Happy Birthday National Parks Service! One of the best things about America is its national park system. There are currently 59 of them and cover some of the best landscapes in the world. There is the glacial wilderness of Wrangell NP in Alaska and the coral reefs of Biscayne Bay NP in Florida. We have America’s first sunrise at Acadia NP in Maine and quite possibly the last sunset at American Samoa NP. There are old growth flood plains in South Carolina at Congaree NP and incredible desert landscapes of the west at Grand Canyon NP in Arizona and Zion NP in Utah. We have amazing highs at Denali NP in Alaska and incredible lows at Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico.
The National Parks are home and habitat to more than 400 endangered or threatened plant and animal species. Animals from grizzly bears to Dall sheep, timber wolves to peregrine falcons, Pacific Boas to gray whales all call the lands protected by the National Parks home. The largest living things in the world are in National Parks: Sequoia trees and Alaskan brown bears (the world’s largest living carnivores.) Whatever type of landscape fascinates you, you are sure to encounter it at one of the US National Parks.
Old growth flood plains at Congaree National Park in South Carolina
One of my random travel goals is to visit each of the US National Parks, and I’ve managed to visit roughly half of them. The government wants us to visit the amazing wonderland that is our home and each year that have fee-free days for the parks that charge entrance fees [not all of them do].
Fee free days
For 2016,–which also happens to celebrate 100 years of the national parks system– the following days have been designated fee-free:
- January 18–>Martin Luther King Day
- April 16-24–>National Park Week
- August 25-28–>National Park Birthday–let’s party
- September 26–>National Public Lands Day
- November 11–>Veterans Day
If the fee-free days aren’t enough to get you out there, check out these interesting facts about the US National Parks.
- Yellowstone was the world’s first national park. It was created in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Its caretakers – the cavalry. The most recent addition to the 59 national parks list is Pinnacles, California, which was added in 2013.
- Sometimes national parks and national monuments are confused. National parks are chosen for their natural beauty, unique geological features, and unusual ecosystems. National monuments are chosen for their historical or archaeological significance.
- Only one state in the country is not lucky enough to currently have either a national park or national monument. It is actually the country’s first state, Delaware. Poor little Delaware.
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is the largest park in the country. At six times the size of Yellowstone, it is the meeting point of four major mountain ranges and includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. The preserve contains three climate zones, which means that it has everything from giant glaciers to wetlands to one of the largest active volcanoes in North America
- Everglades is the only true tropical forest in the northern hemisphere. Because of this it is home to plants and animals you can’t find anywhere else, including the Florida Panther and twenty species of orchids.
- Russell Cave National Monument, Alabama, has an almost continuous record of human habitation going back to at least 7000 BC.
For statistics nerds, check out the numbers.
- The NPS operates roughly 401 units which include 79 National Monuments, 78 Historical Sights, 59 National Parks, and 46 Historical Parks all contained within 84 million acres.
- The parks host 280 million visitors a year. And whether they are exploring the highest point in North America in Denali NP (Mount McKinley –20,320 feet), or the lowest point in the western hemisphere at Death Valley NP; the National Parks are a host of extremes. From the deepest lake at Crater Lake NP (1932 feet), or the tallest trees in the world at Redwood NP (397 feet).
Get out there; enjoy what America has to offer. Fee free.