I used to have a serious problem as a child collecting things. Beanie Babies, Tamogotchis, rocks, shells, even tile samples at Eagle Hardware (RIP). My mother just LOVED it when I’d pick a new item to take up space in the house. As an adult, I’ve calmed down–a bit. Now I collect things like beer coasters and bottlecaps. They take up little space and attest to my love of beer. But when you’re supposed to take nothing but photographs, what hiking or outdoorsy item could I start to collect?
Enter the National Parks Passport. A little blue book, almost palm-sized, that you can fill with stamps (both the ink kind, and the sticker kind) documenting your travels to all 400+ National Park sites. Besides the 59 National Parks, that includes monuments, trails, historic sites and battlefields, and more. The second I learned about it, I was instantly excited and sad. I have done some nearly-cross country trips in my youth, and trips to some parks or monuments I might not return to, so I wish I had started one at a younger age.
Once I decided to buy one, I had options. There is the traditional passport (around $10), a Collector’s Edition ($25) and the deluxe Explorer Edition ($55). They also make one for children, but I say why not start them a regular passport and pass it down when they’re responsible enough to update it themselves? I was very intrigued by the Collector’s Edition–it has a designated space for all 400+ sites! However, it is much larger, more like a notebook, and therefore I deemed the pocket-sized traditional one easier for toting around. Additionally, I planned on collecting only the free ink stamps (called cancellations), not the sticker stamps that have sets released every year for purchase, so the blank space for stickers would have driven me crazy. While the Explorer Edition looks like the best of both worlds in terms of being able to add pages and weatherproof, the price tag was a bit high.
So where can you buy a Passport? I bought mine online from the online store of America’s National Parks, but for those who like seeing a product in person, many NPS sites with a gift shop sell them. For folks in Seattle, our trusty Flagship REI store sells them–and you can even get a cancellation stamp there! The Outdoor Recreation Information Center has the cancellation for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site (also found at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Pioneer Square).
However, I had a different location in mind for my first stamp–Washington DC. As I mentioned earlier, I do the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual Out of the Darkness Overnight walk, which this year was in Washington DC. A quick scan of the NPS Cancellation list makes me think Washington DC has the most cancellations–it even has it’s own section in the Passport!
The Passport is organized into regions, with each region having a different color ink. While the Passport comes with a brief explanation of where to get cancellations, I recommend downloading the list here for a complete list of stations.
I promised my mom and the boyfriendo I wouldn’t take up *too* much time with the stamps–and for the most part, I kept that promise. Once you find where the cancellations are, it’s a wham-bam procedure. Make sure to double-check the date before stamping–I unfortunately have one stamp dated as July 2017. Also make sure to evenly coat the stamp in ink–I have some weaker than others, and the boyfriendo graciously raced to get some stamps for me as I began walking the Overnight, and made some vivid imprints.
The biggest problem came in finding where to get the cancellations themselves. For the most part in DC, info booths and gift shops were easy to find (and sometimes air-conditioned!). However, the Korea War Veteran Memorial info booth was not staffed when we were there, and we could not for the life of us locate the Lincoln Memorial bookstore. The Washington Memorial gift shop did have nearly every stamp possible on the National Mall, which was super helpful, so maybe save that for your last stop on the mall. The guide to cancellation stations does recommend contacting the park directly to locate the station exactly.
I never did find the cancellation station for the Grant memorial, and then there are the parks and memorials I might never get to return to, like Haleakala. Luckily, there is a solution for those situations. If you send a self-addressed, stamped (not sealed!) envelope to the park, they can stamp a piece of paper for you, and you can tape it into your passport. Not ideal, but for a girl who yearns to say “wouldn’t you say my collection’s complete?” it is a nice way to round out my book. Hopefully they can even adjust the date to my exact visit!
If you, like me, are indoors not traveling as much as you would like and would like to live vicariously through others, I highly recommend checking out Mikah’s from Travel Beyond Comprehension‘s Instagram @TBCMikah–he’s trying to become the youngest person to visit all 417 NPS sites, and he’s filling his collector’s edition passport along the way! While I don’t know if I am ambitious enough to go for all cancellations (I’m not sure if the normal passport can even hold all 400+ cancellations!), I am eagerly anticipating my next trip–and the additions to my collection it may bring.