Journey Castillo visited her first national park when she was just a few days old and recently finished visiting all 63 after a tour of the parks in Alaska.
Journey Castillo likely became the youngest person in history to visit all 63 U.S. national parks this month — at only three years old.
Journey was born in late 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Her parents, Eric and Valerie Castillo, were avid hikers, continuing to hike until just one week before Journey was born.
But they didn’t stop when she was born, either.
“Two days after the delivery, we rented an SUV and drove to Pikes Peak in Colorado,” Valerie said in an interview with Today. “We figured fresh air would boost her spirit and development… or that our newborn would sleep through most of it.”
And the aptly-named Journey seemed to love it.
“We could see her little eyes open and take it all in,” Valerie told the San Antonio Express-News. “She was so aware, even being a few days old. She’s adapted so well.”
The Castillos decided to keep going until they had visited every national park in the country. They set a goal of visiting 21 parks by Journey’s first birthday, 42 by her second, and finishing the tour by the time she turned three.
“Our thing was: ‘Let’s… instill in Journey a passion for nature, instill in her [that] she can handle the strenuous part of the traveling, the environments, the weather changes, different cultures,” Valerie Castillo told the Guardian.
The Castillos live in San Antonio, Texas, where they own a tree removal and preservation business. They choose their next destination based on flight deals and cut out unnecessary expenses like eating out and going to the movies to afford their lifestyle — which many people have told them is “crazy.”
“It used to hurt our feelings, but we don’t have an excuse to not do it,” Valerie said. “There are so many treasures that go unappreciated.”
People have questioned the benefits and challenges of traveling with a toddler, but the Castillos believe that the trips are helping their daughter grow and develop important life skills.
“We want to prepare her for life when her senses are developing and when she learns the fastest,” Valerie said. “At two years old, Journey walks through an airport with so much confidence — she knows her suitcase, her room key and says hello to all the park rangers. She’s developed confidence.”
But even outside of the lessons Journey is learning on her national park tour, the Castillos also want to promote environmental awareness and excitement for the outdoors to the general public.
Valerie encouraged potential travelers to visit the national parks as soon as possible, as they are threatened by climate change. She hopes that the more people that get out and experience the natural beauty the nation has to offer, the more they can demand action to fight climate change and preserve the parks.
“These parks are not going to be in the same state as they are today in the next five years – and especially the next 10 years,” she said.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people flocked to national parks to get out of their houses and find safe opportunities for recreation. While national parks in more remote locations suffered, those near urban areas saw drastic increases in visitors.
According to the National Park Service, parks like the Indiana Dunes, which is just a short drive from the Chicago area, saw significantly more visitors than they did pre-pandemic. The Indiana Dunes National Park had more than 150,000 additional visitors from its 2019 numbers.