The author at Sugarland Mountain in Maryland.

Samantha Miller is the community wildlife content coordinator at the National Wildlife Federation.

I spent a lot of my childhood hiking mountains in Vermont. Whether it was through school events, Girl Scout camp, or summer family vacations, I developed a comfort while traversing mountains that has stayed with me for years. Growing up as a first-generation immigrant from Jamaica, winters in Vermont were never a treasured experience in my family, but the summers provided us a heat that felt more similar to the island we previously called home.


Gina Bernacchi is a librarian and educator in Colorado.

When I met my husband in 1992, he introduced me to his family cabin in Deer Creek, outside of Bailey, Colorado. The cabin was very rustic and not very comfortable — it was always cold and damp, and it took hours for the wood-burning stove to warm the rooms. We usually slept on the pull-out couch in the living room, where it was warmer. I didn’t particularly like going to the cabin, but “behind the cabin” we found two of our favorite hikes in Colorado: the Rosalie and Tanglewood Trails.


State Representative Julie McCluskie represents House District 61, which includes five beautiful counties in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and along the Western Slope

Five years ago, Colorado became the first state in the nation to establish a “Public Lands Day” holiday. On the third Saturday every May, we celebrate the magnificence of our pristine Rocky Mountain landscapes, including our wild and verdant green forests; tumbling raucous waterways forcing their way down the continental divide, and breathtaking sky-drenched vistas.

When a person pauses to take in the beauty of our public lands, it’s no wonder we were the first state to declare such a holiday. Let’s hope we aren’t the last.

The benefits of this holiday are clear to me. Our state’s tourism and…


The author’s dad (in white hat) with his running buddies.

Cait Fallon is a senior communications coordinator at the National Wildlife Federation.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “nature heals,” right? To me and my family it means more than a slogan on an Instagram post, because nature and public lands saved my dad’s life.

My dad is a throat and lung cancer survivor. When we received and shared his diagnosis, I was often asked “is your dad a smoker?” as if to somehow justify a disease that isn’t fair and doesn’t discriminate. On the contrary, my dad is a runner who was at the peak of his health and running career at the time of his diagnosis.

But before I get too…


San Juan Island, Washington

Cameron Lyons is a law student at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law and a public lands law intern at the National Wildlife Federation.

They say you should “give ’em their flowers while they can still smell ’em” — to appreciate what you have before it’s gone. Despite giving me so much over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a moment to thank you for all you’ve done. So, here’s to you, public lands, because without you, I wouldn’t have so many amazing memories!

For years, you’ve provided me with wonderful experiences: fishing trips with family and friends, hiking excursions in the middle of the week to relieve stress, beach getaways to beat the heat, and so much more. I still remember…


Garrett VeneKlasen lives in Taos, New Mexico and is the northern conservation director at NM Wild. He previously served as the executive director of the NM Wildlife Federation.

On February 5, 1998, the single engine plane my father was piloting went down in the mountains east of Taos, NM. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Dad was flying from Santa Fe to Angel Fire to pick me up for a quail hunting trip we planned in the Texas panhandle.

It was a huge snow year and it took three days of intensive searching to find him. There were so many wonderful people — friends, family, volunteers and state & local officials — involved in the frantic search. …


Lisa Zoeller enjoys spending time exploring Colorado every chance she gets.

Thirty years ago this summer, a group of women came together for what would grow and flourish into a tightly-knit circle of support and friendship. The occasion was my upcoming wedding. Rather than a typical bachelorette party of bar-hopping through Denver, we decided it would be fun to go camping in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests outside of Winter Park, Colorado. Some of us were experienced hikers and backpackers. Some of were complete novices. But we were all game for an outdoor adventure — sleeping under the stars, swapping stories around the campfire, and drinking a lot of wine…


TJ Brown is the western regional field director for the National Wildlife Federation. He lives in Colorado with his family and enjoys exploring public lands every chance he gets.

“Look at the birds! Dad, it’s good that they can build their houses on the rock walls! Daaaad, I’m getting tiiiireed…” Suddenly the chatty child goes silent. I paddle to a shady spot on the side of the Colorado River and hop off the board. Oh my goodness, she’s snoring. My four-year-old, clad in PFD and oversized sun hat is in child’s pose on the back of my paddle board sawing some impressive wood — she’s out cold.

We’ve already had a few days exploring some areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management on the border between Utah and…


Craig Benjamin is a director of conservation partnerships & habitat connectivity at the National Wildlife Federation. He lives in Jackson, Wyoming.

A year into the perils of the pandemic, after having to cancel our 2020 family vacations, we were rolling into Escalante, Utah for a Spring Break week of family fun exploring the wonders of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was one of two monuments in Utah that was decimated by President Trump, when he dramatically scaled back the boundaries — and protections — for these unique landscapes.

After dropping off our camper at one of the many new RV parks in town, part of the booming local tourism economy, we headed out for a short hike along the canyon rim…


Ed Robinson painted this landscape of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness during a plein air backpacking trip.

Ed Robinson worked as a professional forester for the Idaho Department of Lands for over 35 years in the Priest Lake and Sandpoint regions. Since retirement, plein air oil painting has become an all-consuming passion for him — a new and intimate way to interact with the local wilderness. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

It’s 3:00 am and I am suddenly awake. So, the question is — did something wake me? Or did my memory of very large and fresh piles of grizzly scat disturb my sleep?

I listen, but nothing is moving around out there. After making sure my pepper spray is right where I left it, I burrow deeper into the sleeping bag and try to nod-off again. It’s just another night on the Extreme Plein Air backpack trip sponsored by the Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness (plein air is a French term for painting outside in nature).

For over ten years…

National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

The National Wildlife Federation public lands program advocates for our public lands and waters, wildlife and the right of every American to enjoy them.

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