National Park Memories in Honor of National Park Week

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The National Park Service turns 100 this year. Woah. The organization represents a century of conservation, stewardship, connecting people to places through recreation and other programs, and engaging communities in support of some incredibly special places. Though we're still ahead of the official centennial day, which falls on August 26th, we're right smack in the middle of National Park Week right now.

According to the National Park Service, National Park week, which runs from April 16th through April 24th, 2016, is "America's largest celebration of national heritage." It's a chance to visit every national park for free, to celebrate Earth Day, to participate in fun recreational activities through Park Rx Day, and for me, to spend some time thinking about what makes our national parks special in the first place. In celebration of National Park Week, here are some of my favorite national park memories, and here's to making many more in the future!

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mount Rainier National Park is special to me because it's a place that gave me a chance to truly test my limits. Of the handful of trips I've made to Mount Rainier National Park, including one solo exploratory mission that involved a teeny tiny rental car and almost getting lost, there's one in particular that stands out. In 2010, I climbed Mount Rainier with a women's expedition in support of Big City Mountaineers. I'd never been on a climb like that before, had no clue how I'd handle the altitude or technical mountaineering, and to this day, I can't believe I made it. But I'll never forget the trip, the incredible women I met, or what it felt like to conquer some of my deepest fears.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park is special to me because it's where I was reminded again and again how lucky I am to know the people I know. After meeting Heather Balogh Rochfort on a trip sponsored by Columbia Sportswear, we remained close friends. Close enough, in fact, that she invited me on a trip to Yellowstone in the dead of winter with a handful of others I'd never met. We got to see one of the most popular national parks when visitation was at its lowest for the year, and though visiting Yellowstone in winter comes with its own challenges, it was one of the most incredible trips I've been on.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park is special to me because it's where I spent some of the most formative years of my life, and it changed me. Fresh out of college, I took a job as a summer management trainee in Denali National Park, spending time as a housekeeping manager, restaurant manager, dishwasher, restaurant designer, and more. I had little to no clue what I was getting myself into, but after spending the first 22 years of my life in a small town in Upstate New York, it seemed high time see what happened if I got as far away as possible. I learned so much about myself, the type of career I want, how to handle myself outdoors, the true value of new friends, and what really mattered to me.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park is special to me because it's a place I got to share with two of the most important people in my life. In the summer of 2012, my mother, brother and I took a family vacation, the first we'd taken in a while. I lobbied hard for a place we could go to spend some time in the woods together, even though hiking and backpacking aren't at the top of either of their standard vacation to-do lists. We shared an incredible week in Acadia, including hiking and camping on Isle Au Haut, an island accessible only by boat. I'm so grateful for the chance to share those experiences with them, and for the incredible variety of activities we could participate in both inside and outside of the park boundaries.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is special to me because it represents new beginnings and new challenges. It's also absolutely gorgeous, which never hurts! In the summer of 2015, I was invited on a press trip to Winter Park and fell in love with everything about the town, including how accessible Rocky Mountain National Park is from there. A month later, my partner in crime and I flew back out to Colorado for a week of exploring bookended by two beautiful weddings. We drove through the park on our way to Winter Park for some mountain biking at Trestle Bike Park and some backpacking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. It's a trip I'll absolutely never forget.

What are some of your favorite national park memories? Are you planning to visit any parks during National Park Week? Sound off in the comments!