For his new PBS special, The National Parks: America's Best Idea (airing in September), Ken Burns filmed in 53 of the 58 national parks in the U.S. The idea actually came from Burns's co-executive producer and best friend, Dayton Duncan, who has been to all of the parks. The filmmakers share some favorites.
"I can't describe the power of taking the 90-mile dirt road to the center of the park," says Burns. "You are fully encased in nature—bears, elk, Dall sheep. It's what the continent looked like before humans."
Isle Royale, Mich.
Reachable by boat or plane, in the corner of Lake Superior, "it's the biggest island on the biggest lake in the world," says Duncan. "On Isle Royale is another lake, Siskiwit. You hike to it and take a canoe to an island on it, called Ryan Island. Then you're standing on the biggest island on the biggest lake on the biggest island on the biggest lake in the world."
"We always stay at the Many Glacier Hotel," Duncan says. And he never skips Going-to-the-Sun Road, "the most beautiful road in America."
Avoid the crowds. "Go in winter," says Burns. "You round a corner and encounter bison covered in snow that look like they've been there 20,000 years. It alters you."
The National Park of American Samoa
The highlight for Duncan is on the sparsely populated island Ofu, reached by prop plane from Pago Pago. "Hike over to pristine Ofu Beach, where the snorkeling is unbelievable, and you'll very likely have it to yourself."