This post was most recently updated on August 25th, 2016

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service, the federal agency in charge of managing all US national parks. In the years since that momentous event in 1916, America’s national parks have been visited and enjoyed by millions of people. Writer Mandy Voisin shares her own family’s experience below.

Jerry Seinfeld is famous for saying there is no such thing as fun for the whole family. He’s right. Evidence of that is my entire childhood. When I was eight years old, we moved from Tokyo to a secluded road in the middle of a Utah forest because my parents were eager to “get away from the big city.”

They traded in our train passes for a minivan, and purchased an enormous orange cooler for the trunk, loaded to the brim with Diet Coke for my mom and Capri Suns for us four girls, “Because we can,” my mom would say, spreading her arms out as wide as possible. Because we were here, in the United States, and I guess after 10 years in Tokyo, they were just glad for a chance to stretch their legs.


My early memories of the parks are blurred. Hot silver tailgates reflecting the mighty red rocks, sticky hands with the scent of pine, with sap lingering long after I scrubbed at the rest-stop sink. Skinny fifth-grade legs cramped from the drive and spilling out onto the hot pavement when we finally arrived. Hikes, long stretches of time where we schlepped Jansport backpacks filled with smashed peanut butter and jelly and giant oranges (either of which we actually wanted to eat when we arrived at the summit). Large swathes of land, red and dusty at times, canopied with pines at others, but always, always, worth it despite our blistered complaints.

Utah has a plethora of National Parks. Five, actually. California has the most at nine, and Alaska has eight but despite the fact that it is not even among the 10 largest states, Utah has 95,000 acres of national park land. And because the state isn’t huge, we made it to all of them, multiple times. In fact, during the summer months, we went nearly every weekend. “Let’s make a weekend out of it!” my parents would exclaim, stuffing, once again, the bright orange cooler, and busting out travel songs complete with hand gestures (yes … there’s no such thing as fun for the whole family).


Bryce Canyon, with its sandstone cliffs, looked like it was from another world. In the summer we would hike and picnic, and in the winter we would stay nearby at Brianhead to ski, the amphitheater splayed with ice crystals, sparkling so beautifully in the sun that I remember once gasping as we rounded the corner, looking at them so intently that it was several minutes before I remembered my iPod was still in my hand and turned back to it, obediently.

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When I was growing up, my mom worked as a forest ranger for Capitol Reef every summer. She shared hilarious stories about cleaning toilets, playing pranks on the boy’s cabin, and even receiving a $100 tip from a drunk stranger. Walking with her through the park when I was young was like holding a mirror to her, allowing us, her children, to see her true self. “The stars are brighter here than anywhere on earth,” she said once, and I believed her – still do. The red cliffs form a shelf for the sky to rest, and it seems to sit there, perched on top of it, kicking its legs out, finally having enough space to spread out, just like my mom.

My dad’s favorite was Zion’s though, with its Navajo sandstone, paths where native people and pioneers trekked. My first time in a slot canyon I had to take deep breaths, images of flash floods rushing through my mind at the thought of water and wind whistling through the gaps for thousands – millions of years.

We ventured outside of Utah too. To Yosemite and Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Glacier. We even made a trek to Acadia in Maine right in time for the wildflowers, but mostly, we stayed at the parks near home. My parents never took us to Paris, or to see the Great Wall of China or the beaches of Mexico, but they took us to the national parks. Not once, not twice, but again and again.

In hindsight, the long, hot, sticky hikes were fun for them, but they also meant something to me. Not fun at the time maybe (though I’d give anything to go back and do it all again), but they were something. Forced family time. Thought-provoking time. Alone time. Something.

national park family

The author and her family at Bryce Canyon. Courtesy of Mandy Voisin

Arthur Carhart, a former official of the U.S. Forest Service said, “If we are to have broad-thinking men and women of high mentality, of good physique and with a true perspective on life, we must allow our populace a communion with nature in areas of more or less wilderness condition.”

I think my parents read that quote and felt the need to get their Barbie-loving, iPod cleaving, makeup-ridden daughters out in the wild. They felt it was important for their daughters to know that places exist, preserved against civilization and its roads and masses and developments, because they are beautiful, and for no other reason.

So happy 100 years, National Parks of the United States. Thanks for giving us a place to be in the wild, to escape from the bustle of suburban life, and mostly … for giving us a place big enough to stretch our legs.

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About The Author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.