Our national parks have a way of mesmerizing visitors and reminding us of why we travel. And for one week starting Saturday, all 392 parks will be free for everybody.
During National Park Week -- April 17 through April 25 -- the National Park Service is waiving the standard entrance fees to the parks and many of the park concessioners are offering special promotions to help you save money and enjoy the parks.
From sunset at the Grand Canyon to watching lava pour out of Kilauea or witnessing Old Faithful erupt for the first time, the parks leave memories that will last for decades.
As part of this week's celebrations, the National Park Service also will be offering special events. For instance, Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Pennsylvania and Acadia National Park in Maine are some of the spots holding a junior ranger day. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in Louisiana will host a moonlight canoe trek. In Boston there will be a dramatic recreation of Paul Revere's historic row across Boston Harbor to Charlestown, where he began his famous midnight ride 235 years ago.
For more information about the special events and the free week, visit http://www.nps.gov/npweek/.
There are 58 natural national parks in the U.S. But the National Park Service also oversees another 330-plus battlefields, memorials, parkways, seashores, recreation areas and monuments. They include Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, the Statue of Liberty, even a memorial in Pennsylvania for the 9/11 victims of United Airlines flight 93.
With that many parks, it's a hard task to narrow down a list of the 10 best. We know everybody has their own personal favorites -- and by choosing only 10, we also left some of our favorites off the list. (The Petrified Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park are just two of our favorites that missed the cut.)
These 10 parks represent some of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring natural formations in the country.
But first, we asked filmmaker Ken Burns, who created a six-episode documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea for PBS about his favorite national park. Burns said that most favorites are based on personal experiences. He was in Yosemite for the first shoot of his documentary and remembered that in 1959, when he was six years old, his dad took him to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
"My mom was sick and dying of cancer and we were distracted. And I had forgotten that. All of the sudden, lying there awake in Yosemite, I could remember what his hand felt like in mine, I could remember all the songs he sang to me, the hike we took. It was mind-blowing. It just changed my life," Burns said. "So now, in some ways Yosemite and Shenandoah are paired in my mind as my favorite places."
So let's go over our list. Hopefully, you too will soon have a favorite.
#10: Acadia National Park We begin where the sun first hits the shore of America, at Acadia National Park.
This park along the rugged Maine coast has 125 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of spectacular carriage roads that can be explored by bike or a horse-drawn carriage tour. Kayaking and canoeing are popular activities and two beaches in the park offer salt and fresh water for swimming.
Acadia is an excellent park to watch spring warblers, sea ducks, and migrating birds of prey. Ranger-led birdwalks are offered from late spring to mid-fall.