The National Parks, with James Kaiser (Ep.24)

This week marks the Centennial of the National Parks Service. So we headed to Bar Harbor, Maine — right next to Acadia National Park — to talk about the parks with James Kaiser, who has been writing about the parks and spending a whole bunch of his time in them for years.

James is the author of best-selling guides to national parks, including exceptional guidebooks to Acadia, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon. And he’s also written a gorgeous guidebook to Costa Rica — which will make a lot more sense once you hear James explain why.

You can find all of James’ books at, and also get a taste of his work there. James is a crystal clear writer, he’s a very good photographer, and as you’ll find in this conversation, he’s also really good at talking about the history, the significance, and the future of the parks. I really enjoyed this conversation and I learned a ton, and I think you will too.


Topics & Times:

• Overview of the history of the parks, including Abraham Lincoln’s role and their unprecedented nature (3:55)

• Grand Canyon National Park, and its wild, contested past (5:50)

• What’s the difference between National Forests, National Parks, and National Monuments? (9:08)

• What are the biggest problems facing the parks? (16:43)

• Why do the national parks matter? At their best, what do they do? (24:50)

• Why do people do such stupid things when they go to national parks? (28:15)

• How optimistic or pessimistic are you about the future of the parks? (31:30)

• James’ background, and how he got into creating guide books (36:45)

• The history of Acadia National Park and what makes it unique (38:22)

• Joshua Tree National Park (46:25)

• Yosemite National Park — James’ recommendation for where to go when it’s crowded; the history of climbing there, etc. (53:00)

• What’s the most famous park you haven’t visited? And which do you most want to visit? (58:12)

• Costa Rica — why James’ wrote a guidebook to Costa Rica, the history of their parks, and why it was the most difficult of his books to write. (1:00:02)

• How do you go about building and updating a guidebook? And what makes a guidebook good or bad? (1:10:15)

• Back to Acadia: James’ best recommendation for where to go in Acadia to escape the crowds on the busiest days (1:18:25)

• Random Questions for James, including: “Allen’s Coffee-Flavored Brandy — What the ???” (1:23:26)

The Blister Podcast on The National Parks with James Kaiser
The view last week from the summit of Acadia Mountain. (photo by Jonathan Ellsworth)

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