National Park Week Begins Tomorrow!

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]

National Park Service Announces Fee-Free Days For 2013

One of the National Park Service’s more popular programs over the past few years has been the introduction of fee-free days. Each year, the NPS designates a number of dates on which there is absolutely no charge for entry into the more than 2000 national parks, forests and wildlife refuges around the country. Naturally, those days are especially popular with travelers, who often plan their visits to coincide with the free entries.

Recently, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar officially announced the dates of the fee-free days for 2013, giving us all the opportunity to start making our plans early. Here is a complete list of those days for next year:

  • January 21 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • April 22-26 – National Park Week
  • June 8 – Great Outdoors Day
  • August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
  • September 28 – National Public Lands Day
  • October 13 – National Wildlife Refuge Day
  • November 9-11 – Veterans Day Weekend

If you’re anything like me you’re probably already thinking about your travel plans for 2013. Knowing which days the parks will be completely free can be important to planning your strategy, as it is always great to take advantage of the lack of an entry fee to your favorite park. On the other hand, crowds tend to be quite large on those days, so some travelers will probably want to avoid visiting on those dates. Either way, the Park Service’s announcement comes at an opportune time and gives plenty of notice for those looking to take advantage of the first fee-free day in January.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

Tomorrow Is National Get Outdoors Day!

Tomorrow, Saturday, June 9, is the 5th annual National Get Outdoors Day, an event, which has been created to encourage Americans to head outside and spend some time connecting with nature. Throughout the day, more than 130 locations across the country will be celebrating the occasion with a host of outdoor games, events and activities.

It’s no secret that Americans in general are spending less time outdoors and to some degree it is a bit disheartening to think that we need a specific day to remind us to do just that. On the other hand, anything that inspires people to get off the couch and get active is a good thing in my book. So with that in mind, why don’t you plan on dusting off that old bike tomorrow and taking it for a spin. Or better yet, gather up some friends and family and head to a local park for a hike and a picnic. Remember that tent you bought three years ago because you swore that you were going to go camping? How about dragging it out of the garage and setting it up in the backyard? It doesn’t matter what inspires you to go outside, what is most important is that you actually do it.

And don’t forget, all of the National Parks are completely free tomorrow too. That means that the more than 130 parks that normally charge for entry will be completely gratis. If you live near any of those parks, tomorrow is the perfect time to go out and enjoy them.

US Service Members Now Get Free Entry To National Parks

Earlier this week the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that all active U.S. service members, and their dependents, will now be eligible to receive a free annual pass to national parks. This new military version of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Annual Pass will be available starting tomorrow, just in time for Armed Forces Day.

The new pass grants members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as activated members of the National Guard and Reserves, fee-free entry to over 2,000 national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and other public lands across the U.S. The pass is available at any park or wildlife refuge that currently charges an entry fee, and of course a valid military ID is required. A complete list of sites where the pass is available can be found by clicking here.

The new national park pass grants free entry to its owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at all sites that currently charge a per-vehicle fee. At sites that collect per-person entrance fees, it covers the pass owner and three accompanying adults age 16 and older. There is no entry fee for children 15 and under.

The creation of this new benefit for active military personal comes from the Joining Forces Initiative, which was launched last year by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. The purpose of the organization is to rally all sectors of American society to find new ways to support service members and their families, particularly in these challenging times. So far the JFI has helped thousands of veterans to find jobs, worked with schools to improve educational opportunities for military children and connected with the medical community to improve healthcare for military families as well.