If you’re already reeling from the taxes you have to pay on April 18, here’s a chance to at least recoup a little of your hard-earned money. On April 16 – 24, the entrance fees to every national park in the United States will be waived, including Alcatraz, Rosie the Riveter, Pinnacles, Yosemite, Lassen, and Muir Woods. And because National Park Week coincides with Earth Day (April 22) and National Junior Ranger Day (April 26), several parks are offering free family-oriented programs such as special ranger-led hikes and volunteer clean-up projects. Think of it as an affordable opportunity for you to be a rock-star parent, aunt, or uncle while enjoying America’s Best Idea — our national parks.
Featured Photo: Lassen Volcanic National Park, courtesy of Patrick Bosiger
Once you’ve picked your park, log on to the National Park Service’s National Park Week webpage. Here’s where you’ll find links to help you plan your visit, park discounts, an event calendar, info about National Junior Ranger Day (with official Junior Ranger badges and certificates), and a link to nationalparkweek.org, where you can share your national park photos, videos, and tips on their website. “America’s national parks have something for everyone,” says National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Take a break and experience something new, enjoy some fresh air, get some exercise, and see where history happened. And, since admission is free to all 397 parks, all week long, National Park Week is a great time to get up, get out, and explore a park.”
Now some parks are offering a lot more than just free entrance fees and commercial tour fees. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, for example, is hosting a Chantey Sing on April 16, on the historic ships, C.A. Thayer and Balclutha. Other freebies being offered include National Parks Owner’s Guides filled with detailed maps, travel tips, and inside information on what not to miss.
If you can’t make it to any of the parks in April, here are three other times during the year when the National Parks are fee-free:
• August 25: National Park Service Birthday
• September 24: National Public Lands Day
• November 11: Veterans Day Weekend
Where to Stay
High atop a Mount Tamalpais ridgeline with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and Richardson Bay, Mountain Home Inn is the sweet spot for visitors to Muir Woods. Hikers and cyclists like to stop here, too, for a beer mid-ride. Steps away from the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is the Argonaut Hotel on Fisherman’s Wharf. The hotel is also within walking distance of the ferry to Alcatraz. Minutes from Pinnacles is Inn at the Pinnacles, also close to Chalone Winery, the only winery in the area.
Where to Eat
Guests at Mountain Home Inn can dine onsite or head down to Mill Valley at the bottom of the mountain. Just off the town square, Playa is the place for modern Mexican food, including a solid margarita and enchiladas in three different sauces or try Piazza d’Angelo across the square for traditional Northern Italian cuisine.
In San Francisco, Scoma’s on Fisherman’s Wharf is the place for fresh seafood (they have their own boat) and San Francisco’s signature cioppino. Or walk over to Ghirardelli Square for excellent southern Chinese food, dim sum and cocktails at Palette Tea House.
Soledad, the closest town to Pinnacles west entrance, serves up some surprises, including the fresh Mexican fare at Restaurant Plaza Garibaldi. The quesabirria tacos are the go-to order.
Note that Redwood National and State Parks is a bit unique. Redwood is one of several parks managed by the federal government and California State Parks; only the national park is free. You’ll pay admission if you go through one of the state park entrances.