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The Purple-Mountain Majesty of the Worst National Park Yelp Reviews

Yes, there are some people who create fake Yelp reviews of national parks. Then there are some really honest ones. And they’re nothing short of natural wonders themselves

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Over the course of the pandemic, countless people have flooded into America’s sprawling, wondrous national park system. In turn, a certain level of negative sentiment has blossomed with regard to these great pieces of public land. 

If people aren’t complaining about the crowds, the traffic and the litany of other ways humans ruin our beautiful planet, some find time to complain about the very nature of nature itself. Since negative reviews of national parks first became one of the internet’s favorite things — even going so far as to become a book — it’s hard to parse which negative reviews of national parks are authentic. 

However, you could accurately identify what I will call a National Park Sentiment Rating (NPSR) by calculating every park’s star rating on Yelp, weighting that star-rating against the total number of reviews, sorting them by the lowest average score and filtering out the ones that are trying too hard to stand out. 

Excerpt of dataset, segmented for display purposes only

For instance, consider the one-star reviews of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah written by Roy L. and Lisa V. “Doesn’t look anything like the license plate,” writes Lisa. “I thought there’d be more arches,” adds Roy. “This place gets one star because the name is seriously misleading.” 

Do these two truly feel smited by the Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock and other purportedly misleading geological phenomenon of Arches National Park? Or are these simply perverse attempts at going viral, hoping to up their Yelp clout and perhaps be included in the next Subpar Parks book? According to my NPSR algorithm, it’s the latter. 

The same goes for frivolous reviews based on other park goers, entrance fees or negative experiences with park employees. Case in point: Apple S., who drove from Denver to give Arches National Park a one-star review purely because the lines were too long and the hotels were too expensive. 

Further, posts like Covin M.’s misogynistic one-star rating of Big Bend National Park in Texas, Alexa R.’s review of Badlands National Park in South Dakota and pretty much every other review that begins with some rendition of “I didn’t see what the big deal is,” shouldn’t muddy the dataset either. 

These are neither serious, nor nature-based reviews, and so, they must be eliminated. Thus, after crunching the numbers, we’re left with a few fervent, full-throated critiques of America’s three least favorite national parks. 

Gateway Arch National Park

The nearly unanimous choice for worst national park out of all 63 national parks is Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri. After a quick appraisal of its five one-star reviews, it appears not a single one of them is fraudulent. Each comes from a genuine hatred for the park, resulting in Gateway Arch scoring a gruesome NPSR rating of 1.72 percent.

“Sure it was free, but why would I wanna buy things from the gift shop if we can’t use the elevators?” writes Blake S. in August 2020, just two years into the park’s tenure as a National Park. “One star.” 

“Sucks plain & simple,” writes John B., also giving the park one out of five stars. “The Arch like other so-called landmarks have no real point… to me at least a waste of tax money to where it could help the homeless.” 

Though I reached out to Gateway National Park for comment to address the claims that it is “BORING!!!” or “sucks plain & simple,” its representatives have yet to respond. 

Wind Cave National Park

Of all 63 national parks, 25 have five stars on Yelp, 35 have 4.5 stars and only three dip below the 4.5-star threshold. Of those three, one is St. Elias National Park in Alaska, which only has four reviews in total. The second is Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Despite being the sixth park in the entire nation to be enshrined with national park status, it might be another century before Wind Cave finds a way to satisfy the American public. 

Alas, according to my NPSR calculations, the ratings aren’t quite what they seem. Most of the 1-star reviews either focus on the park’s logistics, the reviewer’s trip to the park rather than the park itself or are wildly contradictory. For example, Nicholas H. of Tampa, Florida writes, “The tour […] was great and I highly recommend it, we just got the wrong guide. Also note that you may have to wait for up to an hour before it is time for your tour, the sights are worth it though, especially if you’ve never been in a major cave before. One star.” 

Indiana Dunes National Park

The only other park in the nation with a meager 4-star rating is the Indiana Dunes National Park bordering Lake Michigan in Chesterton, Indiana. Similar to the Gateway Arch, Indiana Dunes is a newer addition to the list, which tends to ruffle the feathers of the diehard national park crowd. “Overall, did the Indiana Dunes Beach impress me?” writes self-described “national parks enthusiast” Seth A. from Boynton Beach, Florida. “Um, I guess it had some pretty aspects to it from atop all three dunes. But I wasn’t blown away. The sand along the beach wasn’t white and the waters off Lake Michigan weren’t really colorful.” 

The question of what makes a national park a “National Park,” is often brought up in discussions of the newer parks like Indiana Dunes. “I am a great lover of National Parks, and have enjoyed visits to a very great many,” writes Bill H. of Brighton, Michigan. “I can’t beat around the bush with this one: to call this a National Park is an atrocity, an absolute insult to all of the others.” 

Others seem to agree. “I’m biased because I’m from Florida and this is basically a beach on a lake,” Shelby B. astutely points out (I’m from Chicago and hold the same opinion of the Indiana dunes — the ones in Michigan are much better). “Perhaps I compared these dunes and beaches too much to beaches on the Gulf or Atlantic and was thus not that impressed.” 

It may seem silly to step foot onto the natural majesty that is this country’s landscape and rate it as anything less than five stars. But consider that of the nearly 300 million people who visited national parks last year, only a few took the time to communicate their disappointment on Yelp. And now that we aren’t as limited in the public spaces and venues we can safely visit, hopefully we can all go back to complaining about literally everything else. 

“Unfortunately due to Corona Joe’s mandates we were unable to even enter the park,” writes Jeffery R. from Coeur d’Alene, Indiana in his one-star review of Rocky Mountain National Park. “Thankfully the rest of the country has opened. Federal zones take several months to catch up. Because government always does things their way.”