Mel Gilbert, an attorney from Buffalo, New York, only has three more stops left to hit his goal of visiting all 412 of the United State’s national parks by the end of this month.
Gilbert will be visiting the Stonewall National Monument in New York City and the World War I Memorial in Washington, D.C., before heading to the White House to complete his quest on August 25, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
This will make him the 44th person to have ever achieved this feat, according to the National Park Travelers Club, of which Gilbert is currently vice president.
For the last 14 years, Gilbert has been traveling across the United States and to the US national parks listed in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, the American Samoa, Guam, and Saipan, witnessing everything from cascading waterfalls to prehistoric species and soaring mountains.
He began the journey back in 2002, after attending a legal seminar in St. Louis and learning of the many national parks that stretched from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.
He asked how many national parks there were in total, which at the time was 384, and decided seconds later that he would make it his goal to visit each one of them in his lifetime.
As a part of the National Park Travelers Club, Gilbert has been able to visit many of these destinations with fellow members, who have the added advantage of splitting costs and ensuring safety when embarking on these types of trips.
Despite the club’s cost-sharing benefits, Gilbert estimates that he will have spent around $100,000 to achieve the feat, due to the fact that he did it while working full-time and often had to take multiple short trips to and from destinations.
His travels have also required some creative methods of transportation, including everything from 1800-era carriage and horses to ferry boats, bush planes, and sailing vessels.
Despite this, Gilbert said it has all been worth it to be able to witness the awe-inspiring natural wonders in these parks, like watching lava flowing into the ocean at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
“There’s not very many places you can go in the world where you can see new earth being created in front of your eyes,” he said in an interview with KY3.
Of all the parks he has been to, he is particularly fond of Grand Canyon National Park and the hiking trails it offers from its North Rim, though he was also highly impressed with the massive size and one-of-a-kind natural gems found in Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park, and Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Talia Avakian is a digital reporter at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @TaliaAvak.