Looking for a way to make your next National Park trip special? Consider these unusual activities, events, and festivals on tap for the remainder of the summer, and mark them in your calendar, along with one more date: August 25. That’s the National Park Service’s 99th birthday, when Park entry will be free to everyone across the U.S.
- Sail on an Historic Schooner in San Francisco Bay
When: All summer
It’s easy to walk past this Park’s visitor center on Fisherman’s Wharf and not realize just how much entertainment it can provide. On most days you can climb aboard the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, on weekends you can take a mile-long historic waterfront walking tour, once a month you can join a chantey sing aboard the 1890 steamboat Eureka, and on many days this summer you can go for an afternoon sail on the 1891 scow schnooner Alma.
- Hear Free Live Jazz in New Orleans
When: Throughout the year
The Park hosts educational jazz concerts and ranger performances, both at its French Market visitor center and at the Old U.S. Mint. (Get the flavor by listening to the archived concerts here.) The visitor center even offers a weekly Jazz Pilates class: Pilates instructor Stephanie Jordan, also a jazz vocalist, leads a free session that combines Pilates, dance, and the music of John Coltrane and other jazz greats.
- Bike the Backcountry Trails of Mesa Verde
Where: Mesa Verde National Park
When: All summer
New bike paths are open on Wetherill Mesa, on the quieter side of Colorado’s Mesa Verde, the “Green Table” that was home to the Ancestral Pueblo people and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can bike Long House Loop, a five-mile paved trail formerly used for tram service, as well as other backcountry trails that end with short hikes to scenic overlooks. A ranger-guided nine-mile Wetherill Mesa Bike and Hike Adventure (five miles of biking, four of hiking) offers magnificent views of canyons and the ancient cliff dwellings.
- Cruise Through a Crater in Oregon
Where: Crater Lake National Park
When: Daily, all summer
There’s no other place like Crater Lake. The deepest lake in the U.S. and one of the bluest, it’s surrounded by almost-2,000-foot-high cliffs, not to mention more than 20 scenic overlooks. If you’re able to hike 2.2 miles round-trip on a strenuous trail to and from the boat dock at Cleetwood Cove (it’s the equivalent of climbing down 70 flights of stairs, then climbing up them again), there’s a spectacular volcano boat tour as your reward. You’ll need advance reservations.
- Discover Dinosaur Tracks in Utah
When: Early September
Moab sits just south of the red rock wonderland that is Arches National Park, as well as at the southern corner of Dinosaur Diamond—the area where dinosaurs were first discovered in the Wild West and where to this day the greatest number of dinosaur species have been found. And it’s about to unveil a new 40-acre dinosaur exploration park, Moab Giants, that promises to make these discoveries easily available to the public. The grand opening isn’t until 2016, but you can get a sneak peek at the soft opening in early September.
- Celebrate the Star-Spangled Banner in Maryland
When: September 11-13
Fort McHenry, the star-shaped fort in Baltimore, is the birthplace of our national anthem: By the dawn’s early light on September 12, 1814, the fort defended Baltimore Harbor against an attack by the British Navy, and the battle inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner a couple of days later. September 12 is now Defenders Day, a state holiday in Maryland, and it’s commemorated each year with a Defenders Day Weekend at the Fort that includes a living history encampment, dress parade, concerts, author readings, feasts, fireworks, and more.
You’ll find more extraordinary travel ideas from Wendy at WendyPerrin.com.