Michigan family the first to visit to all 418 U.S. National Parks

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A Michigan family has arguably become one of the most traveled families in the United States.

The Maitland family from Jackson, Mich. is the first family to visit all 418 U.S. National Parks. (For National Parks aficionados: that's the 59 areas formally known as National Parks - plus every other unit that falls into categories like National Battlefield Sites, National Lakeshores, National Memorials, etc.)

It's a pretty big feat, and it's likely to earn the family a Guinness World Record. 

It took them eight years to check everything off the list. December 2018 was spent visiting the most distant parks: those in Hawaii, Guam and America Samoa, the last on the list.

They make their journeys across the country (so far, more than 300,000 miles!) mostly in their RV. For example, their trip to the Alaska parks took them six weeks. One of the rare flights they took was the most recent trip to the islands in the Pacific.

If you're adding up all that time and travel in your head like we were, the family makes it work because Mom and Dad, Cheri and Jim, are self-employed and semi-retired, and their children are homeschooled. Cheri and Jim joined us on The Nine with two of their seven children, 16-year-old Jamison and 14-year-old Gerald, to tell us more about their travels. You can hear more from them in the video player above. 

The family got the National Parks bug after watching the documentary "America's Best Idea." Their goal wasn't initially to visit every park but after enjoying their quality time together, their passion was fueled. The thing they say really "sold them" was when they stumbled upon the National Park units down in Florida. (The "units" they're referring to are the collection of properties owned or administered by the National Park Service, which help add up to the big park number of 418.)

"The units are really about who we are and what we've become as a country," Cheri explained to us. If you're looking to start your NPS travels, she recommends picking a unit, (there's five alone here in Michigan!) and ask for the Junior Ranger Program at the Visitor's Center when you first get there. It's a free tour or booklet activity that you can enjoy and make memories together as a family. 

For Cheri and Jim, that's the best part about this whole adventure: the eight years' worth of memories.

One of Jim's favorites is showing two exchange students they hosted around the country. The students, one from Japan and one from Germany, traveled through more than 30 states with the Maitlands. The Maitlands consider them their family now as well, and still keep in touch. 

On the topic of favorites: it's the question we all wanted to ask first, too. Which one's the favorite? It was hard to whittle down, of course, but we got some answers. 

For 14-year-old Gerald, it's actually Isle Royale here in Michigan. For 16-year-old Jamison, it's Katmai National Park in Alaska. Mom says hers is more of a favorite memory, which was seeing all the prairie dogs at a prairie dog town in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North and South Dakota. 

So, what's next?

"Going back!" Jim said without missing a beat. 

We confirmed with them that they are, in fact, NOT exhausted and are actually looking forward to many more RV trips together. The National Park units are always changing and improving, so they're looking forward to re-visiting.

You can keep up with them and their travels on Facebook here.

Meanwhile, here at home, the Maitlands are familiar faces at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe, where they've each spent more than 1,000 hours volunteering. They are very passionate about giving back to the land.

They'd love for you to start your National Park journey by coming and saying hi at River Raisin, or, of course, with a visit to another unit that may be closer to you. 

"If you've got a little section of time, get to the parks," Cheri said. "They're waiting for you."