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.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
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 National Park
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.
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.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
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.