When you decide to vacation in a national park, ultimately, you're helping to protect some of the country's most precious and endangered habitats, wildlife and historic sites. The stated mission of the National Park Service is to protect the natural and cultural resources of the nation for the "enjoyment, education, and inspiration" of all citizens. This means the myriad properties overseen by the NPS are yours to enjoy, learn from and be wowed by while on vacation.
An Affordable Vacation
National parks don't cost a lot to visit, so they make for an affordable vacation destination. Entrance fees vary for each park, and many properties don't charge a fee at all. Popular parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, do charge an entrance fee, but America's most-visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains, is always free to enter. Fee-free entrance days occur throughout the year for many other parks. Primitive backcountry camping requires a free permit or a nominal fee. Developed campgrounds inside the parks charge rates usually less than private campgrounds. Many of the larger parks also have accommodations such as cabins and lodges that won't break your budget. If you plan on visiting a lot of parks within a one-year span, it may be worth purchasing an annual pass.
Easy Access to Natural Wonders
Some of the world's most iconic natural sights are located in U.S. national parks. These include Old Faithful geyser inside Yellowstone, the breathtaking Grand Canyon, the soaring stone face of Half Dome at Yosemite and some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world at Redwood and Sequoia parks in California. Other spectacular sights include Delicate Arch at Arches National Park in Utah and the forested mountain peaks of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. And this only scratches the surface of all the natural wonders contained in the national parks system. The NPS also administers the 582 sites of the National Natural Landmarks Program.
Cultural and Historical Enlightenment
Natural splendor and outdoor adventure may spring to mind when planning a national parks trip, but the NPS also preserves many important cultural and historic sites. You can visit the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, now part of Gettysburg National Military Park; see centuries-old petroglyphs etched into stone by Native American tribes at Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico; learn about life in a 19th-century fort on a tiny island in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. And that's just for starters. The park service manages 27,000 historic structures, 2,461 national historic landmarks and oversees tens of thousands of archeological sites.
When you take a national park vacation, you're also helping the economy while having fun. The amount of money tourists spend in and around national parks provides a jolt not only to local economies, but the national economy as well. In Utah alone, a state with many NPS properties, a peer-reviewed NPS report found that nearly 9 million people visited the parks and spent a total of $596.5 million on trips in 2013. The same study reported a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.5 billion that year from visits to national parks across the country. The parks also help boost employment figures. Along with the nearly 28,000 people employed directly by the NPS as of 2014, it's estimated that another 218,000 jobs are supported by parks tourism services in surrounding gateway communities.
- Photo Credit Karl Weatherly/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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