The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation will kick off their annual spring celebration of the parks tomorrow, as National Park Week officially gets under way. The event will run from April 20-28 and will feature a number of special activities throughout the parks, including free entry Monday through Friday of next week.
The national parks have long been favorite destinations for travelers who enjoy exploring the natural and historical settings that have earned the designation. All told, here are 401 total units that have been given the title of national park, monument, memorial, historic site or recreation area. They represent more than 17,000 miles of trails and 12,000 campsites spread out over a combined 84 million acres. Each of them has something unique to offer visitors and many of them are free all year long. There are so many park units in fact that every American lives within 100 miles of some type of national park experience. To find one near you, check out the complete list of parks here.As a big fan of the parks – and what they have to offer travelers – I am a major supporter of National Park Week and anything else that acknowledges these amazing places. But I do have to take the Park Service to task for skimping out on the fee-free days this time around. While I love that they’re allowing anyone to enter the parks without having to pay Monday through Friday, couldn’t they have found it in their hearts to extend the fee-free days to one or both weekends as well? After all, school is still in session and the summer vacation season hasn’t started yet, so how many people are actually going to get the opportunity to take advantage of the free entry? Perhaps they simply don’t want to give up the funds they bring in on weekends in the face of budget issues due to sequestration. Considering the NPS may even start charging seniors more for their lifetime passes, we may actually be on to something.
Regardless, spring is a great time to visit the national parks as everything is starting to come alive. In Yellowstone it will soon by calving season for bison and elk, while the wildflowers are already in bloom in the Great Smoky Mountains. In Yosemite, the spring thaws will swell the numerous waterfalls that dot the landscape and in Death Valley the cooler weather makes for a more comfortable experience all around.
Enjoy National Park Week and be sure to take advantage of any opportunity to explore “America’s best idea.”
[Photo Credit: National Park Service]