Fodor’s Parks 101: Park Passes

If you're going to visit several American national parks in one vacation or over the course of a year, you can save money by investing in an "America the Beautiful" (or "Interagency") Pass, which admits the cardholder and others in the vehicle (or up to three others at places that charge per person) to more than 2,000 sites managed by the NPS and four other federal agencies, including national parks as well as national wildlife refuges, forests, and grasslands.

Fodor’s Parks 101: Pets in the Parks

Generally, pets are allowed only in developed areas of the national parks, including drive-in campgrounds and picnic areas. They must be kept on a leash at all times. With the exception of guide dogs, pets are not allowed inside buildings, on most trails, on beaches, or in the backcountry. They also may be prohibited in areas controlled by concessionaires, such as restaurants. Some national parks have kennels; call ahead to learn the details and to see if there's availability.

Fodor’s Parks 101: Photography Tips

Today's digital cameras make it difficult to take a truly lousy picture, but there are still some things even the best models can't do on their own. The tips here (some of them classic photography techniques) won't turn you into the next Ansel Adams, but they might prevent you from being upstaged by your eight-year-old with her smartphone.

Fodor’s Parks 101: Staying Healthy, Playing It Safe

Altitude sickness can result when you’ve moved to high elevations without having time to adjust. When you're at a mile (5,280 feet) or more above sea level, and especially when you're higher than 8,500 feet, you may feel symptoms of altitude sickness: shortness of breath, light-headedness, nausea, fatigue, headache, and insomnia. To help your body adjust, drink lots of water, avoid alcohol, and wait a day or two before attempting vigorous activity. If your symptoms are severe, last several days, or worsen, seek medical attention.

Fodor’s Parks 101: Founding Fathers of the Parks

Fodor's Parks 101: Founding Fathers of the Parks

Without Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, many of America’s natural treasures would have ceased to exist. A generation apart, the two men were moved by the dire state of their nation’s wilderness areas to make monumental changes in how the country preserved its outdoor wonders.

For Theodore, the impetus was the disappearance of the bison and rampant misuse of the land in the western United States. For Franklin, it was the needs of an unemployed population—and the need to save the country’s ravaged forestland. Both men, through sheer force of will, drove their ideals into law.

Theodore, who believed America had an almost divine responsibility for proper stewardship of its ample resources, brought his conservationist leanings to the presidency in 1901. As part of his revolutionary administration, he established the U.S. Forest Service, along with 150 national forests, the first national wildlife refuge, 51 bird preserves, four game preserves, five national parks, and 18 national monuments, including four that became national parks—Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Lassen Peak, and Mount Olympus (now Olympic). His efforts accounted for more than half the lands that would be managed by the National Park Service when it was created in 1916—seven years after his presidency ended.

Franklin, who believed the president was called to lead with character and morality (and to rescue the country from the throes of the Great Depression), created millions of jobs on public works projects—including many in the national parks. Almost immediately after his inauguration in 1933, he developed the Civilian Conservation Corps. Over nine years, it employed 5% of American males and planted about 3 billion trees. The corps was instrumental in suppressing forest fires, clearing campgrounds, constructing roads and trails, controlling floods and soil erosion, and eradicating undesirable plants. The CCC also enabled the NPS to improve existing public lands, establish new national parks, and guide the development of a system of state parks. Seven states gained their first state parks through the CCC’s efforts, and at the project’s end in 1942, a total of 711 state parks had been established. Additionally, Franklin’s Hyde Park, New York, home was added to the NPS holdings as a National Historic Site in 1946.

Though the inspiration for each differed, their contributions were similar, as are their legacies. They stand as giants among American presidents and as standard-bearers for government-aided conservation.

Fodor’s Parks 101: Great Lodges of the National Parks

"If you build it, they will come" could apply to the railroad barons who laid track in the early 1900s to lure wealthy Easterners westward. But these scrappy companies took the declaration an inspired step further by building luxury hotels at the end of the line.

Fodor’s Parks 101: Kids Programs

More than half of the 408 U.S. National Park Service areas (national parks as well as historic sites, national monuments, preserves, and other significant places) are part of the Junior Ranger Program, which offers school-age kids the opportunity to learn about individual parks by filling out a short workbook or participating in an activity such as taking a hike with a park ranger. After completing the program, kids get a badge (or a pin or patch, depending on the park).

Fodor’s Parks 101: National Park Tours

Whether you want an experienced guide for an active-sport trip or an educational but leisurely program that takes the planning out of your hands, tours can be ideal for all ages and life situations—families, outdoor enthusiasts, and retirees.

Fodor’s Parks 101: Outdoor Activities in the National Parks

Hiking in the national parks can mean many things, from a leisurely hour-long stroll along the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to a half-day scramble over ancient ruins at Mesa Verde to a multiday trek across Yellowstone. No matter what your fitness level, you’ll find at least one hike that meets your needs.