7 tips for celebrating an epic year in parks – Tip #2

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Celebrations are already in full swing for the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. If you’re planning a park visit this year–and I strongly encourage it!–I’ve pulled together some pointers for how to get the most out of your adventure(s). The next installment:

Tip #2. Go off-peak. 

If you simply must see Yosemite this year (who could blame you?), aim for a month less-traveled. A large majority of visitors to Yosemite–and Yellowstone and Arches for that matter–go in June, July and August. There are lots of reasons that makes sense; the kids are on break, the weather is nice, all the concessions are open.

But traveling in the off-season, or even the shoulder season, has big rewards. The primary one, of course, is not being elbow-to-elbow with other park-goers. Last year in Yosemite, for example, the spring and fall brought fewer crowds (281,328 visitors in April and 357,223 in October versus more than 600,000 in both July and August).

Another perk is that parks have spectacular features to offer in “off” seasons–with decent winter snowfall in the high country, Yosemite Valley in springtime is a riot of waterfalls whereas, after a dry summer, they can peter out by August. In September in Yellowstone, visitors experience elk in their “rut,” or mating season, and wildlife in general become more visible as the drive to fatten up for the winter draws them out of seclusion.

A related tip:

Stay local. If summer is your prime vacation window, why not consider hitting the parks in your area? Lots of people are surprised to learn they have a national park unit in their backyards. Such as:

BOSTON. Within a couple of hours of Boston there are nearly two dozen national park units, including several of my favorites: the Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site, a hidden jewel that gives national park lovers an extraordinary context for conservation in the U.S. Not to miss also is the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, of which luminary scientist E.O. Wilson says, “There are wildernesses at your feet.”

NEW YORK. Sure you’ve heard about the Statue of Liberty but what about the Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Harlem, dedicated to the controversial forefather who ascended from being an orphan to being Washington’s trusted advisor? New York has dozens of such fascinating parks celebrating the state’s phenomenal social, political, cultural and natural history. Ask me a thousand times which parks are my favorites and I’ll always include the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan. It is simply one of the most goose bump-raising places on the planet.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Lincoln Memorial, check. Jefferson Memorial, check. But consider also the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. It has the most original artifacts on-site of any national park unit. The presence of that brilliant human rights leader still lingers here. If I lived near there I swear I’d be a ‘regular’.



Photo of the African Burial Ground courtesy of the NPS.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.