Happy 100th birthday to the NPS!

Today, August 25th, is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

As a fitting birthday gift, the Kathahdin Woods and Waters was declared a new national monument yesterday.

A big chunk of some of the most wild lands left in the northeast United States is now protected.

A place full of wildlife, a wonderful night sky and where I would love to spend the peak of the New England fall.

There is, of course, some controversy as there always is when private lands become public land.

There are pros and cons about the economic transition from a formerly active industrial economy (logging or mining for example), into the more tourist based economy that a new national park or monument provides.

But this article is not about that economic aspect of a new national monument or national park.

It is about National Monuments in particular.

The lesser known sibling to the more famous National Parks.

There are fifty-nine National Parks.  But 124 National Monuments.

National Monuments are, typically, more laid back in terms of regulations and are less crowded.

They are a little more obscure.

Some National Monuments do become National Parks eventually.

But when they are National Monuments, I think the places seem just a bit more special.

A quieter place where you have to seek it out a bit more.

With that in mind, here are some photos of some National Monuments I’ve been to over the years.

Not all are managed by NPS, but all the National Monuments are equally special.

  •  Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument

Coyote Natural Bridge


Still controversial twenty years after being created, I think Escalante was the first national monument I had ever been to back in 2001. Or at least the first one I re-call!

The Colorado Plateau is stunning and unlike anything I had seen before.

And that first trip to Escalante NM started my love for these desolate but stunning places.

I have back a few times since 2001.

And I always love returning.


  • Dinosaur National Monument

View from Ruple Point

Dinosaur National Monument is justifiably known for the wonderful fossil displays that are present in the Utah side of the park.

We went there for that reason initially.

Much to my surprise, the hiking is superb, too.

And from this hiking, you can see what many people consider ground zero for the modern environmental movement: Echo Park. 

Saving Echo Park from being dammed up caused Glen Canyon to be dammed up instead as a compromise.

A compromise David Brower of the Sierra Club vowed never to make again.

Go to Dinosaur National Monument. Enjoy the natural history and the beauty of the area.

But perhaps also contemplate what could have been and what we have now because of these decisions made long ago.

  • Colorado National Monument
Looking into Monument Canyon

Colorado National Monument is a gem of a place that most people just drive through on Rim Rock Drive.

The views are certainly impressive from this road.

But there are some wonderful hikes into canyons to explore, too.

We stayed there one year. The campground was full on a Friday night. By Saturday morning? Not even half-full. Most people use the CNM as inexpensive lodging on the way to points in nearby Utah further west.

Fine by us. 🙂

  • Agate Fossil Beds

The Agate Fossil Beds was part of a memorable weekend to Nebraska last fall.

The Nebraska Panhandle was beautiful.

Some stark badlands mixed in with some lush canyons found on the Pine Ridge.

And the night sky where we camped near the National Monument was stupendous.

The Agate Fossil Beds had that stark allure found so often on the High Plains.

A site of both natural history and more recent American western history, too.

A wonderful place.

  • Bandelier National Monument

Near the Painted Cave

Many of the well known Ancient Puebloan areas aren’t really backpacking destinations. The need to preserve the cultural remnants in this area hinder backcountry activity. Understandably so. Camping is allowed in one designated area typically.

A major exception is Bandelier National Monument.

Some wonderful backcountry canyons that contain some very old remnants of those who lived there before. The Painted Cave is accessed by ahike of twenty-miles round trip and is not to be missed.

Some recent fires and floods made the trails somewhat more difficult to follow. The backcountry experience is now even more pronounced. 

And that is what is known as a “good thing” ! 🙂

  • Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments

Ruin Canyon

Two different National Monuments that are right next to each other on the Colorado and Utah borders.

Hovenweep is managed by the National Park Service; Canyon of the Ancients by the BLM.

Both are wonderfully isolated and contain some fantastic areas to explore.

Hiking trails connect some of the major areas in both the BLM and NPS lands.

A memorable evening was spent seeing the buildings mere minutes from our campsite in the light of the almost full moon.

It is a place I really would love to see again.

  • Natural Bridges National Monument

Mile for mile, seeing all the natural bridges that give this monument its name is a very scenic hike. One of the best I’ve done in many ways.

A 15-mile day hike is required or do the hike over two days. Camping but not backpacking is allowed here.  But you can split the hikes up by utilizing different trail heads.

Either way, the natural bridges are fantastic to see. And some unusual square Pueblo dwellings can be spotted.

Nearby is USFS land that is equally interesting.

  • Rio Grande del Norte National Monument – Wild Rivers Recreation Area
La Junta Point

We went here before this place before it became a National Monument.

Some friends enjoyed my suggestion to come here one year so much, that we returned to see it again.

Some exquisite car camping can be done. Often overlooking the Rio Grand Gorge itself. Backcountry campsites are located along the Rio Grande.

And the hikes into and along the gorge itself are fantastic.

And is the there anything better than a southwest sunset?


Some of the other National Monuments that have been visited on a longer hike but only briefly. There were other visits that were memorable in their own way, but the ones above were overnight destinations.  The Agate Fossil Beds National Monument has no camping, but there is some camping very close by public land in this area so that we never felt as if we’re going out of our way to camp.

The National Parks are exquisite and should rightfully be celebrated today.

But there is something about the  National Monuments that really appeals to me as well.

A little more work is needed to appreciate the areas many times.

But I think the payoff is very much worth it.


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
7 years ago

I love that you picked lesser known places. While I love some of the bigger parks I’ve visited, it is the smaller ones that have usually meant more to me. I’m also typically partial to USFS lands versus NPS due to the crowd differences.

Devin Quince
Devin Quince
7 years ago
Reply to  Misti

Not to mention the opposition to dogs by the NPS