A Week In The Wild: A Guide to National Park Week

Arches National Park, Utah

It’s that time of year again! For one week, all 397 National Parks across the United States are absolutely free from April 21-April 29. With free entrance it opens a host of options to hikers, campers, and climbers alike, as well as an opportunity to inspire the next generation to take care of our treasured lands and promote environmental consciousness. Along with the endless possibilities of exploration, the National Park Service is hosting a wide breadth of events from volunteer services, to historical and cultural demonstrations. Here’s what you need to know about National Park Week 2012!

What is National Park Week?

National Park Week is the one week reserved every year, where the National Park Service waives entrance fees to all their lands and opens the park to endless exploration and sport. This year it falls in the week of April 21-April 29.

What kind of events are the parks hosting?

April 21st (Saturday) is Volunteer Day, you can check with any National Park for the kind of projects they are hosting including preservation, enhancements to trails, working with animals, or conservation duties. (link here) On April 28th is National Junior Ranger Day, where children, through special hikes and events, learn how to “explore, learn about, and protect” the parks. At the end of the day, each child will be sworn in as a Junior Ranger. (link here)

Smokey Mountains National Park, South Carolina

What about camping, hiking, or climbing permits, are they free?

Camping and climbing permits are not free during National Park week, however many of the campgrounds inside the parks are being reduced for the week, and same goes with hiking, climbing, and fishing permits. Be sure to inform yourself about which lands are accessible for activities and don’t stray into the backcountry unless you have permission to do so. Visiting the national parks is also a boost for local businesses who thrive on visitors so make sure that you give them a visit too! Check out the special deals and discounts that the parks are offering here.

I live in the city and can’t get out into the open, what can I do?

National parks aren’t only limited to wide open lands. Alcatraz is considered a national park, and so is Ellis Island. They are reminders and preservers of our national history and identity. In the Florida Keys is Dry Tortugas, site of the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. The African Burial Ground in downtown Brooklyn, the site where thousands of unnamed slaves were buried is part of the park service and offering free entry as well. The national parks don’t only serve to remind us of our natural heritage, but of our historical as well.

All the parks are going to be so crowded! Where can I truly get away?

Yes, some of the major parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Arches, and the Everglades will be popular, but it gives an opportunity to check out some of the lesser known national parks as well. Check out the winding cliffs of the Canyonlands, where one could hike for miles without seeing a single other group. Take a boat into the Channel Islands just off the coast of California, where seals and sea lions are returning to their summer nesting grounds. In Arizona and Colorado, check out the Petrified Forest, and the Great Sand Dunes, with their hills of ancient sand, one turned to rock through millions of years of wind and water, the other a wide expanse of dunes, some as high as 750 feet, that offer a range of unique sports such as sand sledding.

Shark Valley – Everglades National Park, Florida

I have no time to get off work and I’m going to miss the greatest week of the year. What can I do?

So you’re stuck and can’t get to a national park this week. No worries! The national parks will be free once again on June 29, for Get Outdoors Day, September 29 for National Public Lands Day, and November 10-12 for Veterans Day Weekend. It’s an entire year of opportunities to get outside! Can’t get out those days either? Many of the national parks and reserves don’t even CHARGE an entrance fee and are supported through public donations and volunteers.

National Park Week is the perfect opportunity not only to get away, explore the wild outdoors, and engage in some great sport, but also to educate our future generations and teach them the responsibility of protecting and respecting our lands. Check with local rangers before you blaze your own trails. Be courteous to the land and to other outdoor enthusiasts, and take the opportunity to try a new experience and truly get wild. Enjoy the week everyone!

For more information, check out the official site here.

Soundoff: What national parks are near you? Are you planning to visit? What are you going to do there?

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