’re a reminder of my hiking trips and my dad, and someday I hope to introduce my children to the same tradition.”
However you choose to remember your national park trips, turning those memories into mementos will ensure that they never fade away. And when you share them with friends and family, pass them along to your loved ones, or just reflect on your own, you’re creating a tradition that lasts far beyond the last journey – and may even inspire the next one.