Capital Reef National Park. Been to this one?

Happy Almost 100th Birthday, National Park Service!

The National Park Service will turn 100 years old in 2016, and that’s one of the reasons why the parks finally got a little budget boost this year. But you don’t need a centennial celebration to appreciate America’s greatest legacy. You can go now, or over spring break, or this summer, or maybe even this weekend.

In the course of my work-related travels, whether I’m reporting on fracking in North Dakota or a “Ron Paul blimp” in North Carolina, I make sure to go to the nearest big chunk of green on the map. I’m not picky—state parks, national forests, national monuments, wildlife reserves, land conservancies, the Great Dismal Swamp, anything with nature and critters is fine.  (A bar with good beer on tap and a local trout on the menu reaches a level that ancient philosophers describe as “transcendence.”) 

But there is little doubt that the iconic landscapes are dominated by the National Park Service. And the NPS has this handy little Internet helper that will show just how close you are to the nearest national park. So this is your regularly scheduled message to beat the 2016 crowds, get yourself an annual pass for $80 good on any federally owned land open to the public, and stop wasting your limited free time staring at the television.

Did you accidentally have children? They can also go, and that single pass for $80 will get a whole carload of kids and spouses and parents and hitchhikers into the park. The rangers will even give you a free paper map and tell you not to feed the wildlife! No matter how annoying your family can be, get them out on the trail and it’s instantly better. You can’t even hear them whine if you just trot ahead a half mile or so!

Do you lack a car? Good for you! Do you lack money? Well, it comes and goes. And neither situation ultimately affects your visit to a national park, because you can hop on a bus and walk right into the Land of the Free.

Some of the finest national parks don’t even charge an entrance fee, like the stunning Point Reyes National Seashore just outside of San Francisco.

Photo of Capitol Reef National Park by Jim Lawrence.

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