In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with TV host and producer Jack Steward from the Emmy-winning travel show Rock the Park. We chat with Jack about Rock the Park, why travel and our national parks are so important, which national parks have had the biggest impact on him, his vlog series The Pursuit is Happiness, and much more. Check out the most exotic location Jack has ever visited and find out where he’s headed next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to some pretty amazing places with my family while I was growing up. My parents took us to Costa Rica, England, and Ireland among other places. While all of those places made an impact on me, it was on our first trip out west that I really became passionate about travel and exploration. I remember seeing the mountains for the first time and getting a feeling that I had never experienced before. I now know this feeling to be an intense experience of awe and wonder, and I have been chasing that feeling ever since that first trip out west.
What does travel mean to you? Why do you feel it’s important?
To me, travel is a gateway to a deeper understanding of yourself and your place in the world. You’re much less guarded when you travel and it opens the door to impactful connections with the people you meet and the location that you’re in. I really believe that travel allows us to find a deeper sense of our own humanity.
You and your best friend, Colton Smith, host the Emmy Award-winning show, Rock the Park, which airs on ABC as part of Litton’s Weekend Adventure on weekend mornings. Can you please tell us a bit about the show? How did it come about and to what do you attribute its success?
Rock the Park is an exploration of national parks and wild places in our backyard and around the world. Our mission to show people how much beauty is all around us and how you can find happiness and grow as a person by getting out and exploring them. The show really is a collision of multiple passions of mine. I have been drawn to wild places since that first trip out west, but I’ve also been passionate about video production and visual storytelling.
Colton and I grew up together and we would make all of these movies for fun. Little did we know that this would continue all the way through college. We started exploring the nearby Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and filming our adventures. After I graduated, I eventually moved to Los Angeles to work in television, but in between jobs, I would still meet up with Colton to go on these adventures.
At one point, I showed my mother one of our videos that we had made, and she immediately knew that there was an idea for a television show there. (She is the President and CEO of Tremendous Entertainment, the production company that produces Rock the Park as well as tons of other programming) I created a sizzle reel for what then would be Rock the Park. We pitched it around, sold it and the rest is history. I think Rock the Park has been successful because of its authenticity. We’re really just a couple of normal guys that have an eagerness for adventure and I think that’s something that is relatable to people.
Every week, Rock the Park takes viewers to a different national park across America. What makes our national parks so important?
Our national parks are important because they stand for the idea that some things are best left untouched so that they can be explored and understood for what they are. We need these places to not only connect with our own humanity, but to preserve the world for future generations. Our national parks also preserve history, but not just the history that we’re proud of, they also preserve parts of our history that we wish didn’t happen so that we can learn from our past mistakes.
With 62 national parks operated by the National Park Service in the United States, there are quite a few options for people who want to visit one. Which parks have had the biggest impact on you? What made them so special or memorable for you?
I really like how this question is phrased, because a lot of people like to ask what our favorite park is…and that is such a hard question to answer because its so subjective and my answer isn’t based on how beautiful it is or how many animals you can see there, or some of the other aspects of our parks that people appreciate. Impact is the key word, and for me there are a few parks that have made a huge impact on my life. Right now, I am in love with Death Valley National Park because it has become a spiritual retreat for me. About four years ago, I was feeling a bit lost in life and knew that I needed to find some answers. Well, I ended up spending a few days completely alone in Death Valley and it was the beginning of a spiritual and personal rebirth. I began to see opportunities for finding my true identity and connecting better to myself, others as well as God. To this day, I still go back there for the inspiration that it always seems to provide.
A couple of other parks that have made an impact are Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Yellowstone was the first park that truly gave me a sense of awe and wonder and it inspired me to move out to Montana for college and see more beautiful places. Glacier was an escape in college that really offered a space to get away from the pressures of being a student but also made me feel so small in the world in the best possible way.
In addition to hosting Rock the Park, the two of you also host the Those Park Guys podcast. Can you please tell us about it? What topics do you guys cover on it?
Those Park Guys Podcast began as a way to talk about our adventures and issues surrounding our national parks but then really became an outlet for me to talk about things that are important to me personally, such as mental health, spirituality, and personal growth. I really found it to be a great tool for my own self-expression and the more I put episodes out there, the more they became less and less about national parks! Today, it really just exists as an archive of ideas. Maybe one day, I’ll bring it back but for now, I am focusing all of my extra creative juices on my YouTube Vlog The Pursuit Is Happiness.
How many days/weeks do you travel in any given year?
I think one time, Colton counted them up and it turned out that we were on the road 180 some days of the year. So that’s basically half the year that we’re away from home. We’ve started to shoot our episodes in two days instead of three, which has cut that number down significantly. But still, we’re out on the road more than 100 days a year!
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
I want our audience to see that there is beauty all around us and that you can learn so much about yourself and others by pushing out of your comfort zone in healthy ways.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
My top three are South Korea, Katmai National Park in Alaska and Jasper National Park in Canada.
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, the best place to have lunch, the best sightseeing, etc.
If you get the chance to go to Katmai National Park in Alaska you need to:
-Fly through King Salmon, Alaska and enjoy a day at the local bars and restaurants. (There aren’t many of them)
-Stay at Brook’s Lodge
-See the brown bears fishing for salmon at Brook’s Falls
-Backpack through the Valley of 10,000 Smokes
-Watch the bears eating clams on the coast at Hallo Bay
How many National Parks have you visited so far?
I have been to 51 National Parks.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I have been to 11 countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, England, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, and Israel.
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Mexican, Italian and Mediterranean
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
I’m pretty basic when it comes to food, so you’ll probably laugh at this…my favorite restaurant has to be Benihana and I recommend the Teriyaki Steak with extra fried rice and a full side order of shrimp. Sorry, not sorry…
What is your favorite travel movie?
I love the Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
What is your favorite international airport?
I really Like MSP in Minnesota mainly because it’s my old home airport but also there are tons of restaurants, bars and shops to kill time in.
Which city had the friendliest people?
People were pretty nice to us in Seoul, South Korea.
Besides Colton, who is your favorite travel companion?
I love our crew. I know that’s not one person, but traveling with our crew is always so much fun.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
Grab a beer or two at the airport bar LOL.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
The Kalahari Desert in Botswana. It was unbelievable! I got to spend a week with a tribe out there while working on the show Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern for the Travel Channel.
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Say YES to positive risks and opportunities. You never know where you’ll end up.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
I always need my journal, music, a camera of some sort and my iPad.
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Someday I want to take an epic surf trip to somewhere exotic like Bali or Fiji.
What is your favorite travel quote?
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” -John Muir
Where are you headed next?
I have a camping trip planned for Death Valley coming up and I am so excited to get back out there!!
Jack has had a knack for telling stories since he picked up his first VHS camcorder as a kid. Little did he know that the short films he was making were actually crafting his skills as an editor and producer. Jack pursued his dream of storytelling at the University of Montana where he created documentaries and short stories centered around his favorite places: the National Parks.
Jack later rose through the ranks as a production assistant on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and became an associate producer on multiple docu-series including Off Pitch (VH1) and Ghost Asylum (Destination America). This experience would soon lead Jack to co-create and host the Emmy Award-winning television show Rock the Park for The CW.
Today, Jack is living his dream traveling to national parks seeking thrills and adventure. He and his lifelong best friend, Colton, dive head first into the incredible experiences and challenges that the parks offer. Jack currently resides in Redondo Beach, California where he spends his time exploring and working on new film projects.
The Pursuit is Happiness
Life truly begins when we’re present in the moment, seeking connection and saying YES to positive risks and opportunities. Join me for the journey of a lifetime as we travel the world in search of adventure, connection and lasting joy.
You can connect with Jack Steward from Rock the Park on the “Those Parks Guys” website, as well as on his Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also watch his vlog series, The Pursuit is Happiness, on his YouTube channel. Don’t forget to check out his apparel line on TeeSpring! And of course, you can catch Jack on Rock the Park every weekend during the Litton’s Weekend Adventure block. Click here to find out when it’s on in your area!