As you may know, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016 so there has never been a better time to visit a park. During 2017, the National Park Service is waiving its entrance fees for everyone on ten dates. MLK Day and Presidents’ Day have already passed us by, but you still have eight more opportunities to visit without paying an entrance fee and half of those dates are coming up next month. National Park Week is from April 15-23, 2017 and the NPS is offering free admission on both weekends (April 15-16 and April 22-23). This is a great time to visit one of the 120 national parks that usually charge an entrance fee. In addition, the fee waiver includes commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees.
There are so many national parks in this incredibly beautiful country. I’ve barely scratched the surface of visiting them, but I hope to check them off one by one throughout my life. I’m looking forward to exploring a few parks this summer in California and Hawaii. As of right now, my top 5 favorite national parks are, in no particular order:
Denali: I visited Denali National Park with my family this summer. (Read about it here.) My husband, parents, and brother, and I spent a weekend exploring the 6 million acres of the park by bus and on foot. We saw a sled dog demonstration and viewed countless species of wildlife. We were even lucky enough to see Mt. Denali without much cloud cover. I loved Denali because hardly anyone gets off of the buses and there aren’t many defined trails. You feel almost as if you are all alone in the stunning Alaskan wilderness.
Yellowstone/Grand Teton: I lumped the two of these together because if you enter Yellowstone National Park from Wyoming, they aren’t too far apart and you can see both parks in a single vacation. Yellowstone holds a very special place in my heart because I lived and worked there for a summer, but even if I hadn’t, how can you not love America’s (and the world’s!) first national park? It’s quite possibly the most American place you can go. Between the extensive wildlife sightings, the geysers, and mudpots, the lush forests, beautiful lakes, and vibrant valleys, you can visit Yellowstone again and again at any time of year. (Read about our wintertime visit here.)
I visited Grand Teton National Park on a family trip several years ago when we visited both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The Teton Range makes for quite the impressive skyline and the park is filled with over 200 miles of some of my favorite trails. I’ll never forget hiking along with my family and seeing a huge moose just off of the trail!
Great Smoky Mountains: The Great Smoky Mountains is a park that is quite convenient to those of us that live in the southeast region of the country and is one of the most popular national parks. It straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. I visited with my family several years back. We stayed in Blue Ridge, Georgia and drove into the park for the day. The park is filled with stunning waterfalls, beautiful wildflowers, and species like black bear, white-tailed deer, and wild turkeys.
Rocky Mountain: Rocky Mountain National Park has to be one of the most naturally stunning parks I have visited. Alex and I went a few years ago when my brother was still living in Colorado and hiked some unforgettable trails. (Read about our trip here.) We hiked to Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls which were both beautiful waterfalls. It was a little over 5 miles round trip with a pretty large elevation change. We also drove up Old Fall River Road in the park, which is only open a small portion of the year, for amazing views of the tundra from the Alpine Visitor Center and took a short hike at the peak on Trail Ridge Road.
Everglades: Finally, Everglades National Park in my home state of Florida has to be one of the most unique national parks in the country. You can see endangered species like the manatee, panther, and American crocodile, as well as the well-known alligator. Alex and I took a kayaking and hiking trip through the Everglades a couple of years ago (read about it here) and it was one of the most memorable outdoor experiences of my life. You can drive, bike, hike, canoe, or kayak in the park. Just make sure that whatever you do, you bring mosquito spray as you will definitely need it.
With that, I wanted to share a cool infographic from Cotopaxi, a hiking gear and backpack company that donates a percentage of every sale to various organizations that support worldwide health initiatives. The company was founded on the principals of making a difference and inspiring people to get outside, be active, have adventures, and spread good vibes. The infographic shows the most and least popular (by number of visitors) national parks in the country which should give you some inspiration to plan your next national park visit. It also breaks down how your visit to a national park can help the United States economy. I think we can all agree that feeling like you are doing your part to help better our country is always a good feeling!
With that, thanks for reading this week! I hope this post inspires you to visit a national park this year. I know I will be visiting a few!