National Park Week kicks off in just a few days (April 18-26) and they’ll be plenty of fun in-park activities and ranger programs. Even better, during the first weekend of National Park Week (April 18-19), entry to all our national parks will be free. I do love free.
While National Park Week may be only one week a year, there are a variety of ways that you can enjoy our national parks and the great outdoors all year long. Here are 12 of my favorite ways:
1. Go Ahead, #FindYourPark. In March, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation kicked off the #FindYourPark campaign to encourage visits to national parks. Simply find and explore your favorite park, then share ideas and inspiration with others.
2. Collect Junior Ranger Patches. When you arrive at any national park, ask at the visitors center about the Junior Ranger program. Kids complete a set of activities depending on their ages, then take the oath with a park ranger to collect a badge or patch. Iron or pin them on to a floppy hat or vest.
3. Go Camping In or Near a National Park. Do more than hiking, biking and rafting at our national parks. Set up a tent or book a cabin at a campground. This summer, we’re staying in deluxe cabins at Yellowstone Park/West Entrance KOA in Montana and Carlsbad KOA in New Mexico.
4. Explore With the Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder Mobile App. Download the free Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder app, which makes it easy to find the most scenic drives, explore park activities and enjoy the best of national, state and local parks. It’s a must for any park visit.
5. Take Flat Stanley on Your Adventures. Read a Flat Stanley book with your kids and then create your own Flat Stanley to take along with you as you visit a national park. Take pictures and print them out to create a photo album.
6. Pick Up Trash in Our Parks. Let’s keep our national parks beautiful. If you see an empty bottle or a candy bar wrapper in the parks, pick it up and throw it away or recycle it if you can. Better, grab some family and friends and have a clean the park day. Celebrate with a picnic.
7. Stop at Scenic Overlooks. Many national parks enable you to take a nice drive through the park and stop at scenic overlooks throughout the park for panoramic views of nature around you. Often, you can pick up a map or guide in the visitors center that will point out the not-to-be-missed overlooks.
8. Look for EarthCache Sites. Grab a GPS device, a park map and a compass, then look for EarthCache sites, which teach visitors about the geological significance of certain sites within the park. EarthCache sites also teach your kids important skills, like navigation and map reading.
9. Buy a Postcard. Whether you capture your national park visit with some beautiful photos or a perfectly framed postcard, bring home the memory of your day(s) in the wilderness. You can make and send your own postcards using a mobile app, like Postagram.
10. Get Your Passport Stamped. Through the Passport to Your National Parks program, your kids can get their passport books stamped at national parks across the country. Each stamp records the date of the visit and the name of the national park. You can buy a passport book at many parks.
11. Watch the Sunset. Take a late afternoon hike through a national park with the kids. Head to the top of the nearest mountain and wait for the sun to set. Bring snacks in case you need to wait a while. Be sure to snap some photos to remember the day.
12. Buy an America the Beautiful Pass. The American the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and allows free entry into all of our national parks and monuments for 12 months from the date of purchase. It’s like celebrating National Park Week every week.
Photo Credit: Ludovic Bertron