To celebrate National Park Week, on April 15–16 and 22–23 visitors get it in for free!  On these National Park Week weekends, every national park will give you free admission so here are a few that you simply can not miss:

Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor, Maine

Anchored in the Atlantic just off the Maine coast, Acadia is a unique mountainous national park with the ocean lapping at its granite foundation. Thick forests threaded with hiking and biking opportunities and coastal features make for perfect family fun.

Sea-life bingo keeps youngsters excited tallying green sea urchins, orange sea stars, and other curious marine creatures that reside in tide pools that surface at low tide. Watch for harbor seals farther out in the water. Leafy oaks, maples, and beeches frame (and shade!) the carriage roads that wind through the park’s interior.

National Parks Acadia National Park - Schoodic Point

Acadia National Park – Schoodic Point. Photo: Al Kulla Photos via Flickr

Pedaling families can explore 47 miles of these gentle routes that weave through the woods and along lakes perfect for skipping stones and picnic breaks. Teens can navigate the park’s sea waters in guided kayak tours or learn how to climb on the cliffs that rise above the Atlantic. Hiking trails that lead through spruce-fir forests and past granite outcrops with views of the Gulf of Maine are perfect for the entire family.
National Parks Acadia National Park -Schoodic Point

Acadia National Park – Schoodic Point. Photo: William Brawley via Flickr

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Gustavus, Alaska

Impressive in size at nearly 3.3 million acres, Glacier Bay also is doubly impressive when it comes to wildlife viewing, sea kayaking, and tidal glaciers that shuck their icy overburden into the ocean. Arrive via cruise ship and plan your day around a cruise with rangers who point out the tidal glaciers as well as humpback whales, sea lions, tufted puffins and other marine life that teems in the bay.

To get a better feel for this park, find a room in the Glacier Bay Lodge or in one of the B&Bs or inns in nearby Gustavus. Then map out day hikes, fishing for salmon or halibut, or a day-long exploration of the surrounding waters on a ranger-guided catamaran-jaunt. There’s good reason Glacier Bay is recognized as one of the top sea kayaking destinations in the country. Between the breath-catching landscape of glaciers, mountains and forest and the rich marine life, you’re never bored. And for an escape into the wilderness, the Beardslee Islands are a short paddle away.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve national parks

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Photo: Raniel Diaz via Flickr

Glacier National Park

West Glacier, Montana

Glacier National Park was given its name for glacier-carved grounds that were formed over 10,000 years ago during the ice age. Today, Glacier offers natural wonders that need not be served with ice. Rocky ribs of the Continental Divide are on display, there are turquoise lakes reflecting rocky ramparts, and every now and then may meander past some shaggy mountain goats.

National Parks Glacier Bay National Park - Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska. Photo: pclvv via Flickr

Stand atop Logan Pass and it’s easy to see how glaciers sculpted this landscape. Hike to Hidden Lake and not only will you find a jewel, but if you’re lucky, plenty of mountain goats to fill your camera.

Glacier is a land of contrasts. Leave the high country and you can descend into a Red Cedar and Western Hemlock forest along the Cedars Nature Trail, or head to Avalanche Lake to see glacial waters cascade hundreds of feet into the lake. Glacier’s backcountry offers solitude for the long-distance hiker, as well as some companionship and comfort if you make your bed in either the Granite Park or Sperry chalets, historic stone inns that once catered to railroad passengers on the trail.

National Parks Glacier Bay National Park - Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska. Photo: TravelingOtter via Flickr

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Mineral, California

The hissing of fumaroles and sputtering of mudpots might make you think you’re in Yellowstone National Park, but they can be found in Lassen Volcanic National Park as well. And they’re just one of the highlights of this geologic wonder. Budding geologists will be fascinated with Lassen Volcanic, as it can count all four major types of volcanoes — shield, plug, cinder cone, and composite.
Lassen National Park national parks

Lassen National Park. Photo: Theo Crazzolara via Flickr

There’s even a Volcano Club kids can join to learn more about this volcanic landscape. Along with volcanoes, this park features some gorgeous backcountry lakes, such as Cliff, Terrace and Shadow, that can be reached with a short hike. Or you can mix geology and hiking with a 5-mile roundtrip to the top of Lassen Peak, an example of a plug dome volcano. Evidence of the underlying volcanism can be found at Boiling Springs Lake, where a number of steam vents keep the waters simmering at a temperature of about 125 degrees.
Lassen National Park national parks

Lassen National Park. Photo: Theo Crazzolara via Flickr

Mount Rainier National Park

Ashford, Washington

This Cascadian icon is more than meets the eye, which is an awful lot! From glacial snouts you can walk up to and year-round snowfields for play to rain forest settings and long-distance trails, Rainier is a wonderland inviting exploration. Wonderland indeed. Long-distance hikers head down the Wonderland Trail, hoping to complete the 93-mile loop in one jaunt. While the length might not seem daunting to experienced hikers, the thousands of feet you gain in elevation from the ups and downs will definitely test you.

Mount Rainier National Park National Parks

Mount Rainier National Park. Photo: Jeff via Flickr

Paradise does indeed exist at Mount Rainier, and this outpost on the southern flanks of the mountain is a great day destination or base camp. The 94-year-old Paradise Inn, beautifully renovated between 2006 and 2008, is a perfect retreat after a long day. On the way to Sunrise, a launching spot for many backcountry hikes, don’t overlook Ohanapecosh, a landscape of towering old-growth trees and cool hikes.
Mount Rainier National Park National Parks

Photo: pfly via Flickr

Virgin Islands National Park

St. John, Virgin Islands

Warm, aquamarine waters that teem with colorful fish and lap sugar-sand beaches are just one facet of this Caribbean pearl. You also can hike into the past or sail into the sunset. Trunk Bay, named after the leatherback turtles that once nested here in abundance, is ideal for newcomers to snorkeling. Here a marked underwater trail will introduce you and your kids to corals and possibly the colorful sergeant majors and blue tangs that mill about in squadrons that flit here and there in unison.

Once you’re comfortable in the water, the park offers numerous coves and bays to snorkel in search of elkhorn and staghorn corals, luminescent-green parrot fish, and green and leatherback sea turtles.The Caribbean’s history runs deep in sugar plantations and the slave labor that built and worked them. The ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation help explain these dark days of colonial slavery.
National Parks Virgin Islands National Park Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay. Photo: daveynin via Flickr

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Medora, North Dakota

Deep in the badlands of North Dakota, this national park preserves the landscape that instilled in Theodore Roosevelt many of his conservation ethics. The park also is home to bison, prairie dogs, wild horses, elk, pronghorn antelope, and golden eagles.

National Parks Hiking Talkington Trail, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Photo: Matt Zimmerman via Flickr

What started out as a hunting trip in 1883 turned Roosevelt into a cattle rancher, a link to the landscape that helped fan his love for the out-of-doors. At the park you can view his first home there, the Maltese Cross Cabin.

Throughout this summer the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association will host “Teddy Bear Picnics” to celebrate these stuffed animals and delve into their history. Backcountry camping, hiking, paddling, and wildlife viewing are among the ways to pass the days during a family visit to this national park. Horse travel follows both established trails in the park, and, for the adventurous, cross-country excursions with overnights in the backcountry.

National Parks Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Photo: Nic McPhee via Flickr

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

This is where the world’s national park movement began, and when you wander the geyser basins, marvel at the wildlife, and explore the backcountry, it’s easy to understand why the preservation movement took hold here. Catching an Old Faithful Geyser eruption is a must-do activity, but don’t stop there. Bring the family to Observation Point, a short mile-long roundtrip that offers sprawling views of the Upper Geyser Basin. Then walk the entire basin along the boardwalks and paths to get a better appreciation for the geothermal waterworks at play here.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone Yellowstone National Park

Photo: F Delventhal via Flickr

The Lamar Valley in the park’s Northern Range is the best stop for viewing elk, bison, and wolves. Improve your odds of winning at wildlife bingo by arriving early or late in the day. Roughly 95 percent of Yellowstone’s visitors confine their trips to the front country, which is unfortunate. Venture down a trail, or paddle across a lake, and you’ll experience a wilderness setting that hasn’t changed in centuries.
Yellowstone National Parks National Parks

Photo: niemand und nichts via Flickr

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, California

This cathedral of rock and water embraces some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth, with towering granite sentinels, cascading waterfalls, and glorious Sierra high country. A day spent in the Yosemite Valley can be both claustrophobic, in light of its narrow length, and spectacular, due to granite spectacles called El Capitan, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. Walk the trail where Yosemite Fall splashes to the ground, or douse yourself in the Merced River during summer’s heat.

Yosemite National Park National Parks

Photo: Dhinal Chheda via Flickr

Follow the Mist Trail to the high country above the Yosemite Valley. Not only does this trail cool you off, thanks to the spray from Vernal and Nevada falls, but it leads you towards Half Dome and the visual reward that dome offers to those who reach its summit. Explore the Tioga Road and all the high country trails that lead away from it into the High Sierra. Take a day to hike to Cathedral Lake, or spend several days hiking from tent cabin to tent cabin in the High Sierra Camps.
Yosemite National Park National Parks

Photo: Anthony Quintano via Flickr

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Three Rivers, California

The biggest trees on earth are just the opening act of this High Sierra beauty, which offers both surprising subterranean adventures and foot paths that can lead you for days through high country wilderness.

The Giant Forest is just that, a stupendous setting of gargantuan Sequoia trees rising to 275 feet. These thick-trunked trees, along with getting you to tilt your head way back to take in their full height, invite games of hide-and-seek. Hiking opportunities abound in Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Take an easy day hike in the Foothills in the spring and enjoy the eye-popping wildflower display while exploring the oak woodlands.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Photo: Peretz Partensky via Flickr

Or, take a backpacking trip to explore the alpine lakes, meadows and Sierra peaks of the Kings Canyon or Mineral King areas of the parks. Some of the trees are rooted in soil and rock woven with caverns. Crystal Cave is just the most visible and accessible of the park’s caves, one where teens can head off on a “wild cave” tour of crawling and squirming through passages. Too dirty? Sign the family up for an historic candle-lit cave tour.
National Parks Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Photo: Mitch Barrie via Flickr

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This story was first published here.