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  • Writer's pictureKim Kortum

Passport to Your National Parks

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

A little know fact about national parks and other public lands is that many of them have a rubber stamp, often referred to as a cancellation stamp, that can be used as an inexpensive way to keep a record of your travels. It sometimes has a very visible designated location in a visitor center that is easy to find. Other times it is kept behind the desk and you have to ask for the stamp specifically. No matter where you find it, the stamp will always be the same: a circle that shows the name of the park, location, and the date you visited.

There are books available for purchase at visitor centers called Passport to your National Parks. They are a pocket sized spiral bound book that divides the country into regions by color and has space to collect your stamps for each region. Often the cancellation stamp will coordinate with the same region color. The books also have pages with a description and history of the region and a list of the properties to visit within that region. Lastly, there are spaces where you can affix a "region stamp" which is actually a sticker. Packets of region stamps are sold in gift shops and they change yearly.

Each of our daughters has had a National Parks Passport book since they were toddlers. Every property they have visited that had a stamp available has been documented in their passport book. My husband didn't purchase his until he was in college, so he is missing some stamps for places he visited before he had the book.

Often there are extra stamps to get besides the basic place and date stamp. There may be one specifically for Junior Rangers, there may be special temporarily available stamps to mark an anniversary, or just something special for that location. You'll have to decide which you want to collect. A purist may limit their collection to only the traditional cancellation stamps while others might like to collect any and all stamps available. You'll also have to decide if you want to collect a stamp from multiple locations within one park. For example, larger parks like Yellowstone that have multiple visitor centers will have a different stamp available at each location. As you can imagine, your book will start to fill up fast if you aren't careful about what stamps to get and where

you place them.

Now, as someone who has been participating in the passport program for about 20 years, I'll give you my advice. Don't buy the Passport to Your National Parks books that are available to purchase at the parks. You can do better. First, the annual region stamps sets that you can purchase to stick into the books are simply unnecessary and a huge waste of space. We have actually stared using the space allotted for those stickers as additional space for cancellation stamps. This is my main complaint about these books. Second, the books are arranged by region and when you visit one region more than another you will fill up one region and then have empty spaces in other less visited regions. Luckily they have started to sell add-in pages that can be added to a region to give yourself more room. There are also blank pages at the back for any additional stamps that we have used when a regions pages are full.

If I had to start all over, I would purchase a spiral bound journal with blank pages. This would allow the most space for collecting your stamps. I also like the idea of a blank book so that you could place stamps in chronological order as you collect them. This would organize your stamps according to the trips you take rather than by regions. A third benefit to this type of passport book would be journaling. With blank pages you would have the freedom to jot a few notes along with a stamp if there were things you wanted to remember. For example, where you camped when you obtained that stamp. There is definitely not space for that in the traditional parks passports.

My last advice, and maybe the most important, is to put your name in contact information in the front of your book. How sad to collect stamps for years and then lose your book. Anyone that found it would surely want to return it to you, but they can only do that if there is contact info.

Lastly, follow this link to sample passport stamps available at a single park location.

Visit publiclandstraveler on Instagram for pics of our trips

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