Virgin Islands National Park entrance sign

What counts as a visit?

That’s mostly up to you.

It should be a substantive visit, but we leave it up to you to decide what that means. Not everyone can invest a month exploring a place like Yellowstone National Park, nor can everyone paddle themselves down the remote Noatak Wild River. Generally speaking, visits should involve stepping foot within the official boundaries of the place and doing something. For instance, simply flying over a site in a commercial jet at 30,000 feet doesn’t really count. That said, and especially for the remote Alaskan areas, doing a flight-seeing tour might indeed be the best option for most people to see the place.

The main point here is going to the place and having an experience that you personally find rewarding. Briefly stepping foot within the boundaries and leaving doesn’t really accomplish too much. It doesn’t make sense to spend time and money to go to all these places without the intention of having a meaningful experience. That said, not every Treasured Place will speak to you the same; as a result, we don’t require specific activities at each site.

Ok, but what about…

However, there are a few unusual Treasured Places that are nearly impossible very difficult to visit legally. Those units are Hohokam Pima National Monument, Honouliuli National Monument, Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Castner Range National Monument, and Aleutian Islands WWII National Monument. The first three are currently closed to the public, while the fifth has no regular transportation options available, making visits by the public very rare.

For these Treasured Places, we offer an appropriate alternative experience that interprets the resources those places were set aside for.

For Hohokam Pima National Monument, which protects the site of the Hohokam ruins known as Snaketown, there are three possible alternative experiences. First is a visit to the Huhugam Heritage Center, which is managed by the Gila River Indian Community, the ancestors of Snaketown’s residents. The second is a visit to the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park in Phoenix, which interprets the Hohokam culture at a similar ruin complex. The third is Casa Grande Ruins National Monument—an official Treasured Place in its own right—that also interprets the Hohokam culture and includes a few artifacts from Snaketown. Take note that while Hohokam Pima is technically closed to the public, I-10 does indeed run right through its official boundaries near the Goodyear Road overpass.

For Honouliuli National Monument, the primary alternative is the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i in Honolulu, which serves as the de facto visitor center for the newly designated national monument. The JCCH has recently begun conducting occasional tours of the national monument site. Since the Treasured Places quest includes three other internment camp sites, we do not require on-the-ground visits to Honouliuli as long as questers have visited either Manzanar National Historic Site, Tule Lake National Monument, Minidoka National Historic Site, or one of the other interpreted internment camp locations that are not part of the Treasured Places list—namely, Heart Mountain or Amache .

For Kalaupapa National Historical Park, there aren’t many good alternatives; it is the only site dedicated to those with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) who were banished from society. The site is likely to remain closed until its last remaining residents pass away. The Kalaupapa Peninsula is visible from an overlook at Pālāʻau State Park on Molokaʻi, which is about as close as you can legally get right now.

While nearly all of Castner Range National Monument is closed to the public for safety reasons, you can drive through the national monument via Woodrow Bean Transmountain Drive (Route 375).

For Aleutian Islands WWII National Monument, there are two primary alternatives. First is a visit to the Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center in Homer. The second is a visit to the Naval Aerology at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska.

Why aren’t the Maritime National Monuments included?

The five Maritime National Monuments—Papahānaumokuākea, Rose Atoll, Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts—are not included in the Treasured Places list because they’re not really intended to be visited by the public.

These national monument designations are primarily designed to protect fisheries, corral beds, seabirds, and other oceanic resources; the vast majority of each national monument is open ocean.

How do I prove I’ve visited?

You don’t! This is on the honor system. However, if you’re the competitive type, then we’d suggest that you at least take some photos—it seems hard to believe you’d travel all over but never photograph the places you’ve visited.

How should I track my visits?

We’ll be releasing a spreadsheet soon that you can use to keep track of your visits. In the future, we’d also love to partner with the Questing App.

Has anyone ever completed this quest?

So far, only one person—R Scott Jones in August 2019—is known to have completed this quest.

But the primary purpose of the Treasured Places quest isn’t a travel competition—it’s about committing to visiting as many of these places as you can. It’s about exploring America’s protected public lands.

Why are they called the Treasured Places?

This list incorporates many of America’s most iconic landscapes and famed historical sites. Most of these places really are among the most treasured places in the country. These are the places that all Americans should visit if they can. These places help tell the story of America.

However, not all of them are happy places. The list includes sites that interpret ugly episodes of our past as well—massacres, gruesome battlefields, civil rights abuses, assassinations, slavery, and unlawful internments.

But that doesn’t mean those places shouldn’t be visited. To the contrary, it’s important that we tell the stories of our nation’s worst moments, too. We should also continue to include more stories of underrepresented peoples.

Why aren’t National Forests, Wildlife Refuges, or Wilderness Areas included?

There are 154 National Forests in the National Forest System, 562 refuges and 38 wetland management districts in the National Wildlife Refuge System, and 765 designated Wilderness Areas in the National Wilderness Preservation System—and hopefully growing!

Depending on how you visit, that’s more than an astounding 1500 places—a far too intimidating and unattainable number for anyone to actually visit. Keep in mind that the <500 Treasured Places quest only has a single finisher to date.

While we encourage everyone to visit as many of these places as practicable, they’re not included in the Treasured Places list. Our goal here is to inspire travel to as many of our special public lands as possible, so we want a total that is not impractical for all but a handful of dedicated travelers.

Beyond that, National Forests are subject to mining, logging, and intense motorized recreation. Wildlife Refuges are primarily managed for wildlife habitat. And while Wilderness is often considered the most protective land management designation, many of them are difficult to access.

As a result of these factors, it makes the most sense for the Treasured Places list to include just national parks, monuments, and conservation areas.

Who can I contact about this?

Shoot us an email message at contact @ treasured lands.us.