In our last blog, we discussed the new initiative presented by the President termed “Every Kid in a Park Initiative.” It gets all fourth-graders and their families into national parks, wildlife refuges, waterways and other public protected lands for free for a year. In addition to receiving free entrance to the parks, the administration is also providing families, schools and teachers with information and easier access to these protected areas.
The whole idea is to get kids (and their families) active and outside. Across the country there are beautiful and diverse areas that many people have not had the opportunity to see and enjoy. If you and your family are considering a trip soon, why not visit a national park? Especially if you are able to bring the whole family for free! Here are the top ten most visited national parks in the country and why they’re worth visiting.
Great Smoky Mountains
With over 9 million people visiting this park every year, it is the most traveled park. With its amazing views and one of the country’s largest deciduous forests, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park has a great deal of plant diversity and wonderful hiking trails. There are seasonal closures, so make sure to check ahead and plan your trip accordingly.
With wildlife that cannot be seen in most other areas of the country, save for Alaska, Yellowstone National Park also holds the title as the area with the greatest number of hot springs and geysers in the world. Make sure to visit Old Faithful, and if you’re lucky you may see a black or brown bear. Summer is the busiest time of the year, with bison in rut and the weather a comfortable temperature.
Most people visit the canyon from the south, and look upon its vast views from what is called the south rim. If you have the time, travel to the north rim and experience hiking trails and a less traveled area. Closed in the winter months, the north rim is much harder to get to. You can hike to the inner rim, but keep in mind that in the summer it is a desert-like environment, with temperatures climbing into the triple digits. A must-see and wonder of the world, the Grand Canyon is sure to be a memorable trip for the whole family.
One of nine national parks in California, Yosemite was the fourth national park, established in 1890. Famous to preservationists for its giant sequoias, and to climbers for its towering cliff walls like El Cap and Half Dome, Yosemite is a great place to hike, camp, and explore. With the tallest waterfall in the country, Yosemite Falls, it is full of beautiful forests, mountains and waterways.
With diverse geographical and climatic regions ranging from forested lakes to alpine tundra, the Rocky Mountain National Park includes mountains, flat lands and everything in between. Like Yellowstone, it has a vast array of wildlife, and lots of hiking trails. The views are astounding, with snow-covered mountains all year, and lush green meadows in the summer.
Marked as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and a World Heritage Site in 1981, Olympic National Park is home to four different ecosystems. Located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, it is home to the wettest area in the continental United States. Unlike typical tropical areas, the park’s temperate rain forests are home to mainly coniferous tree species. With desert areas to the east, and alpine and coastal areas to the west, it is harder to find such changes in such a small area.
Few views can compete with those of the Teton Mountains. Situated just south of Yellowstone, the Tetons are some of the grandest mountains in the Rocky Mountain chain. Make sure to visit Jackson Hole and check out its historic village. In the winter, bring your skis and hit the slopes. Lodges and hotels are frequented by skiers in the winter with views that can only be topped by areas like Lake Tahoe, Salt Lake City and Breckenridge.
Located mainly on Mount Desert Island in Maine, Acadia is home to the tallest mountain on the east coast and is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River. Teaming with wildlife and woodland forests, the park also includes coastlines, mountains and numerous lakes. Located at one of the most eastern points in the country, Cadillac Mountain is one of the first places to see the sunrise in the country.
This Ohio Park has over 2 million visitors a year. With its streams, valleys, hiking trails and camping areas, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great place to visit with the entire family. It has many historic homes and structures, and also a train ride that is popular with the kids.
In addition to the most-visited parks, check out local state and county parks. Each have their own wildlife, historical aspects and ecosystems. Many are free to get in to, and have hiking, biking, snowmobiling, and horse trails. If you’re short on time, these parks are perfect for a day or weekend trip.
Like the Badlands in South Dakota, Zion National Park is covered in beautiful rock outcroppings and formations. Unlike the Badlands, Zion has four distinct ecosystems, ranging from deserts to forests. Hikers can spend days viewing arches, canyons, towers and mesas. Accessible during the whole year, it is a unique park whose land formations can’t be seen in other parts of the country.