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Top US National Parks

One of America's greatest treasures is its National Park system. With their snowcapped mountains, sparkling shorelines, scenic trails and rustic campgrounds, America's national parks attract more than 270 million visits each year.


Yellowstone was the first national park, designated in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Today, federal law has designated nearly 400 national parks, which cover more than 84 million acres in every state in the Union except Delaware. From Maine to California, here's a look at ten of the top national parks within the contiguous United States. Why not visit one of them this 4th of July to truly experience America?


Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Just an hour's drive from the nation's capital, Shenandoah National Park is a corridor of wooded oasis within the congested East Coast.


Popular activities in the Sheanandoahs include hiking along the Appalachian Trail or driving around the 105 miles of crested mountains known as Skyline Drive. For a July 4th visit, bring you patience along with your camera, as crowds are expected and campgrounds will be sold out.


The park is open year-round, although portions of Skyline Drive are closed for winter storms and at night during deer hunting season. Summer temperatures in Shenandoah Park are a comfortable 10-15 degrees cooler than in the valley below.




Acadia National Park, Maine

Rugged coastline, scenic lighthouses, historic carriage roads and the Atlantic seaboard's tallest mountain are just some of the highlights of Acadia National Park. The first designated national park east of the Mississippi River, Acadia offers an up-close experience with mountain, forest and shoreline eco-systems.


An ideal time to visit the year-round park is during the summer. Moderate temperatures (highs in the low 80s, lows in the low 50s) and a host of ranger-led activities make Acadia a popular July 4th destination as well. For your Independence Day visit, plan to enjoy a boat cruise, hike, children's program or evening guided walk.


Entrance Fees: $10-20 per private car (July and August are peak season, so expect the higher fee)


For more information: Visit http://www.nps.gov/acad/.



Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Visit the Grand Canyon and be amazed by its shear immensity and breathtaking beauty. Situated in the northwest corner of Arizona, the Grand Canyon is home to the mile-deep Colorado River, which splits the park into South and North Rims.


The South Rim, which plays host to 90% of the park's visitors, is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and offers easy access to Interstate 40. The North Rim is open from May to October and is accessible only by car from Highway 67. Both rims feature unbeatable river rafting, guided tours, backcountry hiking, ranger programs and mule trips.


For a July 4th visit, expect comfortable temperatures in the South Rim -- and even more moderate in the higher elevated North Rim. Be prepared, however, that down in the canyon, temperatures often exceed 105�F with frequent thunderstorms.


Entrance Fees: $25 per private vehicle


For more information: Visit www.nps.gov/grca/ or call visitor information at (928) 638-7888.



Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Yellowstone was America's first national park, established by Executive Order of President Grant in 1872. Straddling the borders of three western states -- Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is best known for Old Faithful. The park is also home to a host of smaller (but still extraordinary) geysers and a variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk.


Most park entrances are closed during the winter months (September or October until April or May), making Independence Day perfect timing for Yellowstone. While you're visiting, enjoy backcountry hiking, camping, bicycling, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and llama packing.


Temperatures in Yellowstone are moderate in the summer, but given the high elevation (most of the park is above 7,500 feet), conditions can be unpredictable.


Entrance Fees: $25 for private car, good for up to one week.


For more information: Visit www.yellowstone.net or call the visitor's center at (307) 344-7381.



Badlands National Park, South Dakota

One of America's largest prairies and the world's richest Oligocene epoch fossil bed, the Badlands National Park is also home to bison, bighorn sheep and black-footed ferrets.


If you're planning a 4th of July visit to the Badlands, you can enjoy examining fossils, identifying wildflowers, trail hiking, and on-site camping (nothing beats the nighttime stars in the South Dakota sky!)


Located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, the Badlands offers easy access for cars via Interstate 90. The park is open year-round, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. In July, the weather is hot and dry with occasional torrential thunderstorms.


Entrance Fees: $15 per private car, valid for one week.


For more information: Visit www.nps.gov/badl/ or call Park Headquarters at (605) 433-5361.



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photo credit: Shenandoah National Park
photo credit: Badlands National Park




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