It took the better part of three years, but Mikah Meyer became the first person to visit all 419 National Park Service sites in a single trip, ending his ultimate road trip at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial in April 2019.
The young gay adventurer gained a lot of insider knowledge on the ins and outs of parks, campgrounds, American food, and more along the way, but also received a sobering wake-up call about LGBTQ+ visibility in our country’s great outdoors.
“There’s virtually none,” Meyer tells Out Traveler. “In October 2018, REI hired me to be part of an ad campaign, and we discovered it was the first time in the history of the outdoor recreation industry in America that an openly gay man was in an ad. In 2018.”
Reflecting on his experiences to the Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Meyer said, “I’ve heard from tens of thousands of LGBTQ+ people who don’t feel safe or wanted in outdoor spaces. Notably, queer people of color feel even more left out.”
In response, Meyer founded the Outside Safe Space program and ran 200 miles across Minnesota to raise funds and awareness about the need for more openness and allyship in outdoors culture. That marathon run ended on the steps of the state capitol in St. Paul. Then the activist returned to Minneapolis, where Meyer says he moved because “Minneapolis had the cleanest and most vibrant downtown of all the places I visited, with a true mix of people living, working, and recreating there.”
The city made famous in The Mary Tyler Moore Show also offers a healthy dose of nature nearby.
“It has a national park running right through the downtown center [the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area]. I go for daily runs through this national park, and the juxtaposition of massive skyscrapers next to stunning nature reminds me what a unique city Minneapolis is for so many reasons.”
Meyer recommends Pho 79 (pho79mpls.com) on the city’s “Eat Street,” strip. The Vietnamese restaurant has “the best pho or vermicelli salad I’ve had anywhere in my travels! Plus their cream cheese wontons are insanely tasty.”
But if it’s atmosphere you desire, Meyer says head to Brit’s Pub (@britspubmpls).
“They have everything from a dance floor to a manicured rooftop lawn that hosts lawn bowling, sports viewing parties, and outdoor movies — all as part of a British pub and in the core of downtown’s skyscrapers.”
If you’re looking to avoid the crowds of the city by visiting a national park, Meyer says your best bet is to go to some of the lesser-visited spaces.
“Those hidden gems, places like Dinosaur National Monument, Badlands National Park, and Buck Island Reef National Monument, are even better than the Grand Canyons or Acadias of the parks system because they aren’t crowded!” Meyer says.
He also has the insider scoop on the best food in the national park universe: it’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument in eastern Arizona.
“It’s on the Navajo Nation, so it provides the opportunity to experience authentic Native American cuisine, versus so many parks that are filled with the burger and fries options.”
This piece originally ran in Out Traveler print magazine. The Winter 2022 issue is now available on newsstands.