Visit a National Park This Summer; July Is Parks and Recreation Month

Some families like to plan summer vacations a year or more in advance. They have all the details worked out well ahead of time. Where they’re going. When they’re going. What they’re going to see and do.

Other families prefer to wing it. They might know approximately when they’re taking their summer vacation. But they leave where they’re going and what they’re planning to see and do up in the air.

If your family is one that prefers to wing it, I have some suggestions for you. I’ve got a few places in mind that you can still get to before this summer ends.

And if your family already has the details for this summer’s vacation laid out, these ideas may be something you can tap into for next year.

Congress Designates National Parks

Within the United States borders, there are 60 protected areas called national parks. The National Park Service operates them under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior.

A park does not receive a “national park” designation unless the U.S. Congress votes to give it one.

These parks always have some major significance to them. Some are sites of jaw-dropping natural beauty.

Congress also considers places that have historic objects or wildlife protected there.

From 200 Acres to 8 Million Acres

I encourage you and your family to take a look at a list of 60 national parks you can find online. Then select one or more of them to visit this summer.

More than one-half of the U.S. states contain at least one national park. There are also a couple of national parks located in U.S. territories. Including American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.

If you’re looking for the largest national park, it’s in Alaska. Wrangell-St. Elias covers more than 8 million acres.

Do you prefer something a little more intimate? If so, you can visit Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri. It’s the smallest national park at fewer than 200 acres.

National Park Factoids

Here are some interesting facts about national parks for you history buffs:

  • Yellowstone National Park was the first official national park. It was established in the territories of Montana and Wyoming by an act of Congress. President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law on March 1, 1872.
    Today, a portion of this park is also in Idaho.
  • The National Park Service was established on August 25, 1916. President Woodrow Wilson signed an act creating this agency. The purpose was to protect national parks and monuments already in existence (35 of them), plus others to come.
  • In addition to the national parks, 56 national monuments and military sites were transferred to the National Park Service in 1970. Those monuments and sites had been under the Forest Service umbrella.
  • Our national parks, monuments, military sites and other parks require the maintenance work of more than 20,000 National Park Service employees.
  • California has more national parks than any other state, with nine. Alaska has eight, Utah five and Colorado four.

Some of the better known national parks are Yosemite in California, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, Everglades in Florida and Petrified Forest in Arizona.

Others include Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, Glacier in Montana, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Crater Lake in Oregon and Badlands in South Dakota.

Others are Arches in Utah, Mount Rainier in Washington, Shenandoah in Virginia, Hot Springs in Arkansas and Grand Teton in Wyoming.

Popular Places to Visit

One thing you should know is that no matter which national park you choose, you won’t be alone.

Last year our national parks set a visitation record with more than 84 million visitors.

Particularly popular are Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. That park had more than 11.3 million visitors in 2017. More than 6.2 million people visited Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Interested in a less crowded park? You might want to try Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska. A little over 11,000 folks visited there in 2017.

Local Parks Worth a Visit, Too

Now, not all of us have the time or funds to visit a national park. Especially if we have to travel to a different state to find one.

Not to worry. There are thousands of parks run by local parks and recreation departments. Most feature rec centers, senior programs, community celebrations, health and wellness opportunities, and much more.

And this is a great time to visit them because July is the official Park and Recreation Month.

In most cases, your tax dollars are paying for these parks, so why not get out and enjoy them. It will be good for you, body and spirit.

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