10 Healthy Things to Do During National Park Week 2012

April 20, 2012, 7:25 am

Family hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. NPS photo by John MarinoThis April 21 – 29 is National Park Week. With nearly 400 national parks – and FREE admission all week long – there are thousands of ways to enjoy this highly anticipated annual event. In fact, National Park Week is the perfect opportunity to introduce a young person to a national park because a park is the perfect place get active and stay fit.

From hiking to biking to swimming, nature walks, kayaking, or birdwatching, there are great outdoor activities in national parks for visitors of all ages. By introducing kids to these majestic places, we give the gift of learning a healthy lifestyle and help guarantee the future of parks for generations to come.

Here are 10 great ways to get some exercise and enjoy National Park Week:

Take a Hike

There are 18,600 miles of trails in national parks. Hit the trail for a short hike or a day-long expedition. Cross the Continental Divide on the High Line Trail in Glacier, go vertical on the Moro Rock Trail in Sequoia & Kings Canyon, or tackle a section of the Appalachian Trail. If you’d like to hike with an expert, many parks offer daily ranger-led guided tours, including the Everglades, Jean Lafitte, and Hot Springs.

Dive In

Enjoy 43,000 miles of national park shoreline. Walk on the beach, go for a swim, snorkel an underwater trail in the Virgin Islands, or dive the aquamarine water and fish-bejeweled coral reefs of Biscayne or the kelp forests and sea caves of Channel Islands. Or, take a canoe or kayak ride
through Big Cypress to observe manatees and birds.

Go Underground

Travel below the surface and discover the dazzling sights found along more
than 900 miles of passageways in caves. Check out Mammoth Cave – the
longest cave in the world or the 14-acre Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns. If
you are really adventurous, sign up for a spelunking trip.

Sleep Under the Stars

Experience the simple pleasure of an evening campfire, sleep in the great outdoors, and wake up in some of the most beautiful surroundings in the world. Choose your setting – mountain view, ocean view, or even city view. The 12,000 campsites in national parks include spots in New York City and in Boston.

Go For a Ride

Some of the prettiest scenery you’ll ever see is along the 5,450 miles of paved road in national parks. In fact, 1,100 miles are designated parkways designed especially for sightseeing. Just be sure to get out of the car at overlooks or trailheads and stretch your legs. It’s amazing what you will find not far off the road. Wander to a waterfall at Shenandoah or meander through a meadow at Rocky Mountain.

View Wildlife

National parks are the best places to view wildlife in their natural habitats. Don’t get too close but enjoy seeing everything from baby birds to two-ton bison in a park. Watch the strutting age grouse perform its annual courtship dance in Grand Teton or the spring migration of grey whales at Point Reyes. Or, encounter prehistoric wildlife such as a saber tooth cat at Badlands or a Stegosaurus at Dinosaur. There are 233 national parks with preserved fossils, some which date back two billion years.

Be a VIP

Help out as a Volunteer-In-Park on National Volunteer Day on April 21. Participate in the spring planting at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a shoreline clean-up at Golden Gate, or park day at Stones River. Check out a list of volunteer opportunities at http://www.nps.gov/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

Go Green

Take part in Earth Day activities at many national parks. There will 50 exhibiters, food, music, and family activities at John Muir’s birthday celebration at John Muir National Historic Site. Saratoga will host exhibits and an art show featuring pieces made from natural and recycled material. The Grand Canyon will have a variety of interactive exhibits at its largest ever Earth Day event. Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial will host an Earth Day Jamboree.

Explore, Learn, Protect

Kids five to 12 years old are encouraged to take part in free Junior Ranger programs in almost every national park. Ask for a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center and earn a badge by completing different activities. Many parks will host special events on Junior Ranger Day – April 28.

Take to Two Wheels

One of the most popular things to do in a park is ride a bike. You set your own pace and can easily stop to relax or take in the view when and where you want. One of the newest bike trails was recently built in New River Gorge. More than 1,400 Boy Scouts and leaders volunteered 78,544 hours to construct a 12.8-mile mountain bike trail. Other popular parks for biking include Acadia which has 45 miles of old carriage roads, Canyonlands, home of the 103-mile White Rim Road loop, and the C&O Canal and its 184-mile long towpath.

Be sure to share photos, videos, and stories from your national park travels at  www.nationalparkweek.org. The site also contains a calendar of events and plenty of information on how to visit and support national parks.

Image: Family hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. NPS photo by John Marino.