Lonely Planet Writer

Meet the guy who’s visiting every one of the National Parks this year for its centenary

Conor Knighton, 35, originally from Charleston, West Virginia but living in Los Angeles has this year, in his own words, “gone all-in” on America’s National Parks Service to celebrate their centenary.

"It’s far too difficult to pick a favorite Park", says Conor
“It’s far too difficult to pick a favorite Park”, says Conor.  Image by Efrain Robles, CBS News

His weekly travel series on CBS Sunday News sees him adventuring through every one of the 59 of the Parks across the United States. “I put all of my stuff in storage and I am living on the road close to full-time.”

Conor with Jeff Bradybaugh to Zion National Park
Conor with Jeff Bradybaugh to Zion National Park Image by CBS News

“The 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service is what encouraged me to devote THIS specific year to covering parks,” he tells Lonely Planet Travel News. “But it was really an appreciation of how many incredible stories can be found within the parks that inspired me to head out “On the Trail” in search of some of the most interesting ones.”

At the Virgin Islands National Park with the park ranger
At the Virgin Islands National Park with the park ranger Image by CBS News

Conor says it’s far too difficult to pick a favourite park. “But one of my favourite experiences has been scuba diving an underwater trail at Biscayne National Park in Florida. Moving from shipwreck to shipwreck, you get to learn the stories of these vessels that sank along the Florida reef.”

His travels aren’t without their challenges though. “So far, the surprise physical challenge of the trip has been Guadalupe Mountain in Texas. It’s very possible I had eaten too much barbecue the day before, but, for whatever reason, that hike was a beast. And then there are some parks that are just challenging to get to. For Dry Tortugas, you drive all the way to Key West, get on a boat, and then keep going for 70 more miles. This summer, I’m headed to Alaska – some of those National Parks are particularly challenging to access.”

Conor has put all his stuff in storage to head out on the road for a year.
Conor has put all his stuff in storage to head out on the road for a year. Image by Efrain Nobles/CBS News

Conor says that the NPS is such a valuable natural resource in the United States, and hopes tourists at home and abroad can appreciate them. “From a cave in Kentucky to a coral reef in California, the diversity of life and landscape in these parks is amazing. They’re special places to just sit and think, and they’re home to so many different species of plants and wildlife that likely would have gone extinct without protection. They’re often referred to as “America’s Best Idea.” I’m inclined to agree.”

At the Buckstaff Hot Springs, Arkansas.
At the Buckstaff Hot Springs, Arkansas. Image by CBS News

Yet he says that so far, he’s been encountering people from all over the world on the trail. “I’ve actually been surprised by how many different languages I’ve been hearing! For foreign tourists, parks used to be an add-on to a trip. A quick jaunt from Vegas, perhaps. But from what I’ve experienced so far this year, the Parks have become the primary focus of the trip. These are bucket list destinations for people all across the world.”