The annual National Park Week kicks off today, including the first in a series of three planned of "fee-free" days around the country's 392 national-park units. This year's National Park Week will stretch from April 17-25 and include special programs and events in parks big and small across the country. Get out there and enjoy free entrance to banner parks like Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park, and Yellowstone National Park, not to mention the warming spring weather and a relative dearth of crowds before the big summer rush descends. To give you something to talk about on the trail, here are some factoids about the 84 million acres of public land that fall under the National Park Service's stewardship.
- The least-visited NPS unit is Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve on Alaska's wind- and rain-lashed Alaska Peninsula, 450 miles southwest of Anchorage. Fourteen hardy souls visited here in 2009.
- The most-visited park unit is the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, with Great Smoky Mountains National Park being the perennial blockbuster national park.
- In 2008, more than more than 565,000 children participated in the "Junior Ranger" program.
- Although 147 national parks are going fee-free for the week, the other 245 NPS units are free every day of the year, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- The U.S. national parks feature 17,000 miles of trails, the world's largest carnivore (the Alaskan brown bear) and its largest living things (Giant sequoia trees), and the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, at 282 feet below sea level).
Don't worry, if you're overwhelmed with all the choices, Away.com and ours sister site, GORP.com, can help! Browse our in-depth selection of features, tips, and photos in our Parks & Outdoor Travel Guide, plus consider the following "top-ten" trophy picks:
- Best National Park for Wildlife: Channel Islands National Park, California
- Best National Park for Summer: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana
- Best National Park to See Sunrise: Acadia National Park, Maine
- Best National Park Campground: Denali National Park, Alaska
- Best National Park Lodge: El Tovar Lodge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Best Offbeat National Park Lodge: Big Spring Lodge and Cabins, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri
And now that we've given you all these great virtual resources, we ask you to remember just one thing: get out there and enjoy your national parklands, fee-free or otherwise, in person. Happy trails!
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