Our urban worlds are filled with wires, traffic, devices, and digital distractions galore. To regain our soul, nature floods in with renewing powers. More than the air that clears our lungs, the beauty sparks something deep inside and we feel at ease. All distractions disappear, other than our thoughts and what we absorb from the mountains, streams, prairies, and skies.

This is what our national and state parks deliver – a moment to reconnect with awe and wonder.

The current issue of Time underscores our lack of time away with a cover story asking “Who Killed Summer Vacation?” Some of the memories that resonate for me are those spent with my family visiting some of the natural wonders.

We need to get back to nature to recapture our spirit. We need to recapture the summer vacation to renew our relationships with self and others.

national parks

Take the Time to Escape and Regenerate!

So this summer, take time to escape to nature’s regenerative power. If you need a starting point, outlined below are six national and state parks to consider, all from my personal experience.

1 — Zion National Park: Going to Zion was amazing. The beauty is carved in the rocks and reflected in the streams. The hiking was tiring yet inspiring. The upward hikes kept my fear of heights in check through the wonder of the views. Through it all, it was time to spend re-orienting myself and bonding with my youngest son.

Close to Zion National Park is Bryce Canyon National Park. You can get a two-for-one through a quick drive. Bryce looks castle-like, a place to dream.

2 — Black Hills National Forest: This one is near to my heart. Growing up in South Dakota meant we spent many family summer vacations in the Black Hills.

My first camping experience was here and, during one time, we almost got stuck there after a hard night’s rain. And then there were the family outings. Camping with my dad or driving through Spearfish Canyon with all of us in our Plymouth Valiant will always be remembered. No minivans then or streaming TV, just six of us split evenly between two bench seats.

And, of course, within the Black Hills is Mount Rushmore. If you need a jolt of patriotism, history, and beauty, Mount Rushmore is the place.

3 — Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park: Big Bend is like going back in time. There are no big retail chains around this park, just wide open spaces and mountains. Being at Big Bend is like being on a newly formed planet – a lot of interesting formations with few people and limited modern conveniences.

Big Bend represents the “big unplug.” Too many miss this. I am always amazed by how many native Texans have not been to Big Bend. No matter your state, you will return with a new state of mind.

4 — Palo Duro Canyon State Park: Palo Duro Canyon is another undiscovered joy. Literally in the middle of a pasture, the beauty is hidden below the bluff. And, speaking of planets, hiking through Palo Duro could be like exploring Mars. There is a lot of red-colored space to explore.

5 — Mt. Rainier National Park: Visiting Mt. Rainier was way too short and is on my list to return. We arrived on the perfect day. The sun was bright and the flowers added a flash of color to our path. Looking at Mt. Rainier puts your life in perspective. What impact can I have to even come close to what is created here? This is not a dismantling view but one in which aspirations are built.

6 — Rocky Mountain National Park: The Rocky Mountains bring us home to family again. From our family road trips from South Dakota to taking my own family skiing for the first time or biking around Keystone. The Rockies is where the idea for Activate Leadership was born and where laughter among friends and family still echo in my memories.

What National Parks Inspire

The history of our national park system was not a straight path but it was engaged with great passion and foresight. John Muir, an early advocate for creating our national park system, had it right:

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Generations before us saw the value of national parks. We now need to jump in with our support to safeguard the beauty, keep our parks in good repair, and protect them for the generations ahead. There is a rhythm to nature and we need to keep this in mind.

National parks are much more than a natural resource. National parks are a spiritual resource.

Nature arouses. Nature restores. We need this personal inspiration.

Nature creates memories. Nature builds relationships. We need this friendship.

Grab ahold of your summer vacation and go to a national park! Leave behind the digital world and explore nature’s world!

What national or state park do you recommend visiting this summer? Share your favorite places!