National parks are America's great resource dedicated to recreation and preservation of land, plants and animals. Since Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872, others have been created in twenty-five states across the United States.

It is sometimes difficult to decide where to go, unless you are driving to the closest one to your house. There are the volcanoes of Hawaii, Denali Wilderness of Alaska, unique geysers in Yellowstone, spectacular scenery in Grand Teton, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Biscayne and many others.

Then there is the question of when to go. These destinations are most frequented in the summer when campgrounds are often full and roads crowded. Plan a trip in early spring and late fall to avoid crowds and enjoy the wildlife. Desert parks in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and California are most visited during the colder months since summers are very hot.

Most have an entrance fee which can be paid when you enter the national park. Alternatively, you can purchase a Pass which is valid for one year from the last day of the month it was first used. The NPP costs $50 and grants admission to everyone in a vehicle to any national park. The pass can be purchased online at www.nationalparks.org.

In addition to the entrance fee, national parks require you to obtain permits for certain activities such as fishing, which may cost extra. The best resource for finding out about permits is www.nps.gov.

Accommodations range from historic hotels to inns and campgrounds. Xanterra operates lodging at several popular destinations and offers online reservations for quite a few properties. Visit www.xanterra.com for more information. Alternatively, go to www.nps.gov for national park lodging information as well as numerous other useful resources for planning your trip.

Everglades

Established in 1947, Everglades National Park in Florida is the largest U.S. national park east of the Rocky Mountains. It encompases 484,200 acres in Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and features 137 miles of coastline. The area is comprised of sawgrass/freshwater marsh, mangrove forest and coastal areas. The park features more than 400 species of birds, 25 species of mammals, numerous amphibians, reptiles, birds and plats. Orchid lovers will delight in 24 species of orchids found throughout the park. The park has been recognized by the international community through its designation as a World Heritage Site, a Wetland of International Significance, and a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO.

There are five visitor centers and three concessioners which offer boat tours along the mangrove coast and Shark Valley Tram Tours. Canoe and bicycle rentals are available for self-guided exploration. Park fees include:

  • Pedestrian/Cyclist: $5 for 7 Days
  • Private vehicle: $10 for 7 Days
  • Backcountry Camping (Permit Required): $10.00 for 14 Days Per Permit Plus $2.00 Per Person Per Night
  • Camping: $14.00 per Day
  • Annual Pass: $25 per year

For more information about the park, visit www.nps.gov/ever or call 305-242-7700. If you have time, visit Biscayne, which is 18 miles away.



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Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida is a unique destination which can only be accessed by seaplane or ferry. The park enjoys subtropical climate with temperatures ranging from the mid-50's to mid-80's. In the winter (December-March), the seas are rough and windy. The tropical storm season runs from June through November. Dry Tortugas offers a variety of vacation activities, including swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, salt water sport fishing, bird and wildlife watching. The Visitor Center is situated in Fort Jefferson, offering ranger-conducted activities year-round. ort Jefferson houses a museum, offers ranger-led tours, and self-guided fort tours with interpretive signs. For more information, call 305-242-7700.

If you want to stay overnight, the only option is the Garden Key Campground which offers only 10 sites. The campground is a self-service fee area with a nightly fee of $3 per person. Campers must bring all supplies, including fresh water. There are no roads in the park so it can only be reached by boat or seaplane. Commercial air service is available to Key West International Airport. Seaplanes of Key West provides air service from Key West to the national park. Private boats must be fully self-sufficient.

Seaplane transportation is provided by Seaplanes of Key West. For schedules, prices, and reservations, contact 800-950-2FLY, 305-294-0709, or visit www.seaplanesofkeywest.com. For ferry schedules, prices, and reservations, contact Sunny Days at 800-236-7937, 305-292-6100 or visit www.drytortugas.com. Or call Yankee Fleet at 800-634-0939, 305-294-7009, or visit www.yankeefleet.com. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/drto or call the park at 305-242-7700.