We are excited to have Alana Dimmick, a Branch Lead for Hike it Baby Eatonville, write a series on U.S. National Parks! Watch our HiB Blog all year for National Park spotlights from Alana and share your favorite places with us in the comments!
My love affair with national parks began with a family vacation as a teenager. My family of six drove from our military base in North Dakota to Glacier National Park for a few days. We were not outdoorsy, and even in such a gorgeous place, we stuck to the paved areas, seeing much of it from the car. But the beauty and solitude blew me away, and left a deep impression.
Several years later, I fell in love with hiking in another national park. Working a college summer concession job in Yellowstone National Park, my friends and I spent every weekend checking out trails–I was hooked! After several more years I found myself a park ranger in Yellowstone, then married to a career park ranger, and now raising a family in and around our country’s most beautiful places. I had no idea that initial weekend in Glacier would set me on a course to spend my life wrapped up in the green and gray of national parks, but such is the power and influence of these amazing places!
Have you experienced a defining moment in a national park? If not, then 2016 may just be your year! The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016 with a yearlong celebration. Besides ceremonies, celebrations, special events (www.nps.gov/2016), and a website to share your national park stories with others (www.findyourpark.com), there are a slew of fee-free days this year (see below). And on top of that, if you have a 4th grader, they will be receiving a free 12 month entrance pass for their families (everykidinapark.gov)!
Whether you live near a big western wilderness park or next to a tiny historic site in an eastern urban area, with over 400 National Park Service sites in the United States, chances are there is one near you! To find out, go to www.nps.gov, where you can locate parks by area; then link directly to that park’s official website, where you’ll find lots of information on things to do, like planning a visit, and, of course, hiking trails. Then make plans to get out there this year, resolving not to dismiss a monument or historic site, just because it’s small! Last year my family visited the little known Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in Iowa, not exactly a destination for a summer vacay. But, we were pleasantly surprised to find tree lined strolls through a historic town, and a restored prairie with several more miles of trail that would be spectacular in late summer, not to mention perfect for little legs!
Stay tuned to the blog the rest of this year as every month I highlight a great national park site to visit with the family and suggest kid friendly trails and destinations. Whether you are planning a day trip to hike, or a week-long vacation with the family, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Trails are usually for foot traffic alone. If you need to bring a stroller or bicycle along, check with the park’s website or call the park information number to find out if any trails are open to these uses. In general, trails that are paved or trails that allow bicycles are also open to strollers.
- In general, dogs are not allowed on trails (there are some exceptions). That can be good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective! Just be aware if you do bring a dog with you, you’ll need to make some pet care arrangements if you want to really get out there!
- Most parks charge an entrance fee. Every park is different, though, and a few don’t charge at all. Most vehicle passes are good for 7 days. If you’re hitting multiple parks, the America The Beautiful Pass ($80 for 12 months) might be a good deal for you. Most parks offer an annual pass as well–a great option for locals.
Since you’re bringing the kids, you may want to see if your park has a Junior Ranger program, generally aimed at children ages 4-12. Each program will be a little different, but usually involves completing some activities around the park to earn a badge or a patch. Visiting more than one park? Then start a junior ranger badge collection!
My family is excited to check out some new-to-us national parks in Washington this year! What about you? Where are you planning to “experience your America” in 2016?
National Park Fee Free Days in 2016:
January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
April 16 through 24: National Park Week
August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
September 24: National Public Lands Day
November 11: Veterans Day
Alana Dimmick is the branch lead for Hike It Baby Eatonville. She is wife to a park ranger, and full time mom to Eli (6), Riley (4), and Isaac (3 months). Alana currently lives in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.