Family Adventure Coast to Coast

September 26, 2019

Cracker Lake Glacier National Park Cracker Lake, Glacier National Park

Adventure to Our National Parks

 In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in the United States. Today, there are 390 areas under the National Park domain. Every state with the exception of Delaware has some National Park Service land. This land includes national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, lake and seashores, rivers, trails, historic sites, and the White House.

The National Park system provides plenty of opportunity for a variety of vacations and tours. Well over 250,000,000 people visit these sites every year. From educational tours, back-to-nature experiences to relaxing seaside vacations, the opportunities for recreation at the National Parks are virtually endless.

The mission of the National Park Service is to "preserve the natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations." So you won't find amusement parks and fast rides at the sites but you will find just about everything else, even shops at many of the parks.

Get a full list of US National Parks here >>

Choosing a Park to Visit

Choosing a National Park for a vacation depends on your budget, your time allotment and most of all, your idea of a vacation. Many National Parks have rangers that lead programs including interpretive walks and hikes, shows at the visitor centers and other special events. There are Junior Ranger programs at many parks where children can earn badges by exploring the park and performing simple tasks.

Park Amenities

Many parks have lodging that includes simple cabins, camping areas, and rustic lodges. There are concession stands, small grocery stores, and restaurants at many sites as well. And for those who always need to buy a souvenir, many have wonderful stores with books, clothes, and even jewelry items for sale. Pets are welcome at most of the Parks so long as they are properly restrained.

Park Recreation

Interested in history? Visit Gettysburg National Military Park. Want to swim? Visit Assateague National Seashore. Always wanted to spot a grizzly bear? Try one of Alaska's parks. Visit the National Park Service web site at to learn more about the National Park Service and to find out more about a park or site.

Recreational activities available vary from park to park and season to season. At many parks, you can hike miles and miles of trails and paths on your own or participate an interpretive hike with a ranger; bike; swim; visit the visitor centers and museums and partake in events and interactive displays; ski; fish, and in some, even hunt. And of course, you can always just relax and enjoy the scenery!

At many parks, there are special natural attractions to visit and watch. No one would visit Yellowstone National Park without watching Old Faithful erupt at least once!

Many of the national parks, forests and seashores are perfect settings for animal lovers. The animals are protected in the parks so you'll often have viewing opportunities you may not have elsewhere. In our national parks, you can see animals such as grizzly and black bears, elk, moose, deer, jackrabbits, squirrels, various snakes and fish, turtles, marmots, groundhogs, prairie dogs, rabbits, wolves, coyotes, manatees, and even whales.

Bird watching is another favorite hobby with national park visitors. Stop in at the visitors' and nature center when you first arrive at a park to see what wildlife and bird sightings you can expect. Of course, always use caution around wild animals. Park rangers and naturalists are well trained in local wildlife and fauna and are a wealth of knowledge for park visitors.

Park Admission

Some of the national parks charge an admission fee. Fees vary from park to park. For those visiting several parks per year, there is a National Parks Pass, an annual pass that provides admission to any of the national parks that charge an admission fee. Currently, the pass is $80 for one full year. The year starts with the first use of the pass in a park. If traveling on an organized tour, pass fees are often, but not always, included in the tour fee. Be sure to ask your travel consultant.

It is important to note that when the park has a per vehicle entrance fee, the National Parks Pass admits the pass owner and any passengers in the vehicle (this is per private vehicle, not a commercial vehicle). If the park charges a per person entrance fee, the National Park Pass is good for the owner, spouse, children, and parents. Passes are non-transferable. It is also important to note that the fees do not include or reduce fees for camping, tours, concessions or parking.

You may purchase or obtain a pass at any national park where an entrance fee is charged, online at or telephone 1-888-GO-PARKS (1-888-467-2757).

A Golden Eagle sticker may be purchased for an additional $15. The Golden Eagle provides admission to sites managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in addition to the National Parks. This sticker is affixed to the National Parks Pass. Same restrictions apply as for the National Parks Pass.

Those who are age 62 or older are eligible for a lifetime admission and discount pass to the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority sites. This pass is called the Golden Age Passport and costs $10. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident of the United States to be eligible for this pass. You will also need to show proof of age and residency.

You may also receive discounts on federal use fees using your Golden Age Passport. These fees may include camping, swimming, parking, and other services.

Park Accessibility

The National Park Service has made tremendous strides in accessibility for those with disabilities. There are many attractions that are accessible including some trails that are wheelchair accessible or designated for those who are blind and are marked with Braille signage.

There is also a pass for those who have a permanent disability or blindness. The Golden Access Passport is free and a lifetime pass to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States who have a medical determination and documentation of permanent disability or blindness. Same regulations apply as above.

Golden Age Passports and Golden Access Passports must be obtained in person at a federal area including the National Park, Wildlife Refuge, or Forest where an entrance fee is charged. Please bring appropriate documentation.

The United States is truly blessed with an absolute panorama of sites and natural wonders. Make visiting a National Park one of your family travel goals soon.

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