This past fall, because all other vacation plans were crushed by the pandemic, Britt and I decided to take a trip to Badlands National Park. I love National Parks but have never planned a full trip around one. As part of our preparations, I recalled that visitors to parks could keep track of their travels with a passport. Visiting more National Parks has long been a goal, so I decided to look further into this.
I was familiar with the small blue books, made to look similar to actual U.S. passports, but there are actually multiple versions for different levels of obsessive personalities. What they all have in common are pages with a little rectangle for you to place a park stamp and extra space to put “cancellations.” When you explain this to people, there is likely going to be a lot of confusion because the stamp is like a big postage stamp (aka a sticker), whilst the cancellations are the official term for a passport stamp (as in the ink press you recieve on your passport to mark your entry and exit from a country or, in this case, the park’s symbol and date of visit). Long story short: we use the term “stamp” for too many things in this country.
The “stamps” are collectibles in and of themselves. Not so much in rarity, as they are all still in print, but only a certain number of locations are released each year. So you may need to find the stamp sheet from 1993 to get the Wright Brothers National Memorial stamp you’re looking for, or it’s possible you have to wait for a future stamp release for a visited park (though this program has been going since 1986, so they’ve covered a lot of territory by now).
The Classic Edition blue passport is good for getting started if you aren’t sure how much you will use it. The limitations are that there are only so many pages that can fit in it even with the expander pack and, once full, you will need to get another book to keep collecting stamps and cancellations. Beyond that, there is a Junior Ranger Edition, which is geared more for kids and has worksheets and activities to help them learn about the parks and why they are important.
Moving up from there we have the Collectors Edition, which has a spot already labelled and reserved for every location in the Passport Program. No need to get additional books or pages.
After intensely overthinking things I decided to go with the ultimate Passport, the Explorer Edition. This is a zippered three ring binder with pages that can be removed, reorganized, and allows you to add new blank pages however you see fit. The benefit of this is flexibility and endless ability to expand. We thought about it and decided to collect more than just the stamps and cancellations, using full pages front and back for one park (that could normally fit four). This allows us to collect stickers and other fun items and make it more of a scrapbook than a traditional passport. We may need to eventually use multiple books, but I’m happy to have the flexibility to make something that is more fun for us to look back on in the future.
The Passport is a great way to track your exploration of the National Park system because not only do you stamp a cancellation into your booklet for each park you visit, but also for each date you visit. So if you really dig on Voyageurs and go there every year, your passport will reflect that. In addition, this program is not limited to just big national parks like Yellowstone, but also includes National Monuments, National Historic Sites, National Scenic Riverways…. You get the picture. I am now planning years’ worth of trips and altering non-parks related vacations around filling out my passport. I highly recommend getting one if you enjoy exploring the United States and its National Parks. Just be warned that if you are an obsessive person, this may cause mass upheaval in your life.