• Abby Voce

Visiting all 50 States: Taking the Road Less Traveled to Less Traveled Roads

Outdoor Adventure Inspiration in Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Alaska


A dark haired woman sits atop a cliff looking out over a beautiful jagged rocky coastline in Maui, HAwaii

Kipahulu Coast, Haleakalā National Park: Maui, HI - Photo Credit: Tia Fouroohi


 

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It has been a dream of mine for years to travel and explore as much of the world as possible. The pandemic hit, international travel restrictions were implemented, and my study abroad program got canceled… So in early 2021 I took a semester off, packed my car with camping gear and set off for a solo adventure to all of the National Parks within the contiguous United States. Along my journey to these 51 Parks, I traveled through 45 states. Since National Parks were my main focus, I decided to leave another of my goals, to visit all 50 states, for another trip. Last year’s epic trip will be hard to top in 2022, but I know that life is unpredictable and the perfect time to do anything will never come if you keep waiting - you just have to make it happen! I left on my last trip on January 1st of 2021, and now just over a year later I am itching to go on a new adventure!


In 2022 I want to complete my goal of visiting all 50 states!


Since Iowa, Kansas, and Mississippi do not have any National Parks within state borders, I omitted them from last year’s trip. Hawaii and Alaska are obviously not so accessible by car, and flying out to either state was not within my travel budget, so I had to skip them as well. After some research and advanced planning, I am eager to get back to traveling to finish visiting all 50 states!

 

Iowa

Icicles stretch down from the top of Maquoketa Cave State PArk in Iowa

Maquoketa Caves State Park, IA - Photo Credit: Cameron Venti



This first destination on my list this year is the closest to my home state, New York, and would therefore be the shortest drive to visit. Iowa is known for its rolling plains and cornfields, but is also home to historic lands, both above and below ground. I would begin my time in Iowa by visiting one of Iowa’s first state parks, Maquoketa Caves State Park, known for its extensive trail system on the surface and below ground as well. There are 13 caves located within the park, including the 1,100-foot Dancehall Cave as well as Hernado’s Hideaway, Shinbone Cave and Wye Cave. I prefer parks that permit visitors to explore on their own because it allows you to hike and photograph at your own pace, and avoid lines wherever possible. I would also camp in the campground located within the park. You can make reservations from March to November here. I would be sure to visit the park in late spring because the caves are closed October - April for bat hibernation.


I would also hike part of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, a historic 1,300 mile route that spans 5 states. This trail was traveled by Mormons in the late 1800’s on their journey from Illinois to Utah. Although there are multiple points within Iowa to stop and experience the trail, I would be interested in thru-hiking a segment of the trail through the plains. I would do my best to plan this trip in the early spring or late fall, so as to avoid the midsummer heat.

 

Kansas

The sun sets over the lush golden plains of central Kansas

Sunset over Central Kansas - Photo Credit: Matt Phillips



Kansas is often overlooked when compared to neighboring states, but my research about the region made me eager to visit! This midwestern state is home to lakes, rivers and grassy plains. During my visit I would mountain bike the 22 mile Switchgrass Mountain Bike Trail at Wilson State Park. The trail is located along fields, pastures, and prairies winding throughout a historical landscape. I would also plan an overnight kayaking and camping trip on the Kansas River, known as “the Kaw.” There are 19 public boat launches on the river, and sandbars along the river provide a space to set up a tent and camp for free. The river area between the high-water marks, including the sandbars, is available to the public for recreational activities. You can learn more about camping on the Kaw here.


After paddling the Kaw, I would explore the Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, home to rare species and iconic Niobrara chalk formations. The Overlook Trail and the Life on the Rocks Trail lead to three different overlook points where you can view these wonders. Throughout these trails there is a diverse ecosystem of unique plants and animals, including Pronghorn and Cliff Swallows. Finally, there are hundreds of miles of equestrian trails located in Clinton Reservoir State Park and El Dorado Reservoir State Park - though I personally have a deep fear of horses so I will not be taking advantage of those!

 

Mississippi

Ancient cypress trees stretch up through the water on Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi

Gulf Islands National Seashore, MS - Photo Credit: Justin Wilkens



The last state I would visit by car is Mississippi. Although Mississippi is not typically known for its outdoor thrills, the diverse flora and fauna found throughout the shoreline is unique to the region. The region is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a protected ecosystem that includes marshes, shorelines, woodlands and islands off the coast of Mississippi and Florida. I would visit Horn Island, an undeveloped wilderness area off the coast of the National Seashore, that can only be accessed by one of the approved commercial charter services. There are no designated trails on the island, so I would be able to explore at my own pace and avoid the crowds on the mainland. I would boat-in camp on Horn Island to have a very unique experience and enjoy the dark night sky. Campers do not need a camping permit and must camp on relatively flat, level beaches without vegetation or dune structures. Visiting the area in early spring would align with my timeline to visit the previous two states, also allowing me to avoid the summer humidity and hurricane season in the South.


Related: More outdoor gems in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and more, courtesy of Pathloom staff writer Scott Carnahan!

 

Hawaii

A Dark haired woman looks up at the tall lush trees in Haleakala NAtional Park in MAui, Hawaii

Haleakalā National Park: Maui, HI - Photo Credit: Tia Fouroohi



Hawaii is obviously popular for tourism year-round, but forgoing the more touristy destinations and venturing beyond the beaten path into the wilderness of this island state can provide you with a unique and rare adventure that most people do not have the opportunity to experience. Although there are numerous wildlife and forest preserves that look breathtaking throughout the state, I would target the islands of Maui and Hawaiʻi as they are home to Haleakalā National Park and Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, respectively. Of course the National Parks on the islands would be my first stop since I have already visited 51 National Parks - I might as well knock off two more while I am in Hawaii! I would plan my trip in June to avoid the peak tourism and wet seasons.


Haleakalā National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve that protects native species in a maturing volcanic ecosystem using native Hawaiian protocols, generational knowledge, and traditional and modern methods for the preservation of natural resources. The park extends from the 10,023 foot (3055m) summit of Haleakalā down the southeast of the mountain to the Kīpahulu coast near Hana - be aware of steep, winding roads! The remote nature of this park makes it particularly exciting to visit, but much more pre-trip planning is required because weather is highly unpredictable and there is no public transportation into the park. I would camp at Hosmer Grove Campground, located in the cloud belt of Haleakalā, at nearly 7,000 feet in elevation in the forest of the Summit District. I would be sure to catch a stunning sunrise and sunset while in the park too!


Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, in my opinion, is one of the most fascinating National Parks in the country. This park encompasses the summits of two of the world's most active volcanoes - Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. The park is also a designated International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the deeply rooted Hawaiian culture and history within the park. While at this park I would be sure to hike the Crater Rim Trail, Ha‘akulamanu (Sulphur Banks) and Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube). Finally, I would camp at Nāmakanipaio Campground, located within the park.

 

Alaska

A breathtaking expanse of Alaskan seacoast in Kanai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK - Photo Credit: Izzy Majcher



The best for last: Alaska. I have always had a fascination with Alaska, with the remote nature of its ecosystems and the hundreds of thousands of acres of land virtually untouched by humans. I hope to live in Alaska someday, even if it is just for a short period of time. I think the extreme conditions push humans to have more respect and a healthier relationship with the environment. Maybe it’s because they have no choice…or maybe it's because it takes a certain type of person to live there!


Although there are 8 National Parks in the state, the two parks that I would target for my first visit are Denali and Kenai Fjords. Due to time and financial restrictions, the ability to access most of the National Parks is extremely limited. For example, Katmai, Lake Clark, Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks are only accessible by plane. Kobuk Valley is the most remote National Park of them all, located north of the Arctic Circle, and is only accessible by charter plane from Kotzebue or Bettles. More information on access to all of these parks is available here.


I would plan my trip in the summer between May and September to avoid the extreme winter conditions, and to have the best chance at seeing wildlife. I would fly into Anchorage to visit both Denali and Kenai Fjords - both within a 5 hour drive of the city. I would experience Denali by hiking off trail and wandering freely throughout the park wilderness. I would camp at one of the six campgrounds in the park that stay open during the summer months. At Kenai Fjords I would be sure to make a reservation for a boat tour throughout glacier water in the Gulf of Alaska. After the tour I would camp at one of the first-come, first-serve sites at Exit Glacier.


While in Alaska, I would love to check off all of the National Parks I have left to visit - but it is unrealistic to do so in a single trip due to cost, accessibility, and timing. This specific trip would be to count Alaska as my 50th state, but I'll be sure to come back to finish off the rest of the Parks as soon as I can!


OTTER BUDDIES! And they're waving!

Alaska Friends at Kenai Fjords National Park, AK - Photo Credit: Kedar Gadge



 

Get exclusive stories, trail reports, National Park alternatives, recipes, and more delivered directly to your inbox from our growing team of experienced thru-hikers, former National Park employees, and fellow adventure lovers.



 

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