This summer marks the 100th anniversary of America’s National Park Service, which was founded back on August 25, 1916. Perhaps you saw the Ken Burns series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea last spring or maybe you’re itching for a summer road trip with a side order of history, but if you’re interested in finding out more, there are plenty of sites and apps available to assist you on your journey into the park system.
If you don’t know what national parks are in your area, you can look them up on the NPS site or on Find Your Park. If you think national parks are just big expanses of preserved land, like Joshua Tree in California or the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, hit up the site to see all the outdoor spaces and the more urban man-made monuments supervised by the National Park Service. If a major piece of American history happened there, odds are there’s a monument or museum waiting to tell the story.
In New York City, for example, there’s the old Ellis Island immigration center and museum next to the Statue of Liberty, the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, Castle Clinton in Battery Park, Federal Hall across from the New York Stock Exchange, the brand new Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace on East 20th Street, Grant’s Tomb on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the Hamilton Grange in Harlem, Governor’s Island out in New York harbor, the Gateway National Recreation area in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.
Along with parks and public spaces like the National Mall in Washington, DC, places where wars were fought have been designated as national sites too. Battle sites like Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and Fort McHenry in Maryland are just two of them.
In terms of apps and social media to help you plan a visit, the National Park Service is all over it. The NPS has its own Instagram and Twitter feeds, Facebook page and Flicker gallery. Many parks and national monuments have their own microsites, like the handsome Flickr pages for Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
Around here in NYC, there are officially three different mobile apps dedicated to New York’s national areas., including the Manhattan & Governors Island guide shown above. The National Mall has free apps for Android and iOS, as shown farther up the page.
If you want to go with a third-party program, National Geographic has an iOS app called National Parks – the app is free, but downloads for individual parks are about $2 each. Chimani has free National Parks guides for Android, Amazon Fire and iOS that do not require a Wi-Fi or cellular signal to use — which is great if you’re visiting some of the more remote, outdoorsy locations in the system and all you have are bears and air. The outdoor gear company REI has a free National Parks app, too, and podcasts for Android and iOS.
Blogs and sites created by people who love the national parks also abound online; check out Live Once Live Wild or, 59National Parks, for example. You can also find guides and information on the National Parks Foundation website, which is the official charity of the park service. Many of the country’s national parks need more than government funding to stay open and must charge entrance fees, but to celebrate the centennial, the National Park Service is waiving fees for 16 days this year, including the agency’s birthday weekend of August 25th-28th this summer.
And remember, Jellystone is not a national park. Yogi Bear’s old turf is a franchise of RV campgrounds and resorts.
Happy Hundred, National Park Service!