By George Jenkins
Planning your next vacation? Consider visiting a national park. This year, the United States National Park Service (NPS) celebrates 100 years of operations. The NPS was created to preserve:
“…unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
When you visit a national park, you see what your ancestors saw. That includes trees, plants, wildlife, lakes, rivers, mountains, and glaciers. The NPS includes 411 areas covering all 50 States, plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers, and trails.
The largest NPS site is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska) at 13.2 million acres. The smallest site is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial (Pennsylvania) at 0.02 acres. 307 million people visits NPS sites during 2015. The NPS is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior. It was created by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916. The Director of the NPS is nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Some of the favorite national parks:
- Yosemite National Park (California): this park is famous for outdoor activities including hiking, fishing, biking, camping, rock climbing, photography, and more
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota): enjoy marvelous views of the 60-foot-tall heads of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson
- Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): view dazzling colors and the Colorado River, as it makes its way through the mile-deep canyon, which is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide
- Glacier National Park (Montana): with more than 700 miles of trails, this park features pristine forests, alpine meadows, and majestic mountains
- Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii): volcanoes created the Hawaiian islands, and the park features two massive volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, that erupt periodically with slow lava flows down the mountainside. Mauna Loa is 56,000 feet (17,000 meters) high, as measured from the sea floor.
The parks operate programs for adults, families, and children. Some of the programs for children include the Junior Rangers, Web Rangers, Every Kid in a Park, and mobile apps for citizen science. Check the NPS site for event times and locations.
It is easy to combine a visit to a national park with a cruise vacation. My wife and I visited the Volcanoes National Park in 2004 during a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands on Norwegian roundtrip from Honolulu. At night, we saw the red lava flows into the ocean. That cruise also included a port stop at the island of Maui, where we visited Haleakala National Park. Our bicycle ride down the mountainside started above the clouds.
We visited Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska) in 2005 during a cruisetour on Princess Cruises. A cruisetour combines sea and extended land travel, so you see the best of everything – the inland wilderness, wildlife, glaciers, parks, and mountains. Our cruisetour started with 5 days and 4 nights traveling via bus and train from Fairbanks to Anchorage, with hotel stays at lodges operated by the cruise line. The cruisetour price included everything, and it was easy! The cruise line handled our luggage and checked us into each lodge. Then, our 7-night cruise sailed southbound from Whittier to Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada).
When you visit Denali National Park, book the full day tour. The park is massive, and you won’t see much during the half-day tour of the park. We were luck and saw the peak of Denali (a/k/a Mount McKinley).
During a trip to Las Vegas in 2012, we visited Grand Canyon National Park. The hotel offered an excursion package that included both air and bus travel. You can drive a rental car or take bus, the trip is a lot quicker if you fly. We had spectacular views of Hoover Dam from the air!
Words cannot describe the splendor and beauty of these NPS sites. If you haven’t visited a national park, I strongly encourage you to visit one this year. Don’t wait. You’ll be glad you did.
If you don’t want to drive or fly, you can easily visit a park via train. Amtrak serves many NPS sites including Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Everglades, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Rocky Mountain, and more.
For the 100-year celebration, the national parks will waive entry fees for 16 days including August 25 through 28, September 24, and November 11. To find a national park near you, use the Find A Park search tool. While you can drive to most national parks, off-road vehicles are illegal.
Contact Atlantic Travel today to book your vacation. Interested in visiting Alaska? Atlantic Travel can also arrange a cruisetour or train travel that meets your interests and budget.
View from the summit of Haleakala (Maui, Hawaii)