You might be wondering “why in the world should I listen to this guy standing on a rock at the Grand Canyon?”

Allow me to tell you… during my exploration of the parks I quickly realized most visitors only explore areas accessible by car. Families zip through, stop at the occasional pull-out or parking lot for a quick photo-op, then continue along their merry way. While most parks cater to motorists, one cannot experience their essence from the comfort of your driver’s seat. You must walk among the trees and the mountains. Listen to wildlife all around you. Sit back, close your eyes and immerse yourself in nature. America’s 58 national parks are irreplaceable treasures, yet they are our parks, preserved for our enjoyment, and if you want to experience them to their fullest you’re going to need a good guide.

That’s where I come in. I admit my first trip to a national park was your typical affair. A group of friends drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We peered in, snapped a few photos, shrugged and returned to our rental car. Did we know that adventurous hikers were resting their tired legs at Phantom Ranch nearly 5,000 feet below at the canyon’s floor? No. Did we know how to reach the North Rim? Probably not. The point is, we didn’t know much about the Grand Canyon. In all we spent no more than three hours in the park. We were your typical park visitors, and each year millions follow in our footsteps.

I’ve come a long way since those first steps atop the South Rim. While researching this book I spent two full years exploring and photographing the parks, living almost exclusively in my tent. As I passed from park to park I learned that this was much more than an assignment; it became an awakening. It was a communion with life and land as I learned to immerse myself in nature. (I also learned how to get to the North Rim, and even hiked down to Phantom Ranch to prove to myself that people were making regular trips to the canyon floor.) Did I hike all the trails and participate in all of the activities listed in this book? No. But I did log thousands of miles hiking, paddling, and pedalling my way across America and through its parks. More importantly, I’ve exhaustively researched every site in this book, integrating those findings with my unique perspective and with the opinions of hundreds of park patrons and National Park Service employees.

These are the footsteps you should follow, and holding this book is the first step to an unforgettable adventure.