In 2015, Darius Nabors and Trevor Kemp quit their jobs and hopped into a Dodge 2500 truck to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial by visiting all 59 national parks in 59 weeks. Their journey will end in Maine’s Acadia National Park on Aug. 25, the date of the centennial.
Nabors, a 31-year-old college fundraiser, always wanted to visit all the parks, and after giving a TedX Talk about bucket lists, decided it was time to fulfill his childhood dream. His engineer friend, Kemp, age 32, joined him.
To honor the creation of the NPS, Nabors decided to look as much like park supporter Teddy Roosevelt as possible — Rough Rider hat, monocle and all. Kemp, meanwhile, decided to pay tribute to naturalist John Muir by growing his beard for the entire 59 weeks. They documented their experiences on 59in59.com.
Here, Nabors shares tips for how he got the most out of their adventure. Just don’t ask a park ranger for the best lookout spot to take a photo.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
“The trick is to know what the park has to offer. You can look at parks by activity. For example, if you’re a rock climber, your list of parks is very different from that of a hiker. Fit what you like to do with the park. Joshua Tree has great bouldering and hiking, so that drives the time of year you want to be there. If you don’t like canoeing, then Voyagers (Minnesota) is not the best park for you. I’m a trail runner, so that’s how I select parks. In Mt. Rainier (Washington), I really wanted to do the Wonderland Trail, which goes around the mountain.
Sometimes I’ll get on Instagram and look at the park hashtag and get inspired by some images and plan to go to those places. At other times I don’t do that so I can experience those images fresh.”
BOND WITH A RANGER
“Spray Park is the most beautiful part of the Wonderland Trail. I found out about that from the ranger when I got there. I always go to the Visitor Center and talk to people in person to find out the best things to do. You should do some advance research to find the spots you should see. Then talk to a ranger to confirm the list.
When I was in the Great Smoky Mountains (North Carolina and Tennessee), the rangers recommended places and trails and shortcuts. They know so much that it makes everything easier. They can also tell you the best time of day to hike a trail.
If you ask them where’s the coolest overlook to take a picture, they’ll say, ‘Next.’ But if you say, ‘I’m here for three days, where should I go,’ they really open up. You have to show that you’re legitimately interested and willing to go deeper.”
“A lot of the coolest experiences happened because I didn’t know about something in advance. I knew you could canoe through the swamp in Congaree National Park (South Carolina). When I showed up, there was a 9:30 a.m. canoe trip, which I got on because of a cancellation. You have to be open to that.”
“I prefer to stay away from the lodges and in the backcountry. It’s cheaper and in many cases, it’s free. In Petrified Forest [Arizona], it’s the only way to stay overnight. It’s so cool because they limit the number of people who can stay overnight to about 12.
At Great Sand Dunes [Colorado] you can camp in the dunes. The sunrise and sunset from the dune field was unbelievable even though I was completely covered in sand. Those experiences are unique. For me, the backcountry gives you opportunities that aren’t available any other way.”
“Anything farther than 4 miles from your car means the number of people will decrease dramatically. If there’s a 2-mile trail to a lake, tons of people will be on it. But if it’s 4 miles away, the crowd really diminishes. You can escape the crowds just by looking at when it’s busiest.
I’m a fan of hiking in the backcountry and prefer to visit during slow season. I don’t mind the weather not being perfect. I don’t want to go to Yosemite [California] in middle of summer when it’s slammed. I’d rather go when it’s less crowded.”
TAKE YOUR TIME
“I usually aim for a week in a park. It’s totally park dependent on how much time to spend. Some are too small to spend a week. In Yellowstone (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho) and Grand Teton (Wyoming), you could spend the whole summer. Glacier (Montana) has 700 miles of trails, so you couldn’t hike it all in a summer if you tried.”