Thanksgiving in Our Parks

Spending Thanksgiving holiday at a park may be, in some ways, a truer iteration of the first autumn harvest feast that the pilgrims assembled back in 1621. They were close to nature on a physical and metaphysical way. They ate the communal meal outdoors since it was the only way the small colony could accommodate the 50 or so surviving settlers and the Native Americans in attendance. And the meal itself was a celebration of nature’s life-sustaining provisions, a thanksgiving for the success of the harvest.

Modern Thanksgivings tend to be more removed from nature compared to the pilgrims’ first feast, but your state and national parks offer the place and means for reconnecting food with land. Many parks are open on Thanksgiving Day, and plenty are celebrating by holding special events for visitors. For example:

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia
Waterfowl Weekend Celebration – November 24-27
Waterfowl Weekend isn’t a Thanksgiving event per se, but a celebration of the winter bird migrations that coincide with the holiday. Activities include sunrise hayrides, bird walks, bird bingo, and other festivities that don’t involve eating a bird. Waterfowl Weekend is also the only time of the year that the Service Road is open to vehicles, so visitors can tour a whole region of the park that normally must be accessed on foot.

DeGray Lake Resort State Park, Arkansas
Thanksgiving-Get-Away – November 23-27
DeGray will be hosting daily events and activities for families that want to stay relaxed but active over the holiday. The morning Eagle Tour by boat will give visitors a chance to spot the national bird, the bald eagle. Spot Ben Franklin’s proposed national bird on the table between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at an early Thanksgiving meal served at the park’s Shoreline Restaurant. A questionable dessert may follow if visitors elect to attend the “Edible Insects” program afterwards, but a preferable alternative may be to walk off the meal at one of the park’s five nature trails while it's still light outside.

Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida
19th Annual Turkey Trot – November 24
The Friends of Highlands Hammock do caloric damage control before the eating even starts. Highlands Hammock State Park hosts an annual 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day morning that brings out several hundred runners. They might have to do more running though; a typical Thanksgiving plate often exceeds 3,000 calories.


More Events Nationwide

Even more state parks are serving up Thanksgiving meals at their facilities to accommodate diners who’d rather leave the cooking and cleaning to someone else. Park visitors can still have their traditional meal but in a beautiful natural setting. Southern state parks especially are big on turkey, with Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia hosting dinners at nearly every park that has food service facilities.

National parks are in on it too. It will probably cost you more than celebrating at a state park, but that’s because it may include lodging or a premium menu. Dinner at Yosemite National Park’s swanky Ahwahnee Dining Room requires a dinner dress code, and the menu at Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park includes dishes such as maple bourbon glazed ham and tilapia puttanesca.

Have you ever spent a Thanksgiving holiday in a park? Tell us which park you visited and what you did to celebrate.

Photo: Wild turkey. Source: