The National Park Service turns 100 on Aug. 25. To celebrate the centennial the service is offering free admission Aug. 25-28, 2016 to 127 parks.
Olympic National Park
Port Angeles, Wash.
Three distinct ecosystems make up this unspoiled park that has been declared an international biosphere reserve and World Heritage site by the United Nations. Covering nearly 1 million acres, the park holds glacier-capped mountains, old-growth and temperate rain forest and more than 70 miles of Pacific coastline wilderness. The mountains’ west-facing slopes have the wettest climate in the contiguous United States. Due to ice age isolation, several species evolved here that exist nowhere else on Earth.
North Cascades National Park
More than 300 glaciers grace this rugged alpine and subalpine park. Landscapes rise to more than 9,000 feet dividing temperate rainforest on the west side from arid ponderosa pine stands to the east. The range also separated two American Indian populations, those of the Columbia River Basin and the Pacific Northwest/Puget Lowlands. Pictographs remain on cliffs. Relatively new mountain ranges draw geologists and climate researchers from around the world. Nearly 400 miles of trails offer something for hikers of all abilities. (Note: North Cascades is not among the parks offering free admission Aug. 25-28.)
Mount Rainier National Park
Ashford, Enumclaw, Packwood, Wilkeson, Wash.
Standing 14,410 feet above sea level and an active volcano, Mount Rainier is a Washington legend. Six major rivers sprout from its icy, glacial peak feeding stunning waterfalls, lakes, ancient forests, wildflower meadows and an array of flora and fauna. It’s the fifth oldest U.S. park and contains more than 260 miles of hiking trails.
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake, Ore.
At more than 1,900 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and some say one of the most pristine on Earth. The 33-mile Rim Drive provides multiple overlooks of 21 square miles of indigo blue water cradled in the basin of a dormant volcano’s caldera. Clean air provides clear views for more than 100 miles from 90 miles of trails.
Yellowstone National Park
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
Nestled in one of the world’s largest calderas, the world’s first national park is a geologic wonder with a stunning array of rainbowed hot springs, geysers and mudpots fueled by an underground volcano. Grizzlies, bison, moose, wolves, eagles and hundreds of other species roam more than 2 million mountainous acres. The park contains one of the world’s largest petrified forests, more than 290 waterfalls and thousands of miles of trails.
Glacier National Park
This park’s glacial Rocky Mountain peaks stretch to the Canadian border. Alpine forests and valleys below hold historic chalets, 762 lakes and meadows of wildflowers and wildlife. It’s bisected by the steep and scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Hikers and horseback riders can find solace on more than 700 miles of trails. Snowmelt and water from the park feeds the continent, flowing down Triple Divide Peak to the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay.