National Park Service offers free admission dates as part of its centennial in 2016

National Park Service
Abraham Lincoln‘s home in Springfield IL

The National Park Service turns 1oo years old in 2016. Do you know what the very first national park was? Yellowstone National Park was deemed a national park in 1872 by President US Grant.

Other parks and monuments followed, but the National Park Service didn’t come together as an organization until 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson approved Congressional legislation establishing the system.

Since then, the NPS has become responsible for more than 400 memorials, monuments and parks. There are 59 national parks.

Since the NPS is celebrating its centennial this year, more than 125 national parks, monuments and memorials will have fee exception holidays throughout the year. The rest of the locations do not charge a fee. The fee admission holidays are:

  • April 16-24 – National Park Week
  • Aug. 25-28 – NPS Birthday
  • Sept. 24 – National Parks Land Day
  • Nov. 11 – Veterans Day

Learning about the fee holiday got me to thinking about how many national parks, memorials and monuments we’ve been to. I figured Lisa and I have visited more than 15 together.

National Park Service
Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Our favorites have included Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora, ND. The park has a combination of beautiful landscapes, bluffs, hills and animals.

National Park Service
Bison in Roosevelt National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is another beautiful area to visit. The South Dakota Badlands, about 30 miles east of Rapid City, offer visitors an opportunity to see what the bottom of an ocean once looked like. The jagged spires, combined with buttes, hills and valleys give visitors an impressive view.

National Park Service
South Dakota’s Badlands National Park

Animals and insects alike roam freely through the park. You can see elk, ground squirrels and prairie dogs, even rattle snakes (I suggest not looking for them).

National Park Service
Dall Sheep at Badlands

Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument

In Montana, Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument allows visitors the opportunity learn about both sides of the historical fight. Once deemed Custer’s last Stand and Custer National battlefield, Congress renamed the site Little Big horn in the late 1980s, to recognize its true impact. It served as the greatest defeat for the US Cavalry and the greatest victory by the Native Americans during the Indian Wars of the plains.

National Park Service
Custer’s “Last Stand” marker

I thought park officials do an impressive job of providing facts regarding both sides of the battle, without interjecting opinion.

National Park Service
Native American memorial at Little Bighorn

White Sands National Monument

Other national interests we have enjoyed is White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico. Located on an Army missile range, the park isn’t always accessible. You can check their website for additional information.

However, once you visit it, you will fall in love with the white sand. It’s a natural anomaly that caused the area to have white sand.

National Park Service
White Sands, New Mexico

During our visit, people were actually usually plastic sleds and treating the dunes like they were snow mounds for sledding.

National Park Service
White Sands

We found some unique lizards during our hike. They added to the beauty and surrealism of White Sands.

National Park Service

Gateway Arch

Who hasn’t visited the Great Arch in St. Louis? Did you know it’s part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial? That’s the name given to the park land surrounding the Arch. The Expansion Monument also includes the Museum of Westward Expansion and the Old Courthouse. The courthouse was the site of the famous Dred Scott decision, concerning slavery.

National Park Service
St. Louis’ Arch

My daughter Mallory and I visited a couple of national parks during our father-daughter road trip in 2013.

Grand Canyon

She wanted to see the Grand Canyon, so we drove from Las Vegas to the southern rim in Arizona. It was a fun drive, spending some quality time with one of my daughters. The Grand Canyon was an incredible site. It is so wide and deep. Every inch of the canyon is majestic. We walked around to get different views. We were both amazed at its beauty.

National Park Service
Grand Canyon

Petrified Forest National Park

The next day, we drove through Petrified Forest National Park. While not as amazing as the Grand Canyon (but, then, again, very few things can challenge it), Petrified Forest did provide us a look into prehistoric life. The trees were petrified from volcanic ash. The park is known for fossils of various animals, including reptiles.

National Park Service
Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Painted Desert National Park

The park leads into Painted Desert National Park. The colors and markings of the rocks and buttes in this park were truly impressive. The area was given its name by Spanish explorer Coronado. The colored layers of the Painted Desert were achieved through fossilization and layers of stone and shale.

National Parks Service
Painted Desert

Denali National Park

The farthest we’ve traveled to see a national park is Alaska. Our friends Mark and Ron live in Anchorage. Lisa, Mal and I traveled there about eight years ago. It was the one of the best vacations I’ve ever had.

We saw Denali on our road trip to the park. The largest mountain in the United States is said to be viewable once a week. We saw it two or three times during our visit. We were extremely fortunate.

National Park Service
Denali in the background

Visitors can drive about 15 miles into the park before they have to turn around. You can take a park bus ride deeper into the park.

We saw moose, caribou, Dall sheep and birds during our visit. We were quite happy with the view we had.

National Park Service
The moose was only a few feet from us in Denali National Park

We have a list of national parks and monuments we’d like to check out in 2016. Among them are: Devils Tower (Wyoming), Lewis and Clark National Historic Park (Washington), Olympic National Park (Washington), Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska) and Pipestone National Monument (Minnesota).

Within the next two years, I want to visit Yellowstone and Teton National Parks in Wyoming and revisit Glacier National Park (Montana). My family visited Glacier when I was a kid.

For more information on free admission dates and parks included, visit

Have fun checking out America’s parks and learning more about our great country.