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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Let's Go Outside

Okay, so with winter seemingly never ending here in Portland. We're on snow day #6 off work and school, due to a foot of snow that won't leave and roads covered in 2-3 inches of ice. Today we're getting freezing rain and maybe even more snow, so we're all getting a little stir crazy and are trying to find out if there's something like a sun dance we can do to summon some rays. Even I'm starting to think that hiking when the weather is nicer sounds like a good plan, and I'm not really that outdoorsy.

Glacier National Park

The upside is that we're staying warm, I can watch the birds picking through the snow and the seeds and other goodies I put out to help them while the ground is frozen, I'm getting more work done at home than normal, and we're working our way through our DVR and Netflix lists at a more rapid pace than usual. 

So, in preparation for the warmer temps, or for those of you who don't care how cold it is or how much snow is on the ground, let's talk about how you can get out and explore your national parks this year for absolutely free. Each year, the U.S. National Park Services open their gates to everyone and waive the daily entry fee to make getting outside cheaper and more fun.

Glacier National Park

If you're an avid outdoors lover, then you may already have an annual pass, because you want to explore all the things. If you're like me, you only go to the parks when you're on a road trip, so you can't see the value of spending almost $10 (for the record, it's just $80) for the year when you only spend maybe 3 days at a National Park. For you, save some money and plan your trips around these free days. The parks maybe be more crowded, but that can be part of the fun. Unfortunately, more people may mean fewer glimpses of wildlife, but it really depends on the park. 

Pack your cooler with some delicious foods, a blanket, and throw some clothes in an overnight bag if you plan to make a getaway of it (because, sometimes you aren't that close to a National Park), because getting outside just got easier:

Glacier National Park

Monday, January 16 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) - I know you missed it this year, but you can plan for next year now!

Monday, February 20 (Presidents Day)
Saturday and Sunday, April 15-16 and 22-23 (Weekends of National Park Week)
Friday, August 25 (National Park Service Birthday)
Saturday, September 30 (National Public Lands Day)
Saturday and Sunday, November 11-12 (Veterans Day Weekend)

Glacier National Park

Save some money on your pass

Did you know that seniors (age 62 and over) can buy a lifetime pass to the parks for just $10? Now that's a fantastic deal! Want to get a cheaper pass? Well, you might be able to. U.S. Military and permanently disabled citizens can get an annual pass for free. If you have a child in the fourth grade, with the Every Kid in a Park initiative, your whole family is eligible for a free pass. 

Split the pass with a friend and add $40 to your pass cost. Each pass can have two people as owner on it (and they don't need to be related), so if you have a a friend or family member who also wants to go to the parks, but doesn't necessarily want to spend full price, add both  your names to the annual pass and split the cost. You'll each pay just $60 that way and will only have to work out who gets it when (or go together). This is great for families, because the NPS has a lot of offer for kids, not least of which is the Junior Ranger program, where kids engage in different educational activities at each park and receive a stamp in their parks passports and often a badge for completing each one. 

Bryce Canyon

When to skip a pass

If you only plan on visiting during the above times or you plan to visit the smaller parks that don't charge a fee. For the record, there's almost 300 of them. Here is the list of 120 parks that charge admission that you can get into free on fee free days.

Visit Canada

Canada has National Parks of its own, and they were established before the U.S. NPS. With tons of open spaces, it's a great place to head to get outdoors, plus they also have fee-free days at all 46 parks across the country. This year, this has been extended to every day of the year to celebrate 150 years of independence. Go online to get your free pass now for 2017.

Now that you have some options, all you need to do is plan your trips, find some awesome hiking boots/shoes, charge your camera and get out there. 

What's your favorite national park and why do you love it?

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