Grand Canyon. Zion. Bryce Canyon.
These 3 national parks will always have a special place in my heart. They are on my list of “must-see” parks when you’re stationed in Arizona. My favorite photos were taken at these breathtaking places. These 3 parks are also where my husband and I spent our honeymoon.
Now I can see the romance in our road trip through northern Arizona and southern Utah. But when he first proposed a trio of national parks for our honeymoon, I argued against his plan.
My husband brought his love of the outdoors to our relationship. I brought the love of community theater.
Until I met him, I had never slept in a tent. I had never hiked for miles with homemade granola as my snack. I had never tasted a roasted marshmallow while sitting under the stars.
My husband introduced me to the romance of a great outdoors vacation. His camping courtship started with an overnight stay at a state park in Texas. He remembered to pack the wine, so I remained interested. Then his introduction lead to relaxing and quiet afternoon hikes through the hills of southern California.
When I saw the Grand Canyon National Park at sunset on a crisp November day, my infatuation with nature matured into a deep love affair. I was head-over-heels in love with our nation’s national parks.
Since then I’ve visited more than 30 national parks. I went to 2 national parks during an Oregon road trip with my sisters. My kids have a NPS passport book and love to put stamps in it. I’ve told my friends about the joy of exploring the national parks as a family, especially when you’re a military family.
3 Reasons Why Military Families Need to Explore National Parks
It’s free for military members and their dependents. Yes, free. That’s my favorite price for anything and everything. But the value of free entrance to the nearly 400 national parks is immeasurable.
The annual parks pass is available to current U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard as well as Reserve and National Guard members.
To obtain the annual pass, visit a federal recreation site (click here for the complete list of recreation sites that issue passes) and show your military ID card to the park officials. It’s that easy.
You can camp, rent an RV or stay at a historic hotel. Before my honeymoon, I thought everyone who visited a national park pitched a tent and ate hot dogs over an open fire. I was wrong. The national parks offer a variety of accommodations for every type of outdoor enthusiast.
But depending on where you want to stay (even if it’s camping), you may need to book your camping site 6 months in advance. That’s what we did when we camped in Yosemite as a family. My husband logged into the website to make our reservation 6 months in advance and guess what, all of the camp sites were booked in less than 15 minutes.
Scoring a camp site at Yosemite is like snagging concert tickets to U2.
Staying at Mount Rainer’s Paradise Inn is on my bucket list. This historic hotel opened to guests in 1917 and hasn’t changed since the 1920s. When you stepped into that lodge, you are traveling back in time. Hopefully someday I’ll get to sleep there after a long day of hiking.
If you are planning to stay in a hotel make sure to use a rewards program like the Expedia Military Offer, which gives anyone with verified military status Expedia+ Gold Status. It’s available to active duty, veterans, military spouses, and dependents and it offers benefits like complimentary upgrades, exclusive amenities and bonus points that can be used toward future travel. Learn more and sign up here: http://expedia.com/militaryoffer/
Many national parks are within driving distance of your military base. Since there are nearly 400 national parks, there is most likely one within driving distance of you even if you find yourself in Hawaii or Alaska.
When we were stationed in northern Maryland, we visited a lot of parks, including Catoctin Mountain Park, Gettysburg National Memorial Park and Harpers Ferry Historic Park.
Military families, if you haven’t taken the time to explore the national parks, it’s time you did. It’s an affordable way to fall in love with the great outdoors.