Failing Their Yelp Reviews: Who’s in Charge of These National Parks, Anyway?


Ah, spring… time to dust off those REI hiking boots and head outdoors. Time for rangers at two of Washington’s three national parks to gear up for the hordes soon to arrive. (Not so much at North Cascades National Park, which attracts only about 30,000 visitors in a good year, compared with around 3 million each at Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park. Go figure.)

Image by Subpar Parks Project

Crowds or no, most national park visitors probably come away refreshed, awe-inspired, and glad they went. But not all. No, in a world where the band Nickelback sells more than 50 million albums, there truly is no accounting for the taste of some people. And some of them are completely underwhelmed by our national parks.

We know this thanks—if that’s the wordto Google Reviews, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. On these sitesamong the many four-star and five-star reviews of our parksone finds a smattering of comments from visitors who maybe should have stayed home.

“More like a huge city park with a little Disney thrown in for all the children” is how Mt. Rainier struck a TripAdvisor reviewer from Eugene, Oregon, who gives the park one star and dismisses all 236,000 acres, 97 percent of them wilderness, as “a one-trick pony.” On Yelp, “Big D.” of Seattle shrugs off the 14,411-foot height of the Cascades’ tallest peak. “I’ve seen bigger mountains,” he writes.

Image by Subpar Parks Project

Other Rainier reviewers complain about waiting in traffic to gain admission, about the price thereof ($30 per vehicle), and about the quality of food on offer at the visitors’ center in Paradise on the mountain’s south slope. Paradise does not live up to its billing, according to “Monica R.” of Austin, Texas, venting on Yelp. “Worst national park I have ever been to in my life,” she writes.

Maybe, to set reasonable expectations, Paradise could be renamed Purgatory. Just a thought.

Olympic National Park fares no better in the court of Internet troll opinion. “This park could be much more tourist friendly,” yelps “Sheila J.” of Onalaska, Wisconsin, without getting into specifics. “Tina L.” from Mexico City complains of having to pay admission just “to see a bunch of trees,” adding, “You really have to have a knack for nature if you’re going to visit this park.”

Hard to argue with that.

North Cascades, with just one percent of the visitor volume of Washington’s other national parks, draws far fewer online comments, but among them are some doozies. “Park is a disgrace,” opines “Missy Lee” on TripAdvisor. Visiting from San Jose, California, “Geminicam” is “unimpressed,” questioning why North Cascades deserves national park status.

Image by Subpar Parks Project

Pans of parks might seem an unlikely basis for a thriving business. But such they have become in the hands of a young graphic artist, Amber Share. (Yes, that’s her real name.) Five years ago, she started the Subpar Parks Project, a series of books, posters, calendars, and postcards, featuring choice lines from one-star reviews of national parks nationwide. I think they’re so funny because people had really high expectations, and nature doesn’t always cooperate,” Share told The Washington Post. “Sometimes you can make the choice to embrace what it actually is, and other times it’s just going to really make you mad.”

Share says some national park visitors centers now carry Subpar Parks books. They’re for sale on Amazon, too, where they have attracted thousands of customer reviews, most of them favorable, but also some one stars.

Of course.

Barry Mitzman
Barry Mitzman
Barry is best known as a Peabody Award-winning TV producer and moderator.


  1. I think that alot of folks who post negative reviews are trying to feel powerful. Also, alot of folks who electronically vote via the ap posted, do so without actually knowing the issues.

  2. What is the purpose of publishing sound offs from dumb, intemperate people who’ve obviously done no advance research on their park destinations, and learned nothing while there?
    I’m reminded of physician and great-white-hunter who was friend of my parents in Bellingham. Based on stop while returning from killing things in Africa, he opined: “London stinks.”.
    An antidote: Visit backcountry desk at Port Angeles visitor center and talk to growing number of folk heading for Olympic National Park following surveys showing it offers greatest diversity of attractions in NPS system.

  3. There’s just no way to top ‘can’t see the forest because of the trees’ statements. When I have a curmudgeonly attitude, I can just think ‘stay away’ to all those people who don’t like national parks. Fewer people might just suit me. I’m not a fan of so-called ‘theme parks,’ either, but I won’t give them bad reviews; I’ll just not visit them.


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