What to expect in the year of The National Park Centennial. Can you say “Crowds?”

By Denise Krenning

The National Park Centennial in 2016 is something to celebrate!

Many of the country’s most prominent national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Zion, set new visitation records in 2015. Each year the crowds continue to grow but this year, 2016 has an additional burden. If you haven’t already heard, (lucky you if you’ve been under a National Park rock) the National Park Service is turning 100 which is definitely something to celebrate. But, as with any large party, more isn’t necessarily better especially when the whole point of visiting these majestic parks is to escape the daily stress of life and the noise large groups bring.

Just in 2015, there were 4,097,710 “visits” to Yellowstone National Park, up 16.6% from 2014, making it the highest visitation year on record and that’s just Yellowstone, arguable one of America’s top favorite parks.

The actual birthday for NPS is Aug. 25, 2016, but parks across the country are planning hundreds of centennial events throughout the year. For example, here are just a few Centennial initiatives for the entire family. If you haven’t decided on your destination yet, The Find Your Park website has thousands of people sharing stories of their favorite outdoor adventures and it might help narrow down which of the 58 parks to visit. Good luck planning on visiting just one. If you happen to have a fourth grader in America, The Every Kid in a Park campaign offers a free family pass into federal parks and public lands that collect entrance fees. The pass is good until August 31, 2016. Information on obtaining the pass is available by visiting www.everykidinapark.gov.

Just a quick warning. While it’s still early in February, reservations for hotels, camping and other permits can be challenging already and this year it might already be too late celebrate with 5 million of your closest friends. However, people’s plans change so you should always check back offen (if not daily) for new openings.

For camping, as a general rule, group campsite are available 12 months prior to your arrival date and individual sites are available 6 months prior. Still, many campgrounds are first come first serve and will fill up within minutes (or seconds!) of a site becoming available. There are also walk up sites and last minute cancellations so it might not be hopeless if you’re still in the planning stages. If you can, time your vacations now for later months in the year and be flexible if possible. Plan your time around the reservation openings for better chances of getting into lodge hotel rooms or the right sized campsite.

As always, leave no trace and remember to stop and pause to take in the beauty while making those memories. Too often we get caught up in the right photo shot and forget to look.

For more details on each park and the celebrations planned. Visit http://www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/index.htm