While we might naturally think of our national parks as an ever-present part of our country’s history, in reality, they’re a fairly new concept. On March 1, 1872, Congress established the very first national park: Yellowstone National Park. The designation of Yellowstone prompted a land conservation movement, leading to the creation of many more national parks, especially across the open lands of the American West. However, during the late 1800s, no single agency was designated to provide unified management of the new national parks and monuments. That is why, on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service to protect and manage the then 35 national parks and monuments. As of December 2020, the National Park System now encompasses 423 national park sites that span more than 84 million acres across the United States and territories. And, each year, the national parks experience more than 318 million visitors.
As the weather begins to warm and the wildlife starts to become more vibrant, you can become one of the many visitors to enjoy the splendor of the national parks. Better yet, you can visit them around their upcoming anniversaries, making your trip all the more enjoyable. The following are some of the most popular national parks from all across the United States that are experiencing anniversaries this spring and summer.
Yellowstone National Park (March 1)
Arguably the country’s most famous national park, Yellowstone National Park is located within the boundaries of three states: Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. It holds the honor of being the country’s first national park and is also one of the largest at over 2.2 million acres. It is home to stunning animals like bison, elk and wolves and unique hydrothermal features like Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful.
Olympic National Park (March 2)
A jewel of Washington state, Olympic National Park encompasses nearly a million acres and several distinctly different ecosystems. Visitors like you can experience glacier-capped mountains, temperate rainforests and the beautiful, sprawling Pacific coastline. You can even spot whales from the shore if you visit during the right time of year, including March-May when grey whales are migrating).
Glacier National Park (May 11)
Depending on the weather conditions in early May, you can explore this hiker’s paradise in northwestern Montana on its anniversary. Glacier National Park features 700 miles of trails, including the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, as well as forests, meadows, mountains and lakes. The park’s more than hundred-year-old Sperry Chalet is only accessible by foot (or horse) along a strenuous 12-mile round-trip trail and was recently restored after a devastating wildfire in 2017.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (May 22)
North Carolina and Tennessee are home to the United States’ most visited national park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With its picturesque mountains, flora, fauna and animal life, such as black bears, this national park also provides access through auto touring, biking and horseback riding. The park is home to many historic buildings, including over 90 log cabins, mills and churches, as well as historic cemeteries, which help to tell the story of the park before it was preserved for the public.
Acadia National Park (July 8th)
While possibly not as popular as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Acadia National Park is still one of the most visited national parks in the United States. Located on the coast of Maine, it features 27 miles of motor vehicle roads, 158 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of historic carriage roads, as well as wildlife that you may not see anywhere else in the country. Mt. Katahdin is located in the park and is also the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the world’s longest foot-path trail at 2,193 miles, running from Maine to Georgia.
Zion National Park (July 31st)
Utah’s first national park, Zion National Park is one of the most striking in the country. It features massive sandstone peaks and paths where both Native Americans and famous pioneers once walked. Much of Zion’s roads and trails were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and you can see exhibits about their work in park museums. There are many camping options in the park, as well as eco-friendly bus shuttles that help move visitors from hotels and trailheads without adding more vehicles to the roads.
Colorado National Parks
The aforementioned national parks encompass just about every corner of the United States. However, none of them are located within one of the United States’ most beautiful and diverse states: Colorado. Yet, that does not mean Colorado doesn’t have its share of national parks. In fact, the following national parks and historic sites that call Colorado home are celebrating anniversaries this spring and summer:
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (March 2)
- Great Sand Dunes National Park (March 17)
- Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (April 27)
- Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (June 3)
- Mesa Verde National Park (June 29)
Smith’s Donation to the National Parks Foundation
Colorado is not only home to several national parks. It is also the birthplace of philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith, a well-known lover of the great outdoors. In 2007, alongside Matthew Burkett, Smith created Lincoln Hills Cares in Denver, Colorado, which helps to develop the next generation of young leaders through outdoor education and recreation.
Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is founding director and President, also made a significant donation to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of the National Parks Service. Through a grant from Fund II Foundation, the National Parks Foundation was able to purchase the homes where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and raised his family with Coretta Scott King. The homes were immediately transferred to the National Park Service and preserved as part of Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Georgia.
“The homes where Dr. King was born and where he raised his family with Coretta Scott King are critical pieces of American history that will now be preserved in perpetuity and their stories shared digitally,” said National Park Foundation President Will Shafroth. “The National Park Foundation is honored to have worked with the Fund II Foundation, the King Center, the estate of Coretta Scott King, and the National Park Service on this incredibly important effort.” If you want to get out and visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, explore the national park closest to your home or even venture to a park across the country, then consider visiting on one of the six free admission days in 2021 that are available to national park visitors. On April 17, 2021, National Parks Week kicks off, and parks across the country will host a variety of special programs, events and digital experiences. Join the National Parks on social media to learn more about how you can join in on the celebration in April and all year long.