Zion, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks conjure images of majestic vistas and grandeur. In total there are 59 national parks in the United States. The National Park Service (NPS) runs 417 sites such as national monuments and battlefields, in addition to the parks. Ten days out of the year, the NPS offers free entry everywhere (full list available here). The next free entrance days are Veteran’s Day weekend November 11-12, 2017. Here are 10 popular parks you can save money, honor our veterans, and observe the changing seasons for free!
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is located in three states: Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. The Old Faithful geyser attracts visitors from around the world. North America’s massive supervolcano the Yellowstone Caldera contains the largest body of water in the park Yellowstone Lake. Also in the caldera, the stunning geothermal Grand Prismatic Spring exhibits crazy, surreal colors. Other points of interest include American bison herds, mudpots, and hot springs.
Yosemite National Park
California is home to Yosemite National Park. Famous for cascading waterfalls, rainbows, and granite peaks, Yosemite will take your breath away. Rock climbing on El Capitan, sleeping in a Half Dome Village canvas tent, or ascending the Yosemite Falls Trail, the park offers countless opportunities to explore nature. It’s no wonder John Muir and Ansel Adams loved this unique place.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is truly a spectacular wonder of Arizona! The South Rim Trail provides plenty of level hiking, or you can descend on several other trails toward the Colorado River. Dine in the El Tovar lodge (reservation recommended) and dream about a rim to rim adventure or mule ride to the bottom. The North Rim is open until November 30, 2017; the South Rim remains open all year.
Grand Teton National Park
Jagged peaks reflecting on alpine lakes make Grand Teton popular amongst photographers and hikers. 200 miles of trails and the beautiful Snake River make this Wyoming park a serene adventure. Only 10 miles from Yellowstone, an ambitious adventurer could take advantage of the free weekend by visiting both parks! Jenny Lake, Lake Solitude, and Jackson Lake are park highlights. Grand Teton is notorious for world-renowned trout fishing.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Located in Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park contains the highest elevation paved road in America and a fourteener, a peak above 14,000 feet (4267 meters) in elevation. Elk and bear abound here, as do spectacular vistas. Sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are popular winter activities. Crossing through the park, the Continental Divide marks the hydrological separation of the United States separating watersheds that flow to the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.
Zion National Park
Narrow slot canyons and sandstone cliffs make Utah’s Zion National Park unforgettable. Billions of years ago, the Virgin River created its remarkable, distinctive geological features. Zion is a hiker’s dream best visited in the November through April to avoid crowds and hot temperatures. The name means “heavenly city” or place of sanctuary. The park is full of biblical and Mormon references.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The Queens Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park is the easiest trail to enter the canyon and is an epic sunset location. Located near Zion National Park in Utah, visitors often take in both parks in one trip. Bryce is known for its red hoodoos, thin spires formed by erosion and frost wedging. Other popular park features include the Sinking Ship, Twin Bridges, Fairyland Point, and Thor’s Hammer. In November, it’s possible to see snow dusting this one-of-a-kind landscape.
Acadia National Park
Located along the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain is one of the first places to see the sunrise in America. Parking lots fill up quickly, so arrive early or plan for other transportation options. Cadillac Mountain, Ocean Drive, carriage roads, Mount Desert Island, and Jordon Pond are centerpieces of the park. The rocky Maine coastline with its spectacular scenic views is a photography treasure.
Crater Lake National Park
7,700 years ago, a violent volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama formed Crater Lake National Park. Situated in the Cascade mountain range of Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America (1,949 feet). It is considered one of the most pristine regions on Earth. In the middle of the lake, Wizard Island forms cinder cone accessible by boat tours. Other awesome hallmarks of the park include the Pinnacles, Rim Drive, old growth forests, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Dormant volcanoes riddle the region. The park receives heavy snowfall in the winter.
Glacier National Park
Straddling the Canadian border, Glacier National Park in Montana is notorious for grizzly bears. Deemed the “Crown of the Continent”, the park is home to the headwaters of waterways that flow to the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay. Going-to-the-Sun Road offers many vast vistas and wildlife sightings, including bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Lake McDonald is the largest of over 700 lakes in the park many of which have not been named.Infamous glaciers such as the Jackson Glacier are threatened by climate change. The 150 glaciers that existed in 1850 in the park have been reduced to 25 in the 21st century.
The Washington Post describes national parks as “America’s Natural Heritage”.
National parks are the “spacious skies” and “mountain majesties” of elementary school choirs. They’re living postcards from adventurers who had the foresight to preserve natural wonders for those who followed.
Our National Parks compare to the cathedrals and castles of Europe. Yellowstone was the first park established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. President Theodore Roosevelt established five national parks during his administration. President John F. Kennedy called our parks an “integral aspect of intelligent use of natural resources … thus ensuring that future generations may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.”
Accessibility to national parks can be limited by income. National park entry fees range from free to $30 per car. The most popular national parks charge the highest entry fees ($15-$30). The Trump administration has proposed increasing the entrance to 17 of the most popular national parks. This new fee could be as much as $70 per vehicle during the peak season making free days all the more enticing.
Although free park days can be a little more crowded, they are well worth the savings. Plan ahead for lodging (sometimes a year in advance) and dinner reservations. Check each parks’ cancellation policies and call for last minute bookings. Be sure to confirm road openings and weather conditions.
Seasonal changes, such as late fall colors and snow, make November the perfect time to visit our national parks. Free entrance makes it a no-brainer.