Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
There has perhaps never been a better time to explore America’s stunning and diverse national parks. During National Park Week, from April 16 to 24, the U.S. will celebrate the variety, beauty, and history of its 394 parks by waiving entrance fees everywhere and holding special events. The parks system covers 84 million acres, encompassing everything from sandy seashores to the White House. Here are a few interesting facts about your national parks to inspire you to explore:
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, was the first land placed under federal protection. In 1832, Congress set aside the land exclusively for the future enjoyment of U.S. citizens—the first time any government took such a step. But not until Congress designated Yellowstone a “national park” in 1872 did our federal government begin its concerted effort to set aside land for environmental conservation. In 1916, the National Park Service was created to administer these protected lands. Today, visitors to Hot Springs National Park can tour the historic Fordyce Bathhouse, watch the park film, Valley of Vapors, stroll through the Bathhouse Row National Historic Landmark District, and of course, take a bath.
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
President Theodore Roosevelt put more U.S. territory under federally protected conservation status than any other president. Commemorate his work with a trip to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The vast spaces that inspired Roosevelt include a medley of canyons, cliffs, buttes, and bluffs that are home to elk, bison, prairie dogs, golden eagles, and pronghorns. Roosevelt called the badlands “so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.” You can even see the park on horseback—just like the former president did.
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Channel Islands National Park, California
Channel Islands National Park is often called the North American Galápagos.This park, located off California’s coast near Santa Barbara, consists of five islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara) dedicated to conserving rare species, such as the bald eagle and a small seabird called the Xantus’s Murrelet. The islands’ isolation over thousands of years resulted in unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on the planet. There’s no admission fee, but you usually must pay to take a boat or plane to the islands.
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Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park, Alaska
Alaska has the most parkland by acreage. America’s largest park is Alaska’s Wrangell-Saint Elias, which is about 20,600 square miles—bigger than six Yellowstones. But California has eight national parks, tying it with Alaska for the highest total. Washington, D.C., counts about 30 national memorials, monuments, and parks, including revered monuments like the Lincoln Memorial. Delaware is the only state with no federally administered national parkland.
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited of America’s national parks. The 800-square-mile park, consisting mostly of old-growth forest and quartzite crags spanning both North Carolina and Tennessee, draws more than 9 million visitors a year. The Grand Canyon comes in second, with more than 4 million a year.
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Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Mount Rainier is the tallest volcano in the lower 48 states. Towering over Washington’s Cascade Mountain Range, the snow-tipped 14,410-foot Mount Rainier is technically an active volcano, though scientists say it isn’t currently dangerous. The highest volcano in the world is Hawaii's Mauna Loa in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Summit it via the Observatory Trail or take a moderate hike on its lower slopes.
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Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park in south central Kentucky is the world's most extensively mapped and explored cave system. Mammoth Cave sprawls across about 390 miles, and several tours of its passageways are available to visitors. Non-spelunkers will also find much to do; many of the park’s 2 million annual visitors opt instead to explore its forests and paddle its rivers. Cave tours run year-round.
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Sources: BudgetTravel.com, NPS.gov