President Woodrow Wilson may not spring to mind every time you go for a hike, but maybe he should. In 1916, he created the National Park Service as part of the Department of the Interior. What started with 35 protected areas has grown over the past 100 years to include more than 400 parks, historical sites, monuments and natural areas.
Celebrate the centennial of America’s phenomenal national parks by spending time in one (or more) this year. Outdoor activities have been linked to better mental and physical health, increased creativity and greater overall well-being. Besides, you’ll be amazed at the diverse beauty to be found in every state. What’s more, all parks have junior ranger programs with activities for families, as well as knowledgeable staffers who can help you plan the perfect visit.
Acadia, which occupies most of Mount Desert Isle in northern Maine, was the first national park on the east coast. Inside the park you'll find trails for easy to moderate hiking and old carriage roads for driving. There is also a shuttle bus to get around without having to worry about your car. The coast is stunning up close or looking out from Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak in the park. Brave families can get wet, but even in the middle of summer the Atlantic Ocean here is frigid! At the end of the day head to the town of Bar Harbor for a meal and a ride on a vintage sailboat.
A 70-mile boat ride from Key West takes you from tourist traps to a more remote world. Here you'll find abundant sea life and plenty of sunshine and beaches. The activities here are ideal for active families: snorkeling, paddling, geocaching and fishing. Home to Fort Jefferson, this area was a busy place during the Civil War and famously housed Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, who helped President Lincoln’s assassin get away.
There’s something about the red rock desert of southern Utah that makes it hard to stop snapping photographs. Zion, Bryce and Arches national parks each have their own highlights. For hiking, biking and climbing, Arches gives you the biggest thrills. More than 2,000 natural arches are fun to hike and climb around in the warmer months, but you can explore year-round—even in the snow.
The towering Sequoia trees have always inspired awe in visitors, even before this majestic land in the southern Sierra Nevada became a national park. You can explore the Crystal Caves, an underground wonderland of gleaming stalactites and stalagmites (in summer only) and spend time hiking and wandering along miles of trails for a full sensory experience—the smell of old growth forest, the rugged texture of the trunks and the feel of a gentle breeze rustling the leaves above you.
In 2014, the National Parks Service recorded zero visitors to Kobuk. Other years aren’t so dramatic, but since it was created in the early ’80s, just 141,000 people have seen this remote park. There’s a stark beauty unlike the rest of Alaska out in the northwestern part of the state. Sand dunes stretching for miles, an entirely treeless landscape and frigid rivers all combine for a rugged and solitary experience. Kobuk is not accessible by car, only by small plane. Once here, you can fish, follow migrating caribou, watch the sun never set and get a glimpse of Native Alaskan life.
Eliana Osborn is a freelance writer who lives in the desert Southwest.