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On Sunday, Aug. 25, you can celebrate the founding of the park service by visiting any of the fee-charging parks for free. And if you don’t have the time on Sunday, start planning a trip for the future and consider investing in the $80 annual pass so you can really enjoy all that the National Parks have to offer year-round — or watch out for future fee-free days.
In honor of the National Park Service’s 103rd birthday, The Points Guy staff members reflected on their favorite parks and the memories made there.
Yosemite National Park
“I’ve only spent any significant amount of time in one National Park, Yosemite, but I had such an incredible time I’m not sure how any other park could have it beat. My favorite part was the day we hiked the Mist Trail. There were breathtaking views at every turn, especially when we settled in for lunch at the top of the falls. Such a special place!” — Zach Honig, editor-at-large
Big Bend National Park
“It was a holiday weekend and we had an extra day off work, so my buddy and I decided to make the 8-hour drive from Austin to check out Big Bend. We camped out in the car the first night and then set out for the two-day hike. Once we made it to this spot off the South Rim Trail, we spent about five hours here to get a sunset shot overlooking the Chisos Mountains. By the time we left it was nighttime and we had to hike two hours down to our camp in total darkness.” — Wyatt Smith, photo editor
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
“Katie and I have climbed Guadalupe Peak a few times. To reach the peak — the highest point in Texas — climbers have to hike 8.5 miles and climb over 3,000 feet. AvGeek fun fact: The pyramid was erected in 1958 by American Airlines to mark the spot” — JT Genter, senior points and miles writer
Rocky Mountain National Park
“My favorite National Park is Rocky Mountain National Park. I love it for its diversity of wildlife, dramatic vistas and gorgeous wildflowers. Plus Estes Park, the adjacent town, is a wonderful place. This picture shows me hiking there in 2007 with my siblings.” — Dan Rauchwerk, email marketing analyst
The Grand Canyon
“My first view of the Grand Canyon was at Shoshone Point near the end of an alternative spring break trip in 2014. We’d volunteered with the National Park Service most of spring break to remove invasive Sahara mustard plants in nearby Lee’s Ferry, but visited the Grand Canyon for a few days at the end of the trip. Although the views from the rim are excellent, you really must hike into the canyon — even just a short distance — to fully appreciate its beauty.” — Katie Genter, senior reporter
“Just two world wonders hanging out … It started on a very early, very cold Vegas morning. I boarded a charter bus that would wheel me to the most breathtaking swing-less and slide-less park I have ever been to. We pulled up to the Grand Canyon and had 15 minutes to snap those Insta-shots. As the strong, independent woman I am, I was traveling solo which meant I needed help. Crowds of friends and families gathered for pics and I selfied, until two strangers saved the day by taking this beauty (see above). I recommend the Grand Canyon because you don’t have to camp, it’s spacious and every picture is perfect.” — Kelli Hanner, office coordinator
Great Smoky Mountain National Park
“I was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee and spent much of my youth exploring the most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The Alum Cave Bluff trail and the Chimney Tops are my two favorite trails offering unbeatable views of the Smokies, as well as the observation tower at Clingman’s Dome. Having lived in Knoxville in 2016 during the Smoky Mountain wildfires, it was incredible to see how the park (and the surrounding communities) … [would] rebuild and revitalize after the fires destroyed so much in the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg areas. Some of my favorite memories growing up include the Smoky Mountains, from visiting Dollywood every summer with my family, to renting cabins with friends every winter, the Smoky Mountains forever holds a special place in my heart and everyone should visit at least once.” — Caitlin Riddell, social media lead
Grant Teton National Park
“In 1992, I had the chance to drive from Washington, DC, to Seattle with a friend who was relocating. I was unemployed at the time, so we decided to stop whenever the mood hit us. Thanks to that decision, I had the opportunity to visit six national parks: Yellowstone, Glacier, the Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Mount Ranier and Grand Teton. When I think of parks, I think about forests and lakes. But that’s not what I saw in the Badlands and Bryce Canyon, which were more rock-based formations. Both offer spectacular sunrise and sunset viewing.”
“My personal favorite was Grand Teton because there was so much to do, with gorgeous mountain views. You can hike, ride your bike along paths, hop on a boat and enjoy fish on the Snake River, do some bird watching, take a scenic walk or drive or even go horseback riding.” — Benet Wilson, credit cards editor
Acadia National Park
“I travel to national parks all over the world, but spending a weekend at Acadia National Park in the fall of 2017 with friends was a great reminder to me that there are beautiful national parks I need to take time to visit in my own backyard. On this trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, we left camp at 3am to hike up Cadillac Mountain and see the sunrise. Depending on the time of year, it’s often one of the first places in the country to see sunlight at daybreak.” — Melanie Lieberman, travel editor
Indiana Dunes National Park
“I’ve been fortunate enough to explore a lot of the National Parks, so it’s hard to pick my absolute favorite as they’re all so amazing. However, the only one that I’ve been to on my own was Indiana Dunes National Park, which I think made for a different, but great experience. I had been driving through the night and wanted to take a break before finishing up my drive, so decided to check out the dunes. I arrived right before dawn with enough time to settle in on the beach. When the sun finally rose it turned out to be one of the most beautiful sunrises I’d ever seen. It was especially nice because it was just me, the beach and the sound of Lake Michigan in the background.” — Liz Hund, miles, points and deals intern
Featured photo by Prisma Bildagentur/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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