This year the U.S. National Park Service celebrates its 102nd birthday. On August 25th, 1916, President Wilson signed into law an act of Congress that created the National Park Service (or NPS, as many know it today). Since then, the NPS has set about to protect America’s national parks and monuments, ensuring that they remain accessible to all. Among some of the NPS’s greatest achievements include the hiker’s stairway to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and the preservation of countless acres of natural outdoor space.

This is a time to recognize the achievements of this long-lived organization, but we should also remember that these achievements do not exist in a void. The NPS is a public organization, so its mission is to serve the people. The country’s national parks and open spaces are simply space if they aren’t appreciated. The greatest gift that you can give the NPS for its birthday is to make use of all of the incredible outdoor spaces that they have prepared and preserved. Here’s how:

Before You Travel

Spending time in nature has proven benefits, including strengthening your bones and improving your mental health. However, before you travel to any one of the nation’s 60 beautiful national parks, make sure that you’re prepared for the travel and you’re ready to handle a lot of time in the outdoors. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t mess around with the sun. A bad sunburn can ruin your travel plans and even send you to the emergency room. Make sure to use sunscreen before spending a lot of time out in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon.
  • Be prepared if you’re traveling with health problems. Many of the nation’s great national parks are in remote locations, hours from the nearest hospital in case something goes wrong.
  • You don’t necessarily have to travel a great distance to enjoy the nation’s national parks. Moving is a perfectly valid option if you want to improve your outdoor access. For example, one of the best cities for real estate right now is Salt Lake City, and it’s within just a few hours of national park classics like Arches National Park and Zion National Park.

5 Classic National Parks to Visit

With 60 national parks in the country, it’s hard to decide which ones to see when you can’t visit them all. These national parks are scattered across many states, so there should be at least a few options locally no matter where you live. However, there are also a few classic national parks that set the bar for what it is to earn the title of national park. Here are five that are absolutely worth making the trip for:

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is home to the famous golden-hued arches that have become synonymous with the state of Utah. These rock arches are perfect formations of orange sandstone that have been carved into incredible shapes by many, many years of erosion. This improbable region is truly one-of-a-kind and one of the greatest national parks on offer.

Arches National Park is near the small desert town of Moab, which offers a number of outdoor services such as guided hikes and rock climbing, educational tours, and off-road camping.

Big Bend National Park

They say that everything is bigger in Texas. Apparently that includes the riverbends. Big Bend National Park follows the bend in the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexico border, highlighting the region’s rocky peaks and endless vistas. Big Bend National Park is somewhat remote — over four hours by car from El Paso — but the potential for RV camping in the park means that you don’t have to leave creature comforts behind to enjoy this natural wonder.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Some national parks in the U.S. focus on a single feature that sets them apart from other outdoor spaces, whether it be the geysers of Yellowstone or the massive sandstone walls of Zion National Park. Rocky Mountain National Park, on the other hand, defies such narrow classification. No single peak or roaring river defines Rocky Mountain National Park. Instead, this park was established to recognize the sheer wonder instilled in visitors to the Colorado Rocky Mountain Range. This range takes up a huge portion of the state with grand peaks that are the highest concentration of 14ers (mountains taller than 14,000 feet) in the lower 48 states. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to any number of outdoor activities, including rafting, hiking, and mountain climbing.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone needs no introduction. If there is a national park that has it all, then this is it: incredible rivers, beautiful mountain lakes, signs of ancient volcanic activity, and rocky peaks to top it all off. Occupying three states, Yellowstone is the second largest national park in the lower 48. There is no limit to the things that you can do here, and this is one national park that everyone should try to visit at least once.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is defined by its sheer granite cliffs, the most prominent of which — El Capitan — was famously free soloed by climber Alex Honnold in 2017. There are other granite walls in the world that rival El Capitan and Half Dome, but none that are as accessible as the formations in Yosemite. Yosemite is truly one of the shining gems of the U.S. national park system, and the access that it provides to incredible natural wonders is unprecedented. Visitors have the option to go on mellow scenic hikes, undertake the difficult trail to the top of Half Dome, or see any of the legendary waterfalls scattered throughout Yosemite National Park.

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