Did you ever stop to think that you own a park? That’s right: American citizens own the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains and the Everglades—and it’s time to celebrate!

There are still several days left in National Park Week (April 20–28, 2013) to discover the country’s most spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures. This week, admission to all 394 national parks is free.

Mesa Verde, in southwest Colorado, is one of my favorite national parks. Its cliff dwelling, built by Ancestral Puebloan tribes, inspired my love of archaeology. © Laurel Kallenbach

I’ve been enjoying those parks all my life. My parents took my brother and I camping and hiking in national parks from Acadia to Zion from the time we were old enough to ride in a papoose. I’ve been deep inside Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave and toured the battlefields of Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge.

But National Park Week isn’t the only time to appreciate and support the national parks. All year round, you can visit and even volunteer in the 84 million acres of nationally owned land.

Here’s how America’s national parks make the world a better place:

1. Conserve wild lands for generations to come.

2. Preserve historic landmarks of national interest.

3. Protect ecosystems and biodiversity.

Iconic Half-Dome in California’s Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service

4. Provide spaces for outdoor recreation (there are more than 13,000 miles of trails on both land and water).

5. Offer recreational benefits that improve health, boost energy and get people outside in nature.

6. Are sources of natural sounds, clean water, and fresh air.

7. Provide free Junior Ranger programs that encourage kids to learn about nature—including plants, birds and animals—and environmental stewardship in the parks and at home.

8. Offer Electronic Field Trips, educational tools for classroom use that teach students about a national parks they might never get a chance to visit otherwise. Examples: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Manzanar National Historic Site, and Gulf Islands National Seashore.

9. Train high school aged leaders in the science and effects of climate change through an immersion experience in national parks via its Parks Climate Challenge program.

10. Are repositories of nature’s beauty.

Yorktown Battlefield National Park, in Virginia, celebrates the final battle in the American Revolution. © Laurel Kallenbach

Hit the Road and Help the Parks

You can actually support the national parks just by traveling—if you book your next trip at NationalParks.org.

Get out and discover something new about your 394 national parks. Whether you prefer a 20-mile backcountry hike in Yosemite or a leisurely stroll around Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, moving outside is good for you and offers a chance to explore these places you own.

Remember: This land is our land!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments:


  • Chelsea St. Pierre

    I’m going to Bryce Canyon and Chaco Canyon this summer! Hope the sequestration doesn’t impact them too much.

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