Getting misty at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone

Getting misty at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone

The National Park Service is celebrating a milestone and greetings are flooding the media. While entrance fees are waived across the U.S. today, free days are offered throughout the year. There are over 400 National Parks and only 127 of them charge. So cost needn’t be a concern any day of the year. There has to be a park within reach. It’s time to step away from the keyboard and get wild.

Visiting the National Parks requires some planning. I was fortunate enough to see part of eight National Parks and several National Monuments this summer. I say part because the Parks are huge! If you’ve come into Yosemite from the South, it will an entirely different experience from the Eastern entrance. There are more trails, hikes for any age, ability or experience level than you can cover in a lifetime.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley

You don’t need a car either. Many of the National Parks were designed with rail access and have stations that will deliver you just steps from lodges and amenities. Bus tours and rentals abound near each park entrance as well as at airports in the vicinity. The National Parks have been big business for nearly a hundred years. There’s something for most any budget and travel style.

Mt. Rainier National Park

Mt. Rainier National Park

Six months before leaving our family started discussions about the route, which parks and activities were most important to each of us. While we did some car camping, we drove and elected to reserve a handful of nights at lodges inside several parks.

Mt. Rainier Paradise Inn

Mt. Rainier Paradise Inn built with fallen logs found in the park.

Staying inside a National Park keeps you close which extends your day and night exploration and hiking time. The best time to spy wildlife is at dusk or dawn. It was easier to manage since we were sleeping just steps away from trails. The lodges also offer some respite from the crowds that can jam the more popular parks. National Park lodges and any accommodations close to park entrances can be spendy and often sell out months in advance.

The best part about visiting the National Parks: You, your friends and family will walk away with a thirst to see more of this amazing country and a hunger to keep these national treasures safe.

If your work schedule or budget won’t allow a long road or train trip then splurge on a picnic during one of the Free Days. The park free days include the 99th Birthday, August 25th, and November 11th, Veteran’s Day. (All active duty military members and their dependents are eligible year round with a free America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.)

Mt. Rushmore National Monument

Mt. Rushmore National Monument

If you’re eligible go almost free with a Senior, a Disability or Volunteer Pass or purchase an annual pass for $80. The passes are a great value as they include not only entrance to all 408 national parks but also national wildlife refuges, national forests and more than 2,000 Federal lands.

Elk are everywhere inside Yellowstone.

Elk materialize most everywhere inside Yellowstone National Park.

2016 is the National Park Service’s Centennial and demand will be high not only for Americans but for foreign visitors longing to step into the iconic vistas they’ve seen in movies and TV.  Start planning your visit early. There are festivals, guided events and all manner of celebrations planned throughout the year.

Isn’t your heart clamoring to go wild?

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Elk in Yellowstone National Park