United States National Parks

The United States has an extensive series of National Parks, National Monuments, National Historic Sites, National Recreational Areas, and National Preserves that encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes and evocative landmarks in the country. Preserving much of the nation's scenic and cultural heritage, the vast National Parks system includes icons of American patriotism such as the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, natural wonders like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Valley, historic treasures like the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, geological curiosities such as the geysers of Yellowstone and the volcanoes of Hawaii, and memorials to the great and to the fallen of America's past.

Understand

Park rangers leading a Junior Ranger program
Some examples of the distinctive NPS brochures
"For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People." Inscription on Roosevelt Arch, Yellowstone National Park

The National Parks system incorporates hundreds of units spread across every state in the union as well as several U.S. territories. The vast majority of National Parks system units are administered by the National Park Service (NPS), although a few monuments and preserves are instead managed by other government agencies. These are indicated in the listings below by the following acronyms:

  • BLM -- Bureau of Land Management
  • FWS -- Fish and Wildlife Service
  • NOAA -- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • USFS -- United States Forest Service

Save for the smallest of sites, nearly all NPS units have a visitor center located near the primary entrance(s), where you can view exhibits about the park, ask a park ranger any questions you might have, purchase souvenirs, and pick up a map or trail guide. If you plan to camp in a park, the visitor center is often a required stop to pay camping fees or collect your permit. Park units administered by agencies other than the NPS, such as the BLM or the USFS, will sometimes also have visitor centers, although visitor facilities at these parks tend to be less developed than their NPS counterparts.

Park rangers regularly offer guided tours, nature walks, or campfire talks where they educate visitors about the park; information about these activities will usually be posted at the visitor center or campgrounds. At any NPS site, you can purchase a "passport book," which you can use to collect commemorative stamps from each park you visit. Many of the parks also have a Junior Ranger program, a learning activity for youth where children can complete an activity sheet (available at the visitor center) and return it to a park ranger in order to receive a badge or certificate.

Among the hundreds of park system units are multiple designations (parks, monuments, historic sites, etc.), but note that the designations for individual units are mostly technical and relate more to the focus of the individual unit than to the visitor experience, which is remarkably consistent across the units administered by the NPS. National Parks are the crown jewels of the system, designed to preserve the most striking natural wonders in the country. National Monuments are more numerous, and because they can be established by simple presidential decree, are more varied in their purpose, covering everything from scenic wonders to areas of significant historic or cultural importance. National Preserves, National Seashores, National Lakeshores, and National Rivers are designated for the protection of natural areas, while National Historical Parks, National Historic Sites, National Battlefields, and National Military Parks are designated for preserving areas of significant historic importance. National Memorials pay tribute to notable American figures or events. National Recreation Areas are intended less for environmental protection and focus on offering recreational opportunities in certain scenic areas, while National Parkways are scenic roadways.

Lastly, the NPS, along with the BLM and the USFS, also maintain a series of National Historic and Scenic Trails that criss-cross the nation; for information on these, see the National Trails System page.

Fees/Permits

Entrance fees for individual parks and sites vary considerably. In general, most historic sites and memorials have free admission or charge at most a few dollars, while most parks charge anywhere from only a few dollars to $30 for some of the most famous parks. Many parks that charge admission fees charge less if you enter the park on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle than if you drive. Additionally, most parks that charge make their admission fees good for a full 7 days. Annual passes for individual parks are also available, and tend to cost between $25 and $60. See the individual park pages for detailed admission info on each park.

There are several passes that allow free entry for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot or on bike. These passes are valid at all national parks:

In 2016 the National Park Service will offer several days on which entry is free for all national parks: January 18 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), April 16-24 (National Park Week), August 25-28 (National Park Service's 100th birthday weekend), September 24 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (Veterans Day).

New England

Connecticut

Maine

Massachusetts

Minute Man National Historical Park

New Hampshire

Rhode Island

Vermont

Mid-Atlantic

Delaware

Maryland

Fort McHenry National Monument

New Jersey

New York

Statue of Liberty National Monument

Pennsylvania

Gettysburg National Military Park

Washington, D.C.

South

Alabama

Arkansas

Georgia

Kentucky

Louisiana

Mississippi

North Carolina

South Carolina

Fort Sumter National Monument

Tennessee

Virginia

Marine Corps War Memorial

West Virginia

Florida

Midwest

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Michigan

Minnesota

Missouri

Ohio

Wisconsin

Texas

Great Plains

Kansas

Nebraska

North Dakota

Oklahoma

South Dakota

Rocky Mountains

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park

Colorado

Idaho

Montana

Wyoming

Mormon row barn, Grand Teton National Park

Southwest

Arizona

Nevada

New Mexico

White Sands National Monument

Utah

California

General Sherman, Sequoia National Park

Pacific Northwest

Oregon

Washington

Alaska

Hawaii

American Samoa

Guam

Northern Mariana Islands

Puerto Rico

U.S. Virgin Islands

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, February 28, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.