Celebrate National Park Week by Visiting a National Park—For Free!

ID1-7132873765_0fb864423d_k-NPS-Indiana DunesThe National Park Service (NPS) has partnered with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to present National Park Week (NPW) from April 15 to 23, 2017. National Park Week is actually 9 days, but why quibble if we can enjoy two more days of celebrating what many call “America’s Greatest Idea.”

In honor of NPW, the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees for all national parks on Saturday, April 22 (which is also Earth Day), and Sunday, April 23. So, why not use these free days to check out a national park or other NPS property? According to the NPS, “the National Park System covers more than 84 million acres and is comprised of 417 sites with at least 19 different designations. These include 129 historical parks or sites, 87 national monuments, 59 national parks, 25 battlefields or military parks, 19 preserves, 18 recreation areas, 10 seashores, four parkways, four lakeshores, and two reserves.”

The good news: that’s a lot of options—especially if you live outside the Chicago area.

The bad news for Chicagoans: there are only a few NPS properties in the Chicagoland area. But let’s make lemonade out of lemons. Here are four noteworthy NPS natural and historical destinations to check out this weekend—or at any other time. The last two destinations typically require a full weekend.

1.  Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (50 miles from downtown Chicago): Yes, there are towering dunes, sandy beaches, and crashing surf at this NPS treasure, but also wetlands, rivers, prairies, swamps, bogs, marshes, and quiet forests. The national lakeshore’s 15,000 acres feature 50 miles of trails, as well as more than 1,100 native plants, which places it fourth in plant diversity among all NPS sites. More than 350 bird species have been sighted at the lakeshore. Looking for itinerary advice? Click here for tips on what to do if you have 1–2 hours, a half day, or an entire weekend to spend at the lakeshore.


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2. Pullman National Monument. One of the NPS’s newest monuments is located on the far south side of Chicago. You won’t find nature in abundance, but rather a wealth of history about the first model, planned industrial community in the United States and the Pullman Company, the founder of the community. Another noteworthy site in the Pullman Historic District is the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, which explores African-American labor history. A. Philip Randolph was a labor and civil rights leader, and the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union that represented African-American railroad porters during contentious battles with the Pullman Company over worker rights.

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3. Lincoln Home National Historic Site (200 miles from downtown Chicago in Springfield, Illinois). Surveys of presidential historians and the general public typically rank Abraham Lincoln as the greatest president. So why not tour his Springfield, Illinois, 12-room, Greek Revival house, in which he lived for 17 years before becoming president? While in Springfield, also consider checking out The Lincoln Depot, where the president-elect gave a farewell speech before heading to Washington, D.C. in 1861; the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; and the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site.

4. Effigy Mounds National Monument (220 miles from downtown Chicago). More than 1,200 years ago, a culture known today as the Effigy Moundbuilders began building mounds of earth in the shapes of birds, bison, bear, lynx, turtle, deer, and other animals along the Upper Mississippi River and in other areas in what is now Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Some were burial mounds. Archaeologists speculate that others were used to mark celestial events or serve as boundaries between tribes. Effigy Mounds National Monument, which is located three miles north of Marquette, Iowa, features more than 200 mounds in what many consider to be one of the most beautiful areas of the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

Click here to learn about other NPS parks and properties. The database is searchable by type of activity (hiking, caving, state, stargazing, historical, etc.), state, and other criteria.

Copyright Andrew Morkes (text); all photos copyright National Park Service

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