Experiencing America’s National Parks
The National Park Service, steward of America’s great outdoors, is celebrating its centennial, making 2016 the perfect time to explore some of the country’s most beautiful wide-open spaces.
While Yellowstone National Park was the very first to receive a national park designation—in 1872—it wasn’t until August 25, 1916, that President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation creating the Park Service within the Department of the Interior, giving it responsibility for 35 parks and monuments. Today, the NPS oversees 411 national parks, monuments, battlefields and other historic sites, lakeshores, scenic rivers and trails across the United States, as well as sites in American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Park Service is marking its big birthday across the United States, from an August 27 ceremony at Acadia, in Maine, home to the highest point on the U.S. Atlantic Coast; to a festival of traditional Hopi music at Arizona’s Grand Canyon on August 26–27; to monthly “After Dark in the Park” presentations and centennial hikes at Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park.
One of the biggest parties is planned for Yellowstone, the first national park, created by Congress in 1872 and home to the geyser Old Faithful. Grammy-winners Emmylou Harris and John Prine will headline a concert on August 25th at the Roosevelt Arch, at Yellowstone’s north entrance in Gardiner, Montana. The summer months are also great for hiking and camping in Yellowstone, as well as for spotting huge herds of bison.
California’s Pinnacles National Park, about 130 miles south of San Francisco, is the country’s 59th and newest, established in 2013. The park features massive monoliths and scenic wilderness trails and it’s one of the few places where the endangered California condor can be spotted in the wild. Pinnacles will hold a Day of Service on August 20, giving volunteers a chance to ensure that the park can be enjoyed by generations to come.
Also among the newest parks is Great Sand Dunes, in southern Colorado. Established in 2004, the park is home to alpine lakes, old-growth forests and the tallest sand dunes in North America, which are terrific for sledding. A bluegrass concert August 27th at the park’s outdoor amphitheater will mark the NPS centennial.
While a trip to a national park is an unforgettable experience, careful planning is essential. The most spectacular parks cover vast areas and aren’t close to major airports. Lodging options can range from hotels to campgrounds, and they fill up quickly. Plus, parks offer an incredible variety of things to see and do, from waterfalls to deserts, from art workshops to outdoor activities. There’s truly a national park experience for every traveler’s interests.
But sorting through all of the options takes time and expertise, and a travel agent has both. Travel agents offer assistance every step of the way, from looking at what different parks have to offer and helping clients pick the one that’s right for them, to deciding on the best time to visit and making airline, rental car and lodging reservations with an eye toward budget and comfort.