By Joy Martin /

Why the National Parks Should Be Your 2016 Vacation Destination (Teaser: Fourth Graders Travel Free!)

Why National Parks

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” – John Muir, Our National Parks (1901)

Born in Scotland and raised in the Midwest US, John Muir, the Father of the National Parks, first worked as an engineer. Coming of age at the onset of the Industrial Revolution, he saw the wear and tear on his friends and colleagues of what it takes to build civilizations, and something inside became clear to him. Muir understood that, though we press on to provide for our families and communities, the need for finding room to breathe and the deep call in us all to spend time in the wild never ceases.

So, just as he was entering his 30’s, he took a steamer to San Francisco the long way round and headed out of the city as quickly as possible to a place in the Sierra Nevada called Yosemite. Little did he know that once he stepped foot into the pine-studded mountains, wildflower-bedecked valleys, and granite monoliths of this outdoor cathedral, his lifelong legacy would begin to take form.

Muir would spend the rest of his days uncovering the secrets and marvels of the natural world, writing, advocating, and exploring as he worked his way up through the Pacific Northwest, eventually arriving in Alaska. As the 1800’s turned into the 1900’s, Muir’s passion for wild places, persistence to have them preserved, and persuasive way with words put him at the forefront of one of the United States proudest achievements: the founding of the National Park Service (NPS).

In 1916, Congress officially established the NPS, with the intent “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

And so it is that this year marks the 100-year birthday celebration of America’s pride and joy, and you and your family are invited to leave the computer screens, traffic, and daily grind of life at home and join the party of the century in your choice of the most spectacular venues of all time.

From the snow-capped peaks of Glacier to the phantasmagorical hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, spend a day or lifetime exploring any (or all!) of the 59 parks that showcase their unique offerings of flora, fauna, rocks, rivers, and a bounty of colorful history.


Only this time, choose something different. Rather than simply be a part of the masses (did you know that the average visitor to Grand Canyon stays for less than 15-minutes?!), take time to plan your adventure carefully, so you and the kids can get the most out of your national park experience.

If summer is your prime travel time, Oregon’s only national park, Crater Lake, delivers nothing but the best in spectacular natural beauty and hiking and biking galore. Spend a few days rambling through these unforgettable scenes before enjoying some of Oregon’s other acclaimed attributes, like rafting the Rogue River, Shakespeare in Ashland, and a bounty of locally-produced wines, beers, seafood, produce, cheeses, and more.

Crater Lake

If the desert is calling to you, Zion in the fall is a wonderful consideration. September and October’s cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, and crisp foliage are ideal conditions for discovering the canyons, cliffs, and colors of Southern Utah on bike, foot, or even the end of a rappel. There’s no end of exploration in this Southwest haven.

Should your 2016 adventure be around the holidays, wintertime in Yellowstone is a fantastic alternative to a summer visit. Blanketed in snow, the world’s first national park is majestic as anything you’ve ever seen and much quieter than the busier warm months. The wildlife, recreation opportunities, and peaceful moments are equally spectacular, if not more special. And hot chocolate by a roaring fire never tasted so good!

These suggestions are simply the tip of the iceberg of the offerings in national parks for 2016’s festive happenings. The best party favor of all? Fourth graders travel for free all year long! So thank your 10-year-olds for making this year’s vacation choice an easy one, and thank John Muir for having the passion, perseverance, and persuasive power for ensuring that the next generation will not only experience that soul reawakening from the maddening buzz of the real world but also the necessity of protecting the wild places.

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