19 Ways to Experience Your Parks in 2019

Two backpackers overlooking a valley on the Rambler Mine Route at Wrangell St.-Elias National Park & Preserve
Wrangell - St Elias National Park and Preserve — National Park Service

National parks are filled with so many opportunities for you to get active, meet new people, learn about different stories, gain new skills, and more. So why not make 2019 the year you prioritize experiencing more of America’s greatest places as you simultaneously accomplish your new year’s goals? There are plenty of great tips on how to #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque and even free Owner’s Guides to inspire your research but below, you’ll find 19 of the top ways to accomplish your 2019 resolutions in your national parks.


Start out by pulling out your planner (or opening up your calendar on your phone)! Before planning your trips for the year, be sure to note the National Park Service’s five fee-free days, when admission to all national parks will be free.

  • Monday, January 21, 2019 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • Saturday, April 20, 2019 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
  • Sunday, August 25, 2019 – National Park Service Anniversary
  • Saturday, September 28, 2019 – National Public Lands Day
  • Monday, November 11, 2019 – Veterans Day

New Adventures in Parks

It should come as no surprise that many national parks offer plentiful hiking and cycling opportunities. Yet recreational opportunities in parks go far beyond day hikes and picnics! Many parks offer programs and recreational activities you might never have expected to try at a national park, and who knows? Maybe trying one new activity will help you discover your new favorite hobby.

Students exploring a broken down barge while using GPS to try and find a geocache hidden somewhere at Kobuk Valley National Park
National Park Service
  1. Numerous national parks house geocaches, either physical caches or electronic ones. With your GPS device or smartphone app, you’ll be able to take part in one of these modern-day scavenger hunts. 
  2. Forget your local country club and take a weekend to visit one of the handful of golf courses preserved by the National Park Service. History, nature, and sport? Sounds like a hole in one!
  3. Wondering what sport allows for moments (or hours) of calm and peaceful meditation, and at other times will have your heart racing? There’s much to love about fishing, and there are many great spots to cast your line in national parks.
  4. Practice your listening skills by tuning out the outside world and honing in on the sounds of the outdoors and the many voices you’ll hear chirping or squawking around you. With the help of your binoculars, you’ll witness an array of birds, perhaps many of them for the first time.

Let the Parks be Your Muse

Beauty begets beauty when it comes to national parks! History and nature both inspire artists, whether professionals or novices. The Artist-in-Residence programs give artists the space and muses they seek, but if you’re hoping to create something simply for the joy of it, consider drawing, painting, journaling, or photography!

The Milky Way glows brightly behind Mount Rainier
Stephen Byrne, Share the Experience
  1. Beyond simply taking pictures while visiting the parks, consider trying one of these photography classes. Even those parks that do not have comparable programs may still provide useful tips for the best way to capture their park’s unique beauty. All you’ll need is a camera or phone and an appreciation for beauty!
  2. Already have a steady grasp of photography? Take your portfolio to the next level with astrophotography! Some of the most stunning views of our national parks aren’t visible until the sun sets. With the right equipment and a beautiful setting, the stars will mesmerize.

Challenge Yourself to Discover a New Story

Sure, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” You know the rhymes and the stories from grammar school, but visiting national parks allows you to uncover so many more layers to the story! Every single national park is brimming with powerful stories and histories waiting to be told.

Colorful paper cranes hanging off of a Japanese umbrella under blue skies at Minidoka National Historic Site
National Park Service
  1. The Ojibwe Tribe near Lake Superior still continues traditions at Grand Portage National Monument. Learn about how they settled in the area and their tradition of harvesting wild rice.
  2. Beyond individual sites within national parks, four national parks are dedicated to interpreting the Japanese-American experience. Understand a whole new layer of U.S. involvement in World War II as you learn about some of the country’s internment camps.
  3. For many schoolchildren, wars that occurred centuries ago do not always inspire the same interest as science projects or hands-on activities might. Yet learning about wars and conflict in national parks allows you to learn so much more about the pieces of these histories that might interest you most — from the role of women in the war effort, to the types of weaponry used during that time period.
  4. If your only image of suffragists is the memory of the mother in Mary Poppins pulling on her “Votes for Women” sash, it might be time to re-connect with the history of democracy. Revisit the inspiring women responsible for winning many Americans the right to vote.
  5. The National Park Service works to tell a more complete story of our country and its history, including the stories of people of all backgrounds and walks of life. Stonewall National Monument helps tell the important history of the Stonewall Uprising and the LGBTQ community in New York City.

Make it Hit Close to Home

Rediscover your own community this year by visiting nearby national parks. With so many urban playgrounds scattered across the country, you might not have to travel too far from home as you become a tourist in your own town. Even those who are already active visitors in their local parks can up their “park game” by checking out the park’s calendar for upcoming events!

The paved walkway and green grasses along the Georgetown Waterfront next to the Potomac with Washington DC in the background

Georgetown Waterfront at Rock Creek Park

National Park Service
  1. Large swaths of our nation’s capital are actually pieces of the country’s third oldest national park. Run through D.C.’s greenery in the spring, look up at the stars in the National Park Service’s only planetarium in the summer, horseback ride through the city in the fall, and stop in some of the historic structures in the winter. There’s so much to experience right within the city limits!
  2. New York City’s hustle and bustle is fast-paced and fun, but for a respite from the chaos, #FindYourPark at the many parks located within 70 miles of Manhattan. Reinvent your weekends, from shopping trips on 5th Ave to camping trips on Fire Island National Seashore.

Embrace the Change

A simple way to become more mindful in 2019? Make a commitment to fully experience the changing seasons this year! Each season has something to offer — you just need to take the time to enjoy them.

At Golden Gate National Recreation Area, orange bush monkeyflowers bloom amongst large leaves with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Ray Ann Sullivan, Share the Experience
  1. Don’t look at snow as a hurtle — look at it as opportunity for wintry fun! Many national parks are open year-round and a layer of snow creates a new array of activities to try.
  2. Flowers might be spring’s prettiest gift to Earth! If you don’t have a garden of your own, enjoy the blooms at our national parks instead. Just be sure to check when they’ll be in peak bloom.
  3. Turn the air conditioning off on your way out the door. Nothing will be more refreshing in the summer heat than to dip your toes into the cool waters found throughout the country. Dive, paddle, or snorkel your way through your national parks.
  4. Autumn leaves are like nature’s canvas brought to life! Plan your timing right and you’ll see forests brightly adorned with red, yellow, and orange foliage. Once they’ve fallen, enjoy the crunching beneath your feet as your walk through the leaves in your parks.

Make it a Personal Mission

Make 2019 the year you give back to the places you love! There’s no wrong way to support your national parks, so all you need to do is find which option is right for you.

  1. Whether you donate once or leave a legacy to the parks through your retirement plan, the ways to support your national parks and programs financially are endless. Not able to give a donation? Consider giving a gift instead!
  2. Time is always of the essence, and that’s what makes volunteering in your national parks so valuable! Each park has different needs and duties, so check in with your local park to see if your skills might help further their work in your community this year.
Support Your Parks
Your gift to the National Park Foundation will help protect these treasured landscapes for generations to come.

The start of a new year is the perfect time for fresh beginnings and resolutions! Decide now how you want to become more active in your national parks and share below in the comments section (they say you’re more likely to complete the task if you write it down!). Then head to FindYouPark.com to get started planning for the year ahead in our national parks.

Published on December 17, 2018

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