Cover image: pexels via Pixabay

Who doesn’t remember a summer past when our family vacations included a road trip to a national park?  Mom and dad would pile all the kids and necessities into (and often onto) the family station wagon and off we’d go eventually arriving at breathtakingly beautiful places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. For many of us, it was the journey of a lifetime. 

Today, you can still relive those memories (or create some of your own) five days a year for free thanks to the National Park Service’s “Fee-Free Entrance Days”. This year, you can get into any national park where you’d usually pay a fee for absolutely free on the following days:

  • Monday, January 17 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 
  • Saturday, April 16 – First Day of National Park Week 
  • Thursday, August 4 – Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act 
  • Saturday, September 24 – National Public Lands Day 
  • Friday, November 11 – Veterans Day 

Now that we’re in August, if you missed the first couple of fee-free days, don’t worry!  You’ve still got three more free days left starting tomorrow August 4!

And with all of those national parks to see for free, maybe you’re still not sure which one to visit first on your next big road trip adventure. Before you settle on one of the better known parks, however, why not check out a few of our favorites where you’re sure to feel like you’ve stepped back in time or even on another planet?

1. Petrified Forest National Park

Just a couple of the many petrified logs you’ll find in Petrified Forest National Park. Photo: NPS/Public Domain.

During the Late Triassic Period, a lush rainforest once stood here in what is now northeastern Arizona’s Painted Desert. And though it hardly looks like a rainforest today, all 85,542 square miles of Petrified Forest National Park are still full of fallen trees that, over the last 225 million years, have turned to stone, their colorful quartz filling the whole park with their natural beauty. Be sure not to miss the petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock and the ruins of the Puerco Pueblo village – a large Indian pueblo that peaked around 1300 CE containing over 100 rooms. Both the petroglyphs and ruins are located near the center of the park.

2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The “Fountain of the Fairies”. NPS photo by Ronal C. Kerbo/Public Domain

Sure, the Grand Canyon is a pretty impressive hole in the ground, but just as remarkable a hole in the ground is located about 600 miles southeast of the Grand Canyon in New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns is just one of 119 caves that geologists believe was once the coastline of an inland sea. Of course, the big draw to this big cavern is “The Big Room”, the largest cave chamber in America at almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet  high at its highest point.

3. Joshua Tree National Park

Just one of the thousands of eponymous trees you’ll find at Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: NPS/Public Domain.

Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park is an interesting collection of wildlife, featuring perhaps the most famous of prickly trees to ever grace an album cover – the Joshua Tree.  (Actually, the famous picture of U2 standing in front of a Joshua Tree that graces the album of the same name was shot at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, some 260 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, but we digress). Still, here you’ll find plenty of Joshua Trees and other things to explore in the park’s 800,000 acres. Rock music fans might also want to check out the Joshua Tree Inn located just 5 miles away from the park. Room #8 at the inn is also known as the Gram Parsons Room, and is where the beloved and respected musician and songwriter spent his last hours here on Earth.

4. Mojave National Preserve

Lanfair Valley near Castle Peaks. Photo: NPS/Public Domain

If you’ve always thought the desert is just a barren wasteland where nothing is able to survive, you’ll be delightfully surprised by the Mojave National Preserve. Here, in spite of its arid environment, you’ll find plenty of wildlife like desert bighorn sheep, tortoises, mule deer, and coyotes that flourish at this 1.6 million-acre national park. You’ll also find the landscape full of interesting features with equally interesting names like the Marl Mountains, the Kelso Dunes, and the Cima Dome.

5. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Big Craters Photo: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve/Public Domain

If you’re like us and like a little weird in your national park, then you’ll absolutely love Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve – a wonderfully weird landscape that was created around 15 million years ago by molten lava fields. In fact there’s around 53,500 acres of volcanic formations and lava flows on the northern rim of the Snake River Plain in southcentral Idaho in a park that’s nearly the size of Rhode Island. Not only can some of the lava flows of the Monument and Preserve be clearly seen from space, walking around this huge national park will also make you feel like you’ve taken a road trip to another planet entirely.

Of course, with more than 423 national park sites in the U.S., these are barely even scratching the surface of the more than 84 million acres you could be exploring for free tomorrow. Keep an eye out for more suggested parks to visit before the next National Park Fee-Free Day and let us know some of your favorites.

Oh, and if you’re planning on visiting the Grand Canyon this summer (or really any time of the year) be sure to check out our most recent Motel Monday post on the Bright Angel Lodge located at the canyon’s South Rim.

What would a summer road trip or family vacation to a national park be without taking some Stuckey’s along for the ride?  Whether you’re headed to a national park or off to the beach, Stuckey’s “Welcome to Summer” Gift Box is chock full of all of your road trip favorites like:

  • 2 – 2 oz. Pecan Log Roll,
  • 2 – 1.7 oz. Pecan Divinity,
  • 2 – 1.5 oz. Pecan Pralines,
  • 1 – 12 oz. Salt Water Taffy,
  • 1 – 8 oz. Hunkey Dorey,
  • 1 – 4 oz. Sea Salt Pecans,
  • 1 – 4 oz. Kettle Glazed Pecans,
  • 1 – Candy Shoppe Coffee Mug, and
  • 1 – Plush 12″ Squirrel. 

Before you know it, it’ll be time to say goodbye to summer until next year, so order your Welcome to Summer Gift Box today – only from stuckey’s.com.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!