NOTE: This is a non-quilt related post.

We did it!

Last week we visited the last two National Parks in the US–63 in all!

In 1996, my husband Phil and I decided to begin a family quest to visit all the US National Parks. Our kids were 6 and 4 years old at the time. We started with Everglades and Biscayne National Parks in Florida, because my family is in Florida and we could combine the trip with a visit to my parents.

Phil, Phillip and Matt–Everglades National Park 1996

And we finished 27 years later in 2023 at Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic National Parks above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Phillip finished with us, but Matt opted out a few years ago as a self described “indoor cat,” after joining us for over 50 of the parks. Which is perfectly fine.

Cindy, Phil and Phillip at Gates of the Arctic National Park 2023

Kobuk and Gates are two of the least visited parks in the system, because they are so remote. Another is American Samoa, which is located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia. There are a couple of flights from Honolulu to Apia, the capital, each week and you need a passport to visit, even though it’s a US territory. We visited there in 2019, after Phillip graduated from medical school in Los Angeles–easier to get there from LA than from DC.

American Samoa NP – Cindy Grisdela

There are two ways to visit Kobuk and Gates of the Arctic–by foot and raft down the rivers connecting them, or by bush plane. We opted for the second option, because we didn’t have two weeks to do the rafting trip.

We chartered a float plane that could land on water to take us from Fairbanks, Alaska to the parks. The plane on the left in the photo above is the one we were on–just big enough for the three of us and the pilot. The other one is taking off from the float pond in Bettles, Alaska where we stopped to refuel on the way up and on the way back.

Braided streams in northern Alaska 2023 – Cindy Grisdela


Snow capped mountains in northern Alaska 2023 – Cindy Grisdela


Sand dunes in Kobuk Valley National Park 2023 – Cindy Grisdela


Approach to Walker Lake in Gates of the Arctic National Park 2023 – Cindy Grisdela

The scenery was varied and beautiful–from braided streams to snow capped mountains, unlikely sand dunes to pristine lakes.

We stopped on the Kobuk river in Kobuk National Park after flying over these amazing sand dunes that appeared seemingly out of nowhere–remnants of the ancient glaciers that once covered the area. And what is there to do there on a short visit, you might ask?

Skipping Stones contest – Kobuk Valley National Park 2023 – Cindy Grisdela

A skipping stones contest! It’s unclear if my husband or my son won–depends on who you ask–but I definitely lost.

We landed on Walker Lake in Gates of the Arctic–I was hoping to see loons, which are native to the area, but we didn’t come across any, sadly. The photo of the three of us at the beginning of this post is from that stop.

We stayed in a cute Airbnb in Fairbanks and enjoyed a few days of relaxation before flying back to the lower 48.

The only quilts I saw were on the sides of buildings in Fairbanks–the flowers were beautiful, even though it was warmer than normal there for this time of year.

This was actually the second time we tried to visit these parks–the first time was two years ago when we planned to see Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk, and Denali. We did get to visit Denali, but the weather at the other two was too bad for the small planes to venture out. I’m grateful that it worked out for us to go back and finish the quest!

My appetite for traveling was started by my dad, who with my mom took the four of us kids, plus the dog sometimes, on camping trips all across the country. When I was about 10 or 11, we drove from Florida to California along the Gulf Coast, Texas and the Southwest, stopping at the Grand Canyon and several other parks in Arizona. Then we drove back from the San Francisco Bay area through Wyoming, where we stopped at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. I am the oldest of four children, and my youngest brother was in diapers at the time, so we didn’t venture very far at any of these places, but I was hooked! The landscape was so rich and varied to me, coming from the flat scenery I was used to in Florida.

Samuels Family camping 1969

When I had children of my own, I wanted to share the beauty of these natural places with them.

We were fortunate that when my husband was working, he was sent on business trips to locations that we could use to jumpstart our travels and take advantage of groupings of parks, like the five parks in Utah that we visited after a business trip to Las Vegas, or the parks in Hawaii and California that we saw after a business trip to Maui.

People always ask me which park is my favorite?

That’s a hard question to answer. They are all so varied and different. The one that grabbed me first on that long ago camping trip with my family was the Grand Tetons, even though the two days we were there were overcast and rainy, and we never got out of the camper. I’ve been back there 3 or 4 times now, and if I absolutely had to choose one, that would probably be it.

Grand Tetons NP – Cindy Grisdela

But there are others that are also compelling. The big ones that most people know about–Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, and Great Smoky Mountains–are all beautiful places, but I tend to gravitate towards the ones that are lesser known and surprised me when visiting, like Crater Lake in Oregon, Saquaro in Arizona, Arches in Utah, Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, and the Dry Tortugas in Florida.

If you’re interested in exploring the parks, either in person or online, visit for links and information.

Grisdela Family Lake Clark NP Alaska 2017

Thanks for reading this long post! It’s been an amazing journey and I’m grateful to my family for joining me in the quest.

I did make one quilt from this adventure–it’s called Alaska Dreaming and it was inspired by our trip to Wrangell-St. Elias NP in 2016. This quilt was included in the Inspired by the National Parks book curated by my friend Donna DeSoto.

Alaska Dreaming – Cindy Grisdela


  1. Lee Samuels on August 3, 2023 at 5:11 pm

    Love this Cindy! So glad that your family finished the journey. Congrats on the accomplishment!

    • Cindy on August 4, 2023 at 10:09 am

      Thanks Lee–it’s been a lot of fun!

  2. Kristin F on August 4, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    What a fabulous journey you were able to undertake! And I see a quilt possibility in that overhead photo of the sand dunes…

    • Cindy on August 5, 2023 at 11:12 am

      Thank you Kristin–it was a lot of fun–and there may be quilt possibilities to add to my list!


    • Deb Cashatt on August 5, 2023 at 12:44 pm

      What a wonderful adventure. I was heartened to read about your skipping rock contest. It’s a thing with my family, too. Dave and I spent one Christmas night skipping rocks and trying to follow the path vis flashlight. Last month, son-in-law, 2 grandkids, and I had a contest in a mountain stream. Dave kept us supplied with flat stones. And I was not the winner.

      • Cindy on August 5, 2023 at 5:58 pm

        Thanks Deb–I’m glad to know skipping stones is a thing for your family too. I love the Christmas night story!


  3. Rachel Biel on August 4, 2023 at 3:34 pm

    So fun to learn more about your family and the travels. The flower pants you had on as a kid are priceless! Such great memories…. What a beautiful world we live in!

    • Cindy on August 5, 2023 at 11:11 am

      Thanks Rachel!

  4. Janet on August 22, 2023 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I read it to my husband and with your beautiful pictures we could only imagine the wonderful memories you now have.

    • Cindy on August 24, 2023 at 10:08 am

      Thank you Janet–I’m glad you enjoyed reading about our quest.


  5. Lynne on August 24, 2023 at 2:19 pm

    I’m an Ohioan transplanted to Oregon in 4th grade, and whenever relatives came to visit we’d take them to Crater Lake. So very lovely. Grew up to be another indoor cat (love that, going to use it from now on!) , but still enjoy the parks I’ve visited since retiring. Hope your sons continue the Samuels/Grisdela family tradition with their families.

    • Cindy on August 25, 2023 at 10:26 am

      Thank you Lynne–Crater Lake is one of my favorites. And I love the idea of being an “indoor cat”!