With the success and excitement of my “Best City” tournament, it was only right that I do another, and with this one also being popular, it will actually become a series. This time, it was for us to determine the unofficial best national park in the United States, again as chosen by members of Travelers Tell All, a Facebook group I run. With there being 62 full national parks in the system (among 418 units, not including those run by the Bureau of Land Management), it was pretty easy to determine a 64-team bracket. I added in my favorite national monument – Bandelier – among with New River Gorge National River, which seems to be the next unit on the “upgrade” list to national park.

I divided the tournament into four “regionals,” seeded one to sixteen, and named after their top seeds: Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Zion. The seeding is fairly arbitrary, made solely by me. Let’s examine the results by regional.

Italics won in the first round. Underlined italics won in the second round. Bold underlined italics advanced to the regional final by winning in the third round.

Yellowstone Regional

The Yellowstone regional first round looked like this:

(1) Yellowstone vs (16) Gateway Arch

(8) White Sands vs (9) Arches

(5) Mt. Rainier (12) Wind Cave

(4) Rocky Mountain vs (13) Isle Royale

(3) Death Valley vs (14) Kobuk Valley

(6) Shenandoah vs (11) Kenai Fjords

(7) Heleakala vs (10) Great Sand Dunes

(2) Sequoia vs (15) American Samoa

This part of the bracket went mostly as one would expect, although 11 seed Kenai Fjords took out a couple of parks – including 3 seed Death Valley, which would begin a theme of third seeds losing in the second round – before losing to Sequoia.

Regional Winner: (1) Yellowstone def (2) Sequoia

Biggest Surprise: Kenai Fjords, a park outside Seward, Alaska, advancing to the Sweet 16.

The desert beauty of Death Valley wasn’t enough to get it to the Sweet 16.

Grand Canyon Regional

The Grand Canyon regional first round looked like this:

(1) Grand Canyon vs (16) New River Gorge

(8) Great Basin vs (9) Channel Islands

(5) Mesa Verde vs (12) Katmai

(4) Crater Lake vs (13) Petrified Forest

(3) Joshua Tree vs (14) Wrangell-St. Elias

(6) Bryce Canyon vs (11) Mammoth Cave

(7) Lassen Volcanic vs (10) Biscayne

(2) Acadia vs (15) Pinnacles

As with Yellowstone, the ninth seed won in the opening round, the third seed lost in the second, and the top seed cruised. Grand Canyon versus Bryce Canyon in the regional final was fun!

Regional Winner: (1) Grand Canyon def (6) Bryce Canyon

Biggest Surprise: Bryce Canyon advancing to the regional final as the 6 seed, and only barely losing there to Grand Canyon.

Channel Islands National Park

Yosemite Regional

The Yosemite regional first round looked like this:

(1) Yosemite vs (16) Hot Springs

(8) Canyonlands vs (9) Saguaro

(5) Redwoods vs (12) Guadalupe Mountains

(4) Everglades vs (13) Capitol Reef

(3) Great Smoky Mountains vs (14) Indiana Dunes

(6) Hawaii Volcano vs (11) Cuyahoga Valley

(7) Black Canyon of the Gunnison vs (10) North Cascades

(2) Glacier vs (15) Lake Clark

The sorry performances of the 3 and 8 seeds continued, but while Yosemite winning was no surprise, Hawaii Volcano upsetting Glacier – arguably the strongest second seed – to get to the regional final was a shock to many, myself included. I was also a bit disappointed at the loss of Everglades – a park I am dying to visit – to Redwoods.

Regional Winner: (1) Yosemite def (6) Hawaii Volcano

Biggest Surprise: Hawaii Volcano defeating Glacier to make the regional final. Ouch!

Yosemite is my personal favorite park in the system.

Zion Regional

The Zion regional first round looked like this:

(1) Zion vs (16) Dry Tortugas

(8) Kings Canyon vs (9) Big Bend

(5) Glacier Bay vs (12) Congaree

(4) Carlsbad Caverns vs (13) Voyageurs

(3) Denali vs (14) Theodore Roosevelt

(6) Grand Tetons vs (11) Bandelier

(7) Badlands vs (10) Virgin Islands

(2) Olympic vs (15) Gates of the Arctic

While my favorite, Zion, cruised, 6 seed Grand Tetons – a park many simply drive through on the way to Yellowstone – defeated 3 seed Denali and 2 seed Olympic, both parks I prefer. Zion made it four for four of top seeds advancing to the Final Four.

Regional Winner: (1) Zion def (6) Grand Tetons

Biggest Surprise: Again, a sixth seed in Grand Tetons advancing all the way to the regional final.

Bandelier National Monument outside Santa Fe, New Mexico

Final Four

Match One: (1) Yellowstone def (1) Grand Canyon

Match Two: (1) Yosemite def (1) Zion

Final: (1) Yosemite def (1) Yellowstone

At the end, the final everyone expected came to pass: Yellowstone versus Yosemite, and it was decided by a single vote, with Yosemite coming out on top. How do you think the rest played? What’s your favorite national park?

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