The National Parks Foundation, the charitable partner of the National Parks Service, provides many great services, one of which is the 75-page America’s National Parks Owner’s Guide. This booklet, available in electronic form from the NPF website, is a useful resource to learn a little about a lot of parks, and it’s free, so you have nothing to lose.
The words “Owners Guide” conjure up images of thick booklets crammed with tiny font and technical words. While the National Parks Foundation’s Owners Guide is a clever title designed to remind Americans of our ownership of the National Parks, the guide is far from technical or boring. The guide manages to fit information on the nearly 400 park units in the National Park System into a mere 75 pages along with nice photos of many of the parks. The guide is laid out geographically so it’s easy to find the park units near you or find parks along the route of a trip you’re planning. There are a couple of paragraphs about the area and a brief description of every park in each region. The guide also contains mini articles (titled “what will you see”) on select parks scattered throughout its pages. In the back of the guide is a directory with the address of each park headquarters and information on whether or not the park has an entry fee, junior ranger program and camping. It is available for free as a 21 MB .pdf download from the NPF website.
I like many things about the guide. First, it’s free, so there’s no risk–if you don’t like it, delete it. Secondly, the photos, while not the most stunning National Park photos I’ve seen, add interest and a face to many of the parks. I also like the geographic layout with basic maps so it’s easy to see what’s nearby if I’m taking a trip. However, the guide does not offer enough detail to do any real planning, so you’ll need to do more research on hours, holidays, facilities, etc. before visiting (most of which is available online from the nps.gov website). My biggest disappointment with the guide is the lack of reader interaction. The .pdf format lends itself to links, both inside the document and out, but few are used in the Owner’s Guide. A good improvement for future editions would be the use of links on the maps and text of each park which would allow you to get additional information, perhaps a link to the nps.gov site for that park.
While America’s National Parks Owner’s Guide is not designed to be a complete source of information on the parks, it is an easy-to-use tool which will allow you to make some preliminary planning decisions about visiting the parks. I plan to print a copy and take it with me on trips, just to let me know what’s nearby in case I get a little extra time to make a field trip.
(To download your own copy of America’s National Parks Owner’s Guide 2009, click here)