News & Politics

Here’s What Not to Ask America’s Rangers as They Celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial

"Are the sunsets pretty? Is the scenic drive scenic?"

A park ranger speaks to a tour group prior to descending to the ancient Anasazi ruins of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park in 2008. Image via iStock.

Celebrations of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary kick off Thursday with free admission to the park’s 400+ locations, special hikes, and in some locations, massive birthday cakes. In many of the parks, the rangers carving the cakes have been experiencing an uptick in visitors lately, thanks to efforts to promote the centennial. Rangers are the first to say that they love the attention the parks are getting–but they also admit that there are many common visitor questions that have them struggling not to double over with laughter.

Today, staff at parks across the country were kind enough to share a few of those goofy first-time-visitor questions with Washingtonian. Here’s what not to ask at nine popular national parks, courtesy of their good-humored rangers:

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky


“We get people asking, ‘How much of the cave is underground?'” says one ranger. “You just have to respond like it’s the very first time you’ve heard that question. We get it at least once a day.”


Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Credit: National Park Service

“We got someone asking one time, ‘At what elevation do your deer turn into elk?'” a ranger says. “We also have a rock formation called the Grand Staircase, and we had someone ask one time where the spiral portion of it was. We have another formation called the hat shop, and we had a visitor actually get lost in there one time looking for a place to buy a hat. Another person once asked if their dog could become a junior ranger. We said, yeah, if you can train him to pick up garbage!”


Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Credit: National Park Service

“We have one road through the park that’s a “scenic drive,” and we get asked, ‘Is the scenic drive scenic?’ The people that ask are totally serious,” says a ranger. “We also get people asking about Bryce Canyon (about two hours away). We’re basically the extension visitors center for Bryce — it’s almost every other person who comes in asking about Bryce.”


Big Bend National Park, Texas

Credit: NPS Photo/Anne Wildermuth

“People ask, ‘Where can I go to see the Big Bend?'” one ranger says. “I say, ‘You’re in the Big Bend!'” There are other questions, too: “What can I see in an hour? I know it’s illegal, but where can I collect rocks in the park? Are the sunsets pretty?” The ranger adds: “We have to remember to treat people like humans, odd ducks as they may be.”

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Photograph by Flickr user Ken Lund.

“We have a lot of people asking, ‘Where can we get in the water?’ ” says a volunteer. “Of course, the water is 140 degrees, and you really wouldn’t want to get in.” A Hot Springs ranger also adds: “We get a lot of people coming in expecting a big, Yellowstone-style springs. They’ll say, we were looking for Old Faithful! That’s not what we are — but you can drink our spring water, which you can’t at Old Faithful, so we do have that on Yellowstone!”


Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Photograph by Flickr user Ken Lund.

“Many people are interested in Brandywine Falls, one of the main attractions of the park,” says one ranger. “When giving directions to 2 young females once, I gave one of them a map, and she said, ‘I don’t want that, it won’t tell me when I get there.’ We also get people asking if we can move the waterfall closer to the scenic train route that runs through the park. We had one guy ask if there was brandy in the Brandywine Falls.”


Denali National Park, Alaska

Credit: NPS Photo/Tim Rains

“We of course have a lot of people who are using bear spray for the first time. So naturally, some people don’t quite know how to use it properly — they think it’s a repellent to put on themselves or their tent,” says a ranger. “They try to apply it to themselves. But you’re supposed to spray it up close at a bear–it’s like pepper spray on steroids.”


Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Credit: National Park Service

“We do a lantern tour, and a visitor called and asked for the evening tour,” says one ranger. “The latest tour is at 4pm, and this visitor kept insisting that she wanted the tour that you need a lantern for. She wanted one in the evening. She wasn’t thinking about the fact that in the cave, it’s dark all the time.”


Everglades National Park, Florida

ranger guided tours ahinga trail copy
Credit: NPS Photo/J Roark

“People always ask, is it safe around here?” says one ranger. “They look you right in the eye, and they’re already standing in the park, but they ask it. I say, yes.”


Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Credit: NPS Photo/Marilyn Darling

“We get a lot of cloudy days, and we often get people asking, ‘Where’s the mountain?'” says a ranger. “People have trouble seeing it–that happens pretty often. We get a lot of jokes about that, with people saying the same thing: ‘So when are you gonna bring out the fans and blow the clouds away?’ A lot of dads try to make that joke all the time.”