3 Great National Parks to Visit During Free Park Week

The National Park Service is waiving the admission fee starting Saturday as part of its centennial celebration.

Few things are better bargains than the US national parks. For a nominal fee, you can experience world-class wonders and some of the US’ best scenery. During National Park Week, April 16 through April 24, the national parks offer free admission, making a great deal even better.

In celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday this August, the NPS and the National Park Foundation launched Find Your Park, a site devoted to showcasing the parks’ diversity as well as their special experiences. In honor of National Park Week, here are three parks worth visiting whenever you can. If you haven’t already, make summer plans now.

Everglades National Park, FL

From the resort area of Marco Island, it’s about 23 miles to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center of Everglades National Park, a 1.5-million-acre subtropical wilderness of mangrove swamps, cypress thickets, and saw-grass prairies cut by watery channels. These rivers of grass harbor alligators, herons, pelicans, American crocodiles, and sometimes manatees. Florida panthers slink through the wetlands, but only rarely have people viewed them.

The West Lake Trail, a half-mile roundtrip boardwalk, leads through mangrove swamps and the Pa-hay-okee trail, a .15 mile boardwalk, offers panoramic views of the grassy waters. A fun way to experience the park’s waterways is on a guided boat tour, available through Everglades National Park Boat Tours.

Crater Lake National Park, OR

Crater Lake National Park is distinguished by its namesake, a 1,932-foot deep lake, the deepest in the US. The lake was created by the eruption of Mt. Mazama more than 7,000 years ago. As the mountain collapsed inward, it formed a caldera that filled with rain and snowmelt until it became the pure deep blue it is today.

The 33-mile road around the lake affords more than a dozen scenic viewpoints. You can drive on your own or in summer take a two-hour, ranger-led trolley tour. To get onto the lake, sign-up in advance for a boat tour, but beware that to access the boat you must hike the steep 2.2-mile roundtrip trail to the lake and back up to the rim.

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Mammoth Cave features the world's longest cave system with more than 400 miles of caverns and passageways. Explore the underground landscape, marvel at unusual drip formations as well as the stalactites and stalagmites. Reserve ahead for the guided tours (fee required) of the cave. The relatively short, 75-minute Frozen Niagara tour covers just a quarter mile, showcasing stalactites and stalagmites and the two-hour, thee-quarter-mile Domes and Dripstones tour leads you to those formations. If you like spelunking, then reserve the Wild Cave tour, which has you crawling and squeezing through narrow passageways. You must be at least 16 years old and have a chest or hip measurement of 42 inches or less; otherwise, you might get stuck.