Travel abruptly halted during the pandemic except for one bright spot: Visitors ventured outside—especially to the nation’s national parks, monuments and recreation areas. The National Parks Service saw record-setting visitation.
“Last year, 50% of total recreation visits occurred in the top 23 most-visited parks,” says Kathy Kupper, National Park Service public affairs specialist.
Those account for only 6% of all parks in the National Parks system.
“We have been trying to spread the word that there are 423 sites in the National Park Service—at least one in every state—and they all are well worth a visit,” Kathy says. “If you are open to places that do not have national park in their title, there are many national monuments, recreation areas, etc., that are pretty spectacular, just not as well-known—such as Dinosaur, Chiricahua, Colorado and Craters of the Moon national monuments, as well as Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Assateague Island National Seashore.”
Dry Tortugas consists of Fort Jefferson and the visitors center on Garden Key and seven other small islands, all only accessible by boat or seaplane. Located 70 miles west of Key West, visitors may camp, tour the fort or explore the emerald-blue waters and coral reefs surrounding the islands. www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm
On the other end of the country, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska sits above the Arctic Circle and is only accessible by Dalton Highway and then hiking inside. Gates receives about 10,500 visitors a year to its glacier-rich lands and caribou migrating trails, offering a true back-to-nature experience. www.nps.gov/gaar/index.htm
World War II
Historic sites include Tuskegee Airmen Park in Alabama, where African Americans were trained to be pilots, radio operators, dispatchers and more during World War II. Women were also included in the “Tuskegee Experience,” working alongside their male counterparts. www.nps.gov/tuai/index.htm
Pearl Harbor National Memorial pays tribute to those who died in the Japanese attack December 7, 1941, forcing the United States to enter the war. The visitor center and museum are free to peruse. www.nps.gov/perl/index.htm
In California, Tule Lake National Monument serves as a reminder of the Japanese-Americans and prisoners of war incarcerated there during World War II. www.nps.gov/articles/000/getaway-tule.htm
Six in One
It is said privateer Jean Lafitte left buried treasure throughout south Louisiana. Several national parks in his name offer natural and cultural treasures.
Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve is comprised of six sites, including the French Quarter Visitor Center in New Orleans. Visitors learn about Cajun and Creole culture at three Acadian cultural centers: Acadian Cultural Center in Lafayette; Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice, which includes the weekly radio show “Rendez-vous des Cajuns;” and Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Thibodaux.
Connecting with the park is Barataria Preserve in Marrero, where Lafitte and his men hid out, and Chalmette Battlefield, where Lafitte helped Andrew Jackson fight “the bloody British” in the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.