Military families often struggle to reconnect as they navigate the transition to civilian life. In these situations, it is sometimes best to escape from the distractions and drudgery of daily life, load up the family car, and take a trip to our National Parks. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to visit the Parks without breaking the bank. Although they are climbing, gas prices are still relatively low and campground fees are often just $20 or less per night. If your family member is still on active duty or classified as a disabled veteran, your family may qualify for a free pass through the National Parks’ America The Brave program. For further inspiration, here is our top five list of National Parks along with additional sites to see along the way.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is truly one of the most amazing places in the world. Every corner of the park offers a unique and inspiring experience, from the amazing hot springs at Old Faithful and Mammoth, to the magnificent views at Yellowstone Falls, to the relative tranquility of Yellowstone Lake and the Madison River. If you make the journey, we recommend a visit to the North Entrance, where you can see the old train station that greeted early visitors. Today it serves as the local library, with a friendly and knowledgeable staff who is more than happy to share the story of this historical building. Of course, no trip to Yellowstone is complete without a visit to nearby Teton National Park, with its awe inspiring views to the Teton Mountains and Jackson Lake.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
While it is not part of the Park Service, Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest offers an amazing window into our past. One of the last remaining old growth forests east of the Mississippi, Joyce Kilmer allows you to sense the wonder of early explorers who thrilled at the majestic towering forests and rick ecological diversity of North America. It time allows, plan a side excursion to nearby Bryson City for a fun family float down the Nantahala River.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde is the Tikal or Machu Picchu of North America. The sheer scale and sophistication of this ancient civilization is hard to fathom, particularly given its improbably setting against the red cliffs of the Colorado desert. Families can easily spend entire week exploring the ruins and the surrounding area. If you tire of the arid desert vistas, take a trip North along the lush Dolores River, where you will find ample camping possibilities within walking distance of the river.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park offers exceptional hiking, camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing opportunities. A drive over Trail Ridge Road offers breathtaking views of 14,000 foot peaks and opportunities to see mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, and marmot. If you are in the area, take a trip to the Stanley Hotel where they shot the exterior scenes for The Shining. If you have young children, a trip to the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery will provide a memorable experience. So too will a trip over Cameron Pass, with its moose and stunning views of the mountain peaks that line the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Oregon Coast, From Astoria to Coos Bay
It is easy to travel and camp along the Oregon coast, with its picture postcard lighthouses, impossible cliffs, and quaint fishing towns. To the north, you can explore abandoned WWII forts and see a recreation of Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark prepared for the long journey home. High-quality State and National Forest campgrounds are abundant and affordable. If you tire of the ocean scenery, take a drive up the Columbia River Gorge, where you can visit the Bonneville Dam and view breathtaking waterfalls. Just a short drive from Portland, Hood River offers a fun opportunity for the family to watch wind surfers, pick fresh berries, and soak in the majestic views of Mount Hood.