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.”
A number of the parks and monuments will be honoring the civil rights activist with special ceremonies and events throughout the weekend. The newly opened MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C., for instance, will have rangers on hand to discuss Dr. King’s pivotal role in seeking equality for all races, while the MLK National Historic Site in Georgia will host a special program on Sunday that examines King’s legacy.
Of course, there are always a host of other activities to do in the parks as well and the winter months often bring unique opportunities to these scenic places. I’d recommend snowshoeing in Yellowstone, hiking in Yosemite, or even paddling the Everglades. After all, without an entrance fee, there’s no excuse not to go.
If you can’t make it to your favorite park this weekend, never fear. The Park Service has a number of other free days scheduled for the year, with your next opportunity coming on April 21-29 in celebration of National Park Week.
For a complete list of the national parks that will be fee-free this weekend, click here.
In honor of Veterans Day, the National Park Service has declared another fee-free weekend. Starting tomorrow, and running through Sunday, all entry fees into America’s national parks will be waived, giving travelers the opportunity to enjoy the crisp fall weather in some of the most spectacular landscapes the country has to offer.
While the fall colors in many of the parks have come and gone, there are still some places where the reds, oranges, and golds of autumn can still be spotted. Particularly at the lower altitudes in Yosemite and near the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. The cooler weather also makes it the perfect time to take a long hike or go camping one final time before winter sets in. It is also a great time to spot wildlife in places like Yellowstone or Rocky Mountain National Park, where the change in seasons puts the elk and sheep on the move.
This is the final fee-free weekend of 2011, so take advantage of it if you can. But if you aren’t able to make it out to your favorite park over the next few days, don’t worry too much. The Park Service has already announced 17 more free days for 2012, with the first of those coming January 14-16 in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
For a complete list of the parks that will be participating this weekend, click here.