As we’ve mentioned a couple of times this summer, the National Park Service has designated several weekends as “fee free”, meaning we can get into any and all national parks and monuments without paying the usual entry fees. This weekend, August 15-16, is the final free weekend of the summer, and your last chance to take advantage of the government’s generosity.
There are a number of amazing parks spread throughout the U.S. and I’ve recommended five of them here and five more here. When writing those lists, I was looking at parks that were a bit off the beaten path, and less crowded in the summer months, when travelers flock to the top parks, resulting in traffic jams and less than ideal conditions. But as the dog days of summer begin to fade, it may be time to visit one of the more iconic parks. Here are five of the best.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Perhaps the most famous and popular of all the national parks, Yellowstone is home to Old Faithful, the geyser that erupts at regular intervals of roughly 90 minutes or so. Yellowstone offers travelers plenty to do year round, with hiking, fishing, camping, and much more. There is spectacular wildlife to be seen as well, including elk, moose, bear, and wolves. But be warned, this popular park can get crowded quickly, and it can definitely impact your experience there.
The Great Smokey Mountain National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
The most visited of all the national parks, Great Smokey Mountain offers up access to the mountain range that is gives it its name, thanks to more than 800 miles of hiking trails and remote backcountry campsites.There are an estimated 1500 bears living within the park, along with plenty of deer and elk as well, and the plant life is equally diverse, with more than 1660 different kinds of wildflowers alone. The park is celebrating its 75 anniversary this year, with plenty of activities and attractions for everyone that visits.
Glacier National Park, Montana
For sheer beauty, it is difficult to beat Glacier National Park, which has 700 miles of hiking trails that wander through the snow capped Rocky Mountains and past crystal clear lakes. But the major attraction is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is 53 miles in length and takes visitors right through the heart of the park’s amazing wilderness, crossing the Continental Divide at Logan’s Pass along the way. But the road is only open from June through October, so go before it is closed for the winter.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Some of the best wilderness found on the East Coast falls within Acadia National Park, the oldest park east of the Mississippi River. Acadia offers adventures both in the mountains and on the sea, with plenty of hiking and biking trails through the wilderness and along the coastline. Campsites on Mount Desert Island are just minutes from the ocean, while Mount Penobscot offers a challenging and scenic climb. Visitors to Acadia truly do get amazing experiences from sea to summit.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
At more than a mile deep and 18 miles across, the Grand Canyon is as awe inspiring as any landscape on the planet, and no list of top parks in the U.S. would be complete without it. The hike down into the canyon and back is tough, but rewarding, and for many it is an experience of a lifetime. And if you want to visit the North Rim, which is more remote than the typical tourist trails, you’ll want to visit in the summer months, before the snows move in and close the road for the season. The Grand Canyon is the quintessential national park and a must see for anyone.
Honorable Mentions: Denali National Park, Alaksa, Yosemite National Park, California, and Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Enjoy the final free weekend of the summer!