Saturday April 18, 2015 kicks off National Parks Week. Admission fees to all our national parks will be waived this weekend, April 18-19, 2015. It’s a great time to discover and explore our national parks.
Yellowstone National Park became the nation’s first national park on March 1, 1872 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed an Act establishing its creation. President Woodrow Wilson signed an Act on August 25, 1916 that created the National Park Service. To view the NPS timeline click here.
Today the NPS is comprised of 407 areas covering over 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include parks, monuments, battlefields, military and historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House. To see the complete list of NPS sites and area click here.
Several years ago during summer breaks we would pack up our then teenage children for a month long road trip across the country. We’d visit National Park areas along the way. It was a great way to see the natural beauty and historic sites of this great country of ours. My children are older with families of their own, but we still get together for road trips and visits to NPS areas.
I believe that a visit to at least one of our National Parks should be on everyone’s bucket list. Our parks truly showcase our Nation’s beauty as described in the song “America the Beautiful” from “sea to shining sea” and beyond!
We have so many areas covered by the NPS that I’m sure where ever your interests lie there’s a park that will interest you. Whether it’s camping in the great outdoors or a weekend at a luxury hotel you’ll find it in one of the parks. From horseback riding to rock climbing to scuba diving there’s a park out there for you. So get out this weekend or this summer and find your favorite park, you may have a hard time deciding which one is your favorite because each park unique. Here is a list of just a few of my favorites, there are so many it’s hard to decide on just one.
*Admission costs vary but we usually purchase an annual pass which is good for admission to most of the parks, monuments, etc. for you and your family. The current cost for an annual pass is $80. There are free and discounted passes for military, seniors, residents with disabilities, and volunteers. Some passes can be purchased online or over the phone; others must be purchased in person click here for information about purchasing your annual pass.
If pressed I’d have to say that Yellowstone National Park is at the top of my list of favorites. Yellowstone is definitely one of the crown jewels of our country’s national parks.
Home to Old Faithful and a majority of the world’s geysers Yellowstone is a wonderland filled with the famous geysers, hots springs, waterfalls, and more. It’s also home to elks, dear, bison, wolves, and of course bears. There’s so much to see and do in Yellowstone that a weekend is not enough time.
We’ve been here several times, every visit is awesome! We’ve gone horseback riding in the back country, boating and fishing in Yellowstone Lake, hiking on many trails, and of course viewed some amazing wildlife. Click here for information on things to do in the park.
The park is a city in itself with gas stations, post office, medical facilities, shops, and more. There are 9 lodges, 12 front country campgrounds, and many restaurants within the park. We’ve stayed in a cabin at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins and dined in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, all memorable! The park has accommodations for every taste and budget. Click here for lodging and dining information and reservations.
Yellowstone is such a huge park with many different areas; each one is unique. The park is in 3 states: Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. There are 5 park entrances each one leading to a different area, 2 loops connect them all. Driving the loops gives you a great overview of the park’s wonders, many of the main attractions can be viewed on or close to the loop roads. But to truly get an appreciation of the park get off the beaten path for a short hike or ride in the back country. Before you wander off into the wilderness take time to prepare and read the safety tips. To plan your visit to Yellowstone click here!
Another crown jewel and my next favorite is Yosemite National Park in California. This park is known for its waterfalls, cliffs, meadows, and unusual rock formations; all testaments to the power of ancient glaciers. It’s also home to several groves of Giant Sequoias, or Giant Redwoods, and over 400 species of wildlife including black bears, bobcats, deer, goats, to name a few.
There is lots of things to do in Yosemite; skiing and snowboarding in the winter, rock climbing, rafting, boating, swimming, horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and more in the summer.
We’ve been to Yosemite many times. We’ve rafted and fished in the river, picnicked in the valley, gone swimming, hiked and toured by car. We usually stay at one of the hotels located just outside the park, but the park does offer accommodations to fit every taste and budget. From tent cabins to a luxury hotel and everything in between, you can find it within the park. For lodging information and reservations click here.
One of my favorite activities in this park is picnicking with my family. There are many picnic grounds throughout the park, just be respectful of the wildlife, specially the bears who would like nothing more than to forage in your picnic basket! There are grocery stores withing the park to buy picnic fare and if you’d rather there are also numerous restaurants and snack bars around.
For more information on dining venues click here.
For picnic areas click here. For Bears and food storage tips click here.
Be sure you bring dry and waterproof bags to keep your food safe and away from marauding bears!
There are several drives in and thru the park, all of them are beautiful, there are viewpoints along the way where you can stop to see some of the major attractions. But to see and appreciate all the wonders the park has to offer get out of the car and take a short hike or two along one of the many hiking trails. A short but amazing hike is the .8 mile trail at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia, the hike begins in the parking lot and goes to the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. Or rent a raft at the Curry Village Rec Center and paddle 3 miles down the river, it gives you a different perspective of the surrounding area.
To plan your visit to Yosemite click here! [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona in only one of many NPS Sites in this state. There’s no doubt this awe inspiring park is another NPS jewel. It’s also one of our favorites. We’ve been there countless times, and each time is just as awesome as the last.
Carved by the Colorado River which meanders thru the canyon floor the Grand Canyon is 10 miles wide and 1 mile deep.
The park is separated by the canyon bisecting it into 2 sections, the South and North Rims. The South Rim, located on the “Arizona” side is open year round and is much more accessible. This side has an airport and rail station, as well as more facilities. The South Rim receives 90% of the park’s visitors.
The North Rim is located on the “Utah” side and its roads and facilities are closed thru the winter. It can however be accessed by hikers and cross-country skiers provided they have obtained backcountry permits. This side has neither an airport or rail station. It is much more remote than the South Rim and has limited facilities.
There are many things to see and do in the Grand Canyon. There are mule trips departing from both sides of the canyon. They offer short and overnight trips, prices range from $40 for a 1 hour ride along the North Rim trail to $584 for an overnight ride which includes lodging at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Mule trips sell out fast so if you want to do one planning is a must. Trips can be reserved months in advance. Click here for more information on mule trips.
If mule rides are not your thing and you’re looking for more of a thrill ride you can go white water rafting in the Colorado River. There are many different packages offered by local companies. Click here for more information on river trips.
For those who aren’t quite as adventurous and prefer a more sedate way of enjoying the canyon, like me, there are bike tours, guided tours, ranger programs, and hiking and walking trails. When we first started going to the canyon private vehicles were allowed to drive the scenic rim road, but these days the road is closed to private cars. However the park offers free shuttle buses with 3 different routes to get around the South Rim. You can hop on and off a bus at any of the scenic stops or trail heads. One way to get a bit of easy hiking or walking done is to hop off one stop and walk to the next along the canyon trail. Believe me it’s worth it, every stop has a different view.
The Desert View Drive is a paved scenic road open to private vehicles. It’s a 25 mile route along the South Rim that runs east from the Grand Canyon visitor center to the Desert View Watch Tower. There are several scenic viewpoints and picnic areas along the drive.
Whenever we visit the park we usually stay either in Williams, AZ which is about an hour’s drive from the canyon or in Tusayan, the gateway community located just outside the park entrance.
There are lodgings inside the park ranging from campgrounds to elegant luxury suites. For more lodging information click here.
You don’t have to stay in the area to visit the Grand Canyon, it can be done as a day trip from nearby cities in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. Whether you stay for a week or drop in for the day the Grand Canyon is definitely a site to behold. To plan your visit click here.
Death Valley National Park is the lowest and driest point in North America, it is also the hottest place on earth. It is a land of extremes and may seem to be a desolate place to visit, but far from it; this wild country offers vistas of rolling sand dunes, salt flats, majestic mountains, winding canyons, and spring fed oases. Despite its forbidding name it is home to almost 400 species of native wildlife that have adapted to its forbidding climate and over 1000 species of plants.
We’ve visited this park several times and have even stayed at one of the resorts in the park.
From campgrounds to luxury rooms the park has lodgings to meet every taste and budget. Click here for more information on park lodgings. There are also different dining options within the park click here for more information.
With 3.4 million acres of desert and mountains Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. This means there are many area to explore and many ways to do so. Many of the sites are easily accessible by car, some require hiking or driving on unpaved roads requiring
4-wheel drive vehicles. Hiking, backpacking, and biking are the other ways to see the park, but be prepared for the harsh terrain and climate before you embark on any of these outdoor activities.
Whether you decide to drive or hike always be sure you have plenty of water, dehydration can quickly be lethal in this climate; read and follow all the safety rules before you go. For more safety information click here.
To plan your visit to Death Valley click here.
Acadia National Park on Maine’s rugged is the first national park in the eastern United State. It is home to many plants and animals and the tallest mountain on the US Atlantic Coast.
There are campsites but no other lodgings located within the park. We visited this park once when we stayed in the nearby town of Bar Harbor. Click here for campground information.
The only dining facility within the park is at Jordan Pond House, they serve lunch, tea, and dinner. They also have a shop where snacks and souvenirs can be purchased.
There are many things to do in the park; boating, fishing, climbing, hiking, and more. Click here for more information on park activities.
The Scenic Loop Drive is a must do, it begins at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and has viewpoints at the park’s main attractions. The park also has 2 beaches that are staffed by lifeguards in the summer. You can swim, play, and just relax at one of them. For curious kids the tide pools would be fun to explore, you can explore on your own or participate in one of the ranger programs. If you decide to go it on your own check the tide charts and safety rules before you do, click here for more information.
To plan your visit to Acadia National Park click here.
There are no lodging or restaurants within the monument, although there are campgrounds and picnic areas within. Click here for campground information. Click here for picnic area information.Dinosaur National Monument is located in Colorado and Utah. The Colorado side provides access to the deep canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers and dramatic views along the Harpers Corner Road, but the main attraction is located on the Utah side where you will find dinosaur quarry where you can see over 1500 fossils embedded in the cliff face.
There are several outdoor activities to enjoy in the monument, hiking, rafting and boating, and picnicking to name a few. The main event is located in the Quarry Exhibit Hall where you can see and even touch dinosaur fossils that are 149 million years old. We took our kids here when they were teenagers and the dinosaurs really got their attention! Depending on the time of year you visit you can access the Hall by either private vehicle or free shuttle bus.
Click here to plan your visit to Dinosaur National Monument.
Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota is just one of the many NPS sites in North and South Dakota. It’s famous for the sculpture by Gutzon Borglum but there is so much more to see.
Of course you must view the sculpture of 4 US Presidents and learn about the history, but take the time to enjoy the plants and wildlife in the area. Walk up the Presidential Trail (.6 miles long and 422 steps) for an up close and personal view of the sculpture. Visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center to see the exhibits and watch the 14 minute film describing how and why the sculpture was built.
There is one restaurant in the memorial, Carver’s Cafe. There are no campgrounds and lodgings within the memorial. We visited the memorial during a stay in a cabin in Custer State Park. A drive along scenic Iron Mountain Road (US 16A) has 3 granite tunnels that frame the memorial in the distance, it’s a picture perfect view!
Admission to the memorial is free, but you must pay for parking. To plan your visit to Mt. Rushmore click here.
There are many other NPS areas in both North and South Dakota. My other favorites in the area are:
Badlands National Park, South Dakota [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Utah is home to 5 National Parks and several National Monuments, trails, recreation areas, and historic sites and trails.
We spent a month one summer exploring them all. It’s hard to say which is my favorite. From the 2000+ natural arches of Arches National Park to the sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park each area has its unique features and breathtaking beauty. I think it’s safe to say they are all my favorites!
Hawaii has several NPS areas, the most famous are Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, and Haleakala National Park on Maui. Both are unique and definitely worth a visit.
As you can see NPS offers a vast assortment of parks, monuments, memorials, and more; with areas in all 50 states and beyond. Where ever you live I’m sure there’s an NPS area near you. Plan some time this summer to visit, explore, and enjoy one of them, I promise you won’t regret it!