Since 2015, Brad Ryan has taken 92-year-old grandmother Joy to 62 of the country’s 63 national parks after she said she had never seen a mountain in person.
The conclusion to this amazing adventure is set for this year with a visit to the last national park on their list – the National Park of American Samoa.
The challenge to visit all US national parks began when Brad, a veterinarian student at the time, told his grandmother of his trip to the Appalachian Trail.
He was shocked when Joy, from Duncan Falls, Ohio, said that she had never once seen a mountain range, or had even gone camping!
She wished that she had the chance to go on a trip like her grandson, and Brad responded in the best way ever – he took his grandmother on the journey of a lifetime!
Brad said, “I felt bad that she was always living vicariously through my stories. And so just knowing that she had never seen deserts and mountains and the ocean and these incredible wild places on Earth, it just felt like a responsibility that I had to her to make sure that she had some memories to take away in her life story as well.”
Starting with a road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nature-loving pair has since visited other beautiful locations, such as New River Gorge Park and Joshua Tree National Park.
Their seven-year challenge allowed the two to travel 50,000 miles together. They also got to climb mountains, go white-water rafting, and sleep under the stars in the national parks that they visited.
It’s no wonder that the two have strengthened their bond, and are not just grandmother and grandson, but are now the best of friends.
Their relationship is even more remarkable since there was a time when they did not speak for 10 years due to the divorce of Brad’s parents.
Ever since they reconnected, the two have leaned on each other. Before they started visiting national parks, Joy helped Brad through a rough patch as he had struggles with his mental health.
Now, after going through almost all the nation’s national parks, Brad is ever grateful for this magical experience with his grandmother.
This was a wonderful chance to see more of the country, and he met so many new people in the process. On the other hand, Joy said that the road trips were more than anything she had ever imagined.
She expressed amazement at what she saw in her travels and said that they were both lucky with their experiences as they traveled across the country.
Life-changing as it is, this adventure is also expensive. Brad paid for their first trip together but soon set up a GoFundMe page to fulfill his grandmother’s wish to see mountains.
Brad was able to raise $12,000, which allowed them to go through 21 national parks in 2017. Another long excursion was in 2019, when the two visited 20 national parks in 14 states.
Brad also poured in some of his savings into the trips, and the two always try to be careful and save as much money as possible.
Soon enough, they wanted to share their joy with family and friends, and in 2019 Brad began to document their travels on social media. Brad began posting their adventures on Instagram and Facebook through @GrandmaJoysRoadtrip and quickly acquired a large following.
“We didn’t expect that,” Joy said. “He just put that on the social media so the people back home in Duncan Falls knew what we were doing.”
News of their venture through all national parks soon spread and they gained both national and international exposure. This resulted in offers from companies and travel agencies, which have helped fund their adventures.
Joy marveled at the love and generosity they have received from private donors. She reflected that their story might have resonated with others as it showed the importance of living life to the fullest, no matter what age.
The trips may vary from as short as 5 days to longer 45-day explorations. Still, Joy manages to push herself through their adventures. One of their most physically taxing trips took place in July 2021, when they visited the eight national parks of Alaska.
There, they went white water rafting down class three rapids, hiked near glaciers and fjords, and even got Joy’s much-desired wildlife encounter.
“I always wanted to see the bears get the fish and I finally got to see it. And it was fun, it really was,” Joy said.
While their expedition to all national park is about to end, the two are ready to set off on their new bucket list – visits to state parks and even to other parts of the world.
Joy shared, “It’s been a grand adventure, it really has. It’s really been a beautiful, beautiful time. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Brad added, “We realize that not everybody is going to be able to travel to every U.S. National Park. But there is some adventure to be found in every corner of the country and we hope that people will go out and seek that adventure.”
Brad is happy to inject even more adventures into Joy’s life, saying that it gives him peace and fulfilment.
Wherever their journey leads them, the two will always be an inspiration for others to live out new experiences and embark on their own adventures with their loved ones.
To follow this amazing duo’s adventure, follow their Facebook page.