This year is especially fitting to spend Fourth of July in a national park, since Aug. 25 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Fireworks on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall are but one way to celebrate the occasion. Here are four other appealing options:
Mark the 75th Anniversary of Completion of the Mount Rushmore Memorial
Pay tribute to former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, whose 60-foot images were carved on the side of Rushmore by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and son Lincoln Borglum from 1927 to 1941. Honor its completion at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where you can also tour the sculptor studio and see a small-scale model. July 4 fireworks generally are not allowed in national parks due to environmental and safety concerns, but you can walk up the 422 stairs of the Presidential Trail for a view from the base or zoom in for a close-up on a plane ride. A good base is Rapid City, about a half-hour away, where The Journey Museum & Learning Center hosts a Mount Rushmore exhibit opening July 2.
For more information, visit mtrushmorenationalmemorial.com or call 605-574-2515.
Take the Train to the Grand Canyon
The world-famous natural wonder and U.S. tourism magnet is especially popular this summer with the National Park Service celebrating its centennial. Most lodgings inside the park are already booked for the Fourth, although rooms do come available as cancellations occur. But a lesser-known option — taking the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Ariz., to the park’s popular South Rim — may be the best solution for those who wish to visit at peak times. You also can take advantage of packages that give you lodging in Williams and ferry you to the park. A “Kids Ride, Stay & Eat Free” promotion includes two nights’ lodging in Williams and a round-trip train ride complete with a staged Wild West gun battle. If you’re determined to drive in for the day, the National Park Service recommends arriving by 9 a.m. to secure parking.
For more information and reservations, visit thetrain.com or call 800-THE-TRAIN (843-8724).
A new moon on July 4 promises to allow visitors in Death Valley to see the Milky Way without a telescope.
Have a Hot Time in Death Valley
The Furnace Creek Resort, with its AAA Four Diamond, rustic-chic Inn (closed until July 8) and the historic family-friendly Ranch at Furnace Creek, is an oasis in a 3.4-million-acre park that’s the largest U.S. national park outside Alaska and a 120-mile drive from Las Vegas. The park’s undulating sand dunes, rugged canyons, and stargazing are star attractions. Beat the 120-degree daytime heat by plunging into a refreshing spring-fed swimming pool at Furnace Creek. Or try a hike to Wildrose or Telescope Peak through bristlecone and pinyon pine forests, which begins at 7,000 feet and climbs to 9,000 or 11,049 feet, respectively. The valley floor might be 110-120 degrees but the temperature higher up will be 15 degrees cooler and shaded. A new moon on July 4 promises to allow visitors to see the Milky Way without a telescope. If you want to see fireworks, visit the neighboring town of Beatty, Nev., for its Fourth of July celebration.
For more information and reservations, visit furnacecreekresort.com or call 800-236-7916.
Get Wide-Eyed with Wonder at Yellowstone
Yellowstone, established in 1872 and located mostly in Wyoming, is in the spotlight this year as the USA’s (and the world’s) first national park and the home to more marvels than the perennially spurting Old Faithful geyser, one of hundreds in the 2.2 million-acre attraction. Yellowstone park bison are said to be the oldest and largest public herd in the USA. In addition, herds of elk, grizzlies, and wolves make the park their home. Wolf-watchers stake out the Lamar Valley in the early morning hours or at dusk with viewing devices to try to glimpse the rare predators. Families enjoy fishing and daily summer cruises on Lake Yellowstone, Old West dinner cookouts, and stagecoach rides. Lodging ranges from campgrounds, to cabins, to upscale inns and fills up fast in summer.
For more information and reservations, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.