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The 10 Best of Everything Families: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers

Author : Susan Magsamen
Published : 2009-03-17

The problem with the "10 best" of anything books, articles or wish-lists is that you're bound to fail from the get-go. That's one reason why the Traveler has yet to release its Top 10 National Parks list. While we don't normally shirk from a good debate, as soon as you begin listing the "ten best" of anything, you're trolling for trouble.

In compiling The 10 Best of Everything Families: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers, Susan H. Magsamen and the National Geographic staff looked for the ten best of just about everything: regional parks and playgrounds, ice cream shops, farmer's markets, art camps, bike trails, skate parks, zoos, cherries, potatoes, prehistoric sites, destination trips, and, naturally, national parks.

How'd the top 10 national parks list fare? How 'bout a solid "C."

The main problem with this book is that it's a book of ... lists. Names, addresses, website urls, and a few sentences of description. Sometimes just one sentence. There's scant little color or insight to pull you into the listing, to come away truly understanding why the listees should be on your list of destinations.

Here's how they describe Acadia National Park, which tops their list of 10 best national parks:

View this park's stunning ocean shoreline by driving the 27-mile Park Look Road. On the eastern edge of the island is Sand Beach, the perfect spot to view a sunrise, spread an afternoon picnic, and explore tide pools teeming with barnacles, sea stars, and crabs. The Junior Ranger program offers boat tours.

And here's the rundown on Grand Canyon National Park:

Known worldwide for its geological grandeur, this park is a great destination for families with older kids. Try the Junior Ranger Adventure Hike down the strenuous South Kaibab Trail or, for kids seven and up, hitch a mule ride at the North Rim. Tykes in tow? Rangers read fun books, hand out condor tattoos, and administer the Junior Ranger Oath.

Condor tattoos? Ranger oaths?

Now, there's nothing wrong about those blurbs, but that's all they are, blurbs. A coupla more graphs at least would help give the uninitiated better insights into why these (and the eight other) national parks make great family destinations.

For instance, at Acadia you and your kids can peddle away an afternoon (or the entire day) on the carriage paths that bend and curve through the inland forests of Mount Desert Island without fear of being forced off the road by cars or trucks, count seals while learning how to sea kayak in Frenchman Bay, stand atop Cadillac Mountain and be the first in the United States to see the sun rise, or learn how to climb on the cliffs that tower above the Atlantic.

As for the Grand Canyon, with all the other possibilities across the National Park System, I wouldn't rank this among the "top 10" national parks for families, simply because it is a fairly rigorous park with little to capture youngsters' attention once they get over looking into that tremendous crack in the ground. There are so many better offerings, such as Olympic National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Grand Teton National Park when it comes to family vacations.

And why is the Gateway Arch/Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on this list? "For a stunning view of St. Louis, ride the tram to the top of the tallest monument in America, the soaring 630-foot stainless steel arch. Afterward, explore the lives of Lewis and Clark, sodbusters, cowboys, American Indians, and more in the underground Museum of Western Expansion," Ms. Magsamen tells us.

The rest of her top 10 national park list? Isle Royale National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Yellowstone National Park, John Day Fossil Bed National Monument, Walnut Canyon National Monument, and Zion National Park.

Sticklers no doubt would point out that four of the top 10 park sites aren't even "national parks," though they are part of the National Park System.

Now, other national parks do surface elsewhere in this book, which is to be released Tuesday. Grand Teton, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and Joshua Tree all appear under the 10 best rock-climbing destinations.

And the 10 best "American Landscapes" turns into a catchall of sorts for national park properties. Attributed to former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, this list mentions "the American cathedrals" of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon; the Chesapeake & Ohio Canyon National Historical Park ("an irresistable mix of river experience, wildlife and historical vignettes"), Cape Hatteras National Seashore ("the most pristine, free-spirited beachfront in America"), Mesa Verde National Park ("It is the most evocative archaeological landscape in America."), Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and Appomattox Court House.

Turn to the "10 Best Peaks" and you'll find Shenandoah National Park (peaks?), Rocky Mountain (again), Olympic National Park, Denali National Park, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. What happened to Grand Teton? Mount Rainier? North Cascades?

The task the author was given with this book was monumental, one that is the literary equivalent of scaling Mount Everest in your shorts. But then, perhaps it's a sign of the times. First USA Today and now Twitter. Have they cost us our attention spans and left us with little more than lists?


My husband likes to buy these books and give them to my parents, just to see their reactions and hear the debate. The very word "families" is where the 1st problem of this book began, because the needs of a family with a 6th month old baby are dramatically different than those with teenagers. This book has big problems before even opening the cover. That being said, I am sure my Mother will getting it for a birthday present from her favorite son in law...

I started to read Repanshek's own description of Acadia: "For instance, at Acadia you and your kids can peddle away an afternoon..."
Did he mean pedal, as in riding a bike? Or did he use "peddle" to mean sell, or was it a creative way of saying you can spend a whole afternoon?
Mistakes like that usually give me doubts that the book is well-edited or that the author even cares.

Good catch. Should have been pedal.

Having been in the writing biz for three-plus decades, I can tell you that mistakes like that creep in for the oddest reasons -- poor editing, tired writers, older brains that don't accurately convey to the fingers what word they want typed, and on and on.

In light of the recent government spending bills...peddling may be something families could enjoy in a National Park.

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