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America's Best Souvenir

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

As the pandemic continues into July, vacations are few and far between this summer for many Americans. Outdoor getaways feel safest, so many individuals are rediscovering the great outdoors at their local parks.

Pronounced as “America’s Best Idea,” Congress founded Yellowstone as a national park in 1872. The park system got off to a slow start after its second site, Mackinac National Park, lasted only 20 years. (The site is now park of the state park system in Michigan.) Despite conservation setbacks, parks continued forming across the country. The National Park Service, a federal bureau created to manage the parks, was later formed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916. The park service protects more than natural spaces. The NPS includes 419 different units and has copious affiliated sites. The slightly-confusing nomenclature includes these categories an array of park categories like National Parkways and National Historic Sites.

Despite varying names and categories, all park units protect sites of historical significance or natural value. With so many different sites, it’s easy to overlook many spectacular attractions. Cue the National Park Passport Stamps. At almost all parks, you can receive a free cancellation stamp in your National Park passport book. Collecting stamps serves as a motivational tool to discover new parks and as a free souvenir to help remember your trip.


A User’s Guide to Passport Stamps

Step 1: Obtain a Passport

Though you can stamp almost anything with the cancellation stamps, it’s the most fun to collect them all in one place. Parks are separated by region in these books, and all have specific places to place your stamps. Eastern National, a partner with the National Park Service, sells four types of passport books.

  1. Created to look like a traditional passport, the Classic Edition is the most affordable book. However, it doesn’t contain a spot for each park’s cancellation stamp, and just sorts the stamps by region.

  2. The Collector’s Edition is a larger book and provides a brief introduction about each park. It includes space for the cancellation stamps for each park, stickers, and space for extra stamps.

  3. The Explorer Edition is the most expensive book option, but includes a zipper binder and is incredibly sturdy. The book is also expandable, so there’s extra room for serious stamp enthusiasts; however, the book is bulky.

  4. The newest passport book in the collection is the Junior Ranger Edition. The book is similar to the Collector’s Edition, but provides kid-friendly information. Eastern National has also developed specialty stickers and cancellations for this edition.

Step 2: Collecting Stamps

Though parks aren’t mandated to participate, nearly all parks have cancellation stamps. Stamps are typically available in the bookstore or at the ranger’s station. To confirm if a park has cancellation stamps, check out Eastern National’s list. It’s updated every month, but you can always call the park in advanced to check the exact location. Other historic sites and parks, not operated by the NPS, sometimes have stamps, but there’s no official list in place of these sites. Don’t forget to actually visit the park after getting your stamp!

Step 3: Collecting Stickers

Supplementary to the cancellation stamps, Eastern National releases an annual sticker collection featuring a park from each region. There’s also an annual sticker collection released for the Junior Ranger passport. If you’re shopping for a passport, be sure that it has plenty of room for stickers.

Collecting cancellation stamps has been one of my favorite hobbies throughout college. It’s inspired me to get out and explore local and faraway parks. Once life returns to normal, I look forward to visiting more parks and collecting stamps again!

Bonus: Connecting with Other Stamp Collectors

While collecting national park cancellations remains a quiet hobby, it’s supported by a passionate community of park enthusiasts. The National Parks Travelers Club allows collectors to interact online and in-person, offers awards for top collectors, and provides many stamp collecting resources.