I love the U.S. national parks. I lived in Yosemite National Park for two months back in the 1980s (and got college credit for it, believe it or not), and I loved every minute of it. The parks always seem like protected little worlds of their own, with their brown signs, friendly rangers and inviting visitor centers.
When I first came across the Passport To Your National Parks program, I was instantly hooked. These small blue “passports” allow you to keep track of all your park visits and commemorate each visit with a dated cancellation stamp, just like a real passport. What could be cooler? I figured they were meant for kids, but I didn’t care. I’ve now been collecting stamps since 1994. My farthest-flung stamp is from the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve visitor center in Yakutat, Alaska (Wrangell-St. Elias, incidentally, is the largest national park in the system). I stopped in there after a rafting trip down the Tatshenshini River in 1996.
The passport program began in 1986 (and it’s not just for kids; many adults collect the stamps). Passports can be purchased at most park visitor centers, or online. Whenever you visit a national park (or monument, historic site, or almost any other Interior Department site), just look for the cancellation station in the visitor center, and stamp your book yourself. If you forget your passport (as I often do), stamp a piece of paper and later tape it into your book.
The passports are divided into sections correlating to geographic regions; each section includes information about the area, a list of region’s parks, and several pages for cancellation stamps. In the standard passport, there are only 4 ½ pages for cancellation stamps for each region, however. If you plan to visit a lot of parks, you might want to get the larger Passport Explorer Binder; it has a loose-leaf binding so you can add pages. Other related items include a Kids’ Passport Companion (for tracking those Junior Ranger programs and nature observations), a blank journal, regional passports, and the annually issued sets of ten picture stickers.
I gave my nieces Katie and Susie passports on our first trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, in 2008, and they’ve become avid stamp collectors (as has their mother!). We’ve had so much fun stamping our passports that they made me this incredible card for my birthday last summer: August 3 stamps from 20 different sites in the National Capital Region. I love it!
By the way, some parks have several different cancellation stamps, indicating the area that you visited. Wrangell–St. Elias NP, for example, has at least seven different stamps! Rocky Mountain NP has three. Here’s a list of cancellation stations (which you can also use as a handy check-off list of parks).
For More Information
National Park Travelers Club (a group of people dedicated to collecting passport stamps — they even host a national convention every year)
Read one family’s story about how they collected more than 500 stamps!