The Parks Podcast
The Parks Podcast
Introducing The Parks Podcast (Episode 0)

Hello and welcome to The Parks Podcast. I’m Missy Rentz, and I’ll be guiding us on a journey to explore local, regional, state, and national parks around the United States. The parks became a passion for me after spending a year camping and hiking around the United States, though I honestly think the seed was planted as a child.

I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, and some of my favorite childhood memories are the hikes, bike rides, canoe trips, and camping that we’d take as a family. Those memories were enhanced by the regular postcards my grandparents would send from their camping trips all around the country. I thought it was a great way to spend retirement.

As an adult, I would occasionally dream of taking a year off of work and just exploring. I didn’t have the words at the time, but now I know that it happened when I was experiencing burnout.

During Covid, my friend Gina suggested that maybe it wasn’t a dream, but rather the universe talking to me and I just wasn’t listening. This time I was going to listen. On January 10th, 2021, I packed my car and hit the road.

I started just above a novice level. I was completely unsure of how to navigate an REI or other outdoor stores. I learned a lot along the way and hopefully, some of those things that I learned, and am still learning, will help you as you build your adventures.

When the trip came to an end 355 days later, I had a few key takeaways that stood out to me, and I’m gonna share them with you.

1.  You have to pee a lot more on the nights you’re camping in bear country.

2.  Some music lyrics I had on my playlist on day one coached me and encouraged me my entire way. Things like “Live a Life Less Ordinary” (Carbon Leaf), “It’s a Brand New Day” (Joshua Radin), “Better Days Are Coming” (Ant Clemons & Justin Timberlake),  “Keep Breathing” (Ingrid Michaelson), and “Follow Your Arrow” (Kacey Musgraves).

3.  Perspective improves with a deep breath and a smile on your face.

4.  14 degrees can feel downright balmy after it’s been negative 20.

5.  When you’re driving down the road and see something of interest, take the time to pull over and check it out.

6.  Mother Nature does not care about your plans; if you allow yourself to be open, what you do instead is usually way better.

7.  Sit still. Breathe. Listen.

8.  We all want the same basic things. Remove labels and have conversations.

9.  Catch yourself smiling. It’s where pure joy lives.

10. I’m not finished. The dream has evolved and will become a lifestyle of exploring.

So on our journey, yours and mine, with The Parks Podcast, you’ll hear about my trip and we’ll find new parks to stop and see. The goal and passion around the podcast is to share the purpose and stories of each park and then guide you on planning your trip.

Park specific episodes will be mixed in with other areas of interest, like what kind of gear do you need to own? How do you prepare your dog for a trip to the park? And what exactly can you cook over a campfire? You’ll learn about park stats and every episode will wrap-up with a speed round of questions about that guest’s park experiences.

I’m really excited to have you on this journey. We’ll see where it takes us together. If you want to learn more, check out or for reviews, some of my blog posts, and other stories of my experiences. And now I’m going wrap this up with my own speed round.

I want to invite my good friend, Sam Timmons, to ask me the questions. Sam, thank you so much for coming on and doing this.

Sam: You’re so welcome. I am so excited for you. And this new adventure. Yes.

Missy: Thank you. Sam and I have known each other for a long time and she has been a great cheerleader and advocate for me in this journey, and was a great pit stop along my trip.

So thank you, Sam, for asking the questions of me.

Sam: Absolutely. All right, you’re in the hot seat.

What is your earliest park memory?

We were hiking Elizabeth Furnace in Virginia. It was my mom and sister and grandma kind of hiking ahead and my dad, my brother, my grandpa and I were hiking behind and my grandpa was carving a pipe for me out of an acorn and a stick.

And he used to do that on trips. It was so much fun as a kid to like, “smoke an acorn pipe.”

Elizabeth's Furnace

What made you love the parks?

I don’t think I really loved them until I was on this trip. I think I appreciated them and I was intrigued by them.

It wasn’t until I was hiking a trail called Lava Lake in the Gallatin Mountains in Montana. It was really my life-changing hike. It was the hardest hike and I was not physically prepared for it. But, it was that hike that I really appreciated being around trees and hearing, the stream under like a sheet of ice and getting to the top and burning lungs and all that stuff.

I started realizing that the parks really gave to me and, that’s when I really fell in love. And that picture is in several places throughout my house, of that moment.


What is your favorite thing to do in a park?

Mine is a hike. I must caveat this with, I am the tortoise of hikers. My hikes are slow and intentional and I stop all the time and I “look at roses” and I feel the water. It’s hiking, but hiking light.

What park have you yet to visit but is on your bucket list and why?

Okay, I have two. The first one is Denali in Alaska. The second one is Big Bend in Texas. I was supposed to visit Big Bend six weeks ago. I’m very grateful because it will be one of the first episodes of the podcast, but I have not been there yet. I got a thousand miles into my 2,800 mile trip when they started having severe weather warnings.

I just decided I couldn’t go to a bucket list park when, it was very clear I was gonna have to spend all of my time in my car, avoiding thunderstorms. So grateful for them. They’re going to be on the podcast anyway. I will go out next spring, but it is on my bucket list.

What are three must-haves you pack for a park visit?

So I would put the first as more survival things. So it’s more than this, but the primary is water. And I think whether you’re going to the park down the street or you’re going on a week-long trip, you need to take water with you, especially in this heat. And it’s just so important. So I think always have a water bottle or a hydration pack with you.

The second thing I would say is a plan. And you don’t have to stick to your plan, but I think understand what you’re going to the park for and what you want to get out of the park. I say that I might wanna get a hike out of the park, but somebody else might say, I just wanna do a pickup game of basketball. And that’s okay, but just have your plan.

And the third is curiosity. They’re all so unique as to why they were created, and I just encourage everybody to go when they go to parks or when they’re listening to this podcast, to do it with an open mind and a lot of curiosity.

I don’t hike, I don’t camp. Why would I ever visit a park?

There’s a lot to do in parks besides hiking and camping. I think you can just go for a walk. You can go play basketball or, think about all the people that show up at their local parks on a Saturday for their kids’ soccer. That’s visiting a park. There are swings, canoeing, paddle boarding, and paddle boating. There are all sorts of things that you can do at a park: have a picnic, sit on a bench, and knit. Just do something outside.

There are so many benefits that being in nature provides to us. So there’s a lot that can be done in a park.

I would say, I would encourage people to rethink and reconsider why they don’t like camping and hiking. And I say this because from my own experience, I felt like if I wasn’t sleeping on rocks and hiking far distances at fast paces, then I wasn’t doing it right. But I had put those pressures on myself, and it’s wrong. So, like I said, I’m the tortoise of hikers. I do whatever brings me joy that day. Sometimes I’ll go out with the intention of going for a hike, which by the way, a hike is a walk. So if you like to go for walks, that’s all it is. But sometimes I’ll get there and the hike isn’t going serve me, but sitting on the bench watching the ducks does, and that’s okay. And that’s what I do.

When it comes to camping, you can camp in a tent. You can camp in a cabin, which most parks have. Think about what works best for you. My campsite, for one person, I would have a four-man tent. It was six feet tall so that I could stand in it. I draped it with twinkle lights. I set up a memory foam mattress, so I was not roughing it by any stretch of the imagination. But I did it to serve me.

It’s okay that you don’t like to hike and camp, but I do encourage people to consider why they don’t like it before they completely crossing it off their list.

What is your favorite campfire activity?

I think it’s s’mores. I love s’mores and there’s just something about that process that is just so wonderful and delicious to me. I would say that my second follow-up to that would be the good conversations that happen around a campfire.

When you’re just sitting there and you don’t have devices or distractions of the real world, there’s just a lot that can come up, and I really thoroughly enjoy that.

Tent, camper, or cabin?

I was out for 355 days. I stayed with people periodically, so I didn’t camp all of the time, but that was all done in a tent and I loved it. It’s a lot of work to put a tent up and down every couple of days. I think if I were just going out for a few days, I’d probably say a tent.

But I really want to experience, almost do the same kind of trip, a camper and a cabin to see how that would change the experience.


Hiking with or without trekking poles?

I’m a big trekking poles advocate. I got them originally because I just didn’t know that I’d be ready to hike. I didn’t, I didn’t really do a lot of like, physical preparation for these trips. Yeah. But what I’ve learned is, number one, it provides a fantastic upper body workout as you’re hiking.

It also allows you to poke at the ground if you’re not sure if it’s stable or not, or if you would have a solid footing. Even crossing a little stream or something, when you’re on the slippery rocks, you can put the poles down in the water to provide you extra support.

And then coming downhill for me. Downhill is hard on my knees and so it just took a little bit of pressure off. I’m a huge trekking pole advocate.

And what is your favorite trail snack?

I’m gonna give you three. My first is trail mix. I love the salty and sweet together. I make it myself so that it only my favorite ingredients. My second is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The never taste better than when you’re on a trail.

My third was a recent discovery, I follow Jennifer Garner on Instagram and she was posting about this brand that she’s involved with, Once Upon a Farm. They’re pouches of smoothies or fruit and vegetable concoctions for infants and toddlers, but I thought they sounded really good. I picked some up for a hike, and now I always have one of those in my pack because it’s a little bit sweet. It gives me just enough bolt of energy and I think it’s pretty nutritious.

So I carry all three of those most of the time on my hike.

What is the best animal sighting that you’ve had?

I have two. One time in Yellowstone National Park there was a bison who had passed and it was on the other side of the river at the west entrance. The Rangers put up a perimeter for our safety, and a bunch of us pulled chairs out of our car and we were sitting and watching. It had
The feasting by other animals was gonna start to begin at any time.

As we were watching, there were the vultures flying around and you could see them inspecting the environment to make sure no other predators were around.  They snacked for a while and then were scared off when a fox arrived.  The fox was circling the bison, making sure he was safe, and then ate until the wolf chased it downstream.  We were expecting a bear, but one didn’t arrive before the sunset.

To see this like circle of life and all of this happen in real time was extraordinary. That’s an example of where I took a moment to stop when I saw something interesting. I didn’t really know what it was, but I have this great story and experience because I wasn’t in a rush.

My other favorite animal sighting was in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. A rattlesnake was in the campground. One of my fellow campers was a nature photographer. He gathered us around to host an impromptu lesson on how to photograph the snake. It taught me how to have a healthy and respectful relationship with snakes.  The rest of the trip, whenever I would come across a snake, it wasn’t fearful and I really valued that experience and that learning. And now I’ve got the coolest pictures of this rattlesnake.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

What is your favorite sound in the parks?


Sam: Well, great job.

Missy: Sam, thank you so much for helping me today. I really appreciate it. I think these questions are better when someone asks them to you.

This is how we will end every episode of the podcast. We’ll get some really great tips and information from people all around the country.

With that, we look forward to seeing you on future episodes and until next time, see you in the parks.