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Hike, bike, swim -- get fit -- at national parks Print E-mail
Published: Monday, 23 April 2012 10:24

From hiking and biking to swimming,  kayaking, or bird watching, U.S. national parks offer plenty of exercise opprtunities.

And during National Park Week, April 21 to 29, 2012, admission to the parks is free.

“All 397 national parks are great places to get some exercise while taking in spectacular scenery or learning something new,” said National Park Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Whether you go to a natural, historical, or recreational site, or an urban, suburban, or rural park, every national park provides a place to exercise both the body and the mind. There really is something for everyone in every national park.”

Here are 10 ways to get some exercise and enjoy National Park Week:

Take a Hike
There are 18,600 miles of trails in national parks. Hit the trail for a short hike or a day-long expedition. Cross the Continental Divide on the High Line Trail in Glacier, go vertical on the Moro Rock Trail in Sequoia & Kings Canyon, or tackle a section of the Appalachian Trail. If you’d like to hike with an expert, many parks offer daily ranger-led guided tours, including the Everglades, Jean Lafitte, and Hot Springs.

Dive In
Enjoy 43,000 miles of national park shoreline. Walk on the beach, go for a swim, snorkel an underwater trail in the Virgin Islands, or dive the aquamarine water and fish-bejeweled coral reefs of Biscayne or the kelp forests and sea caves of Channel Islands. Or, take a canoe or kayak ride through Big Cypress to observe manatees and birds.

Go Underground
Travel below the surface and discover the dazzling sights found along more than 900 miles of passageways in caves. Check out Mammoth Cave – the longest cave in the world or the 14-acre Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns. If you are really adventurous, sign up for a spelunking trip.

Sleep Under the Stars
Experience the simple pleasure of an evening campfire, sleep in the great outdoors, and wake up in some of the most beautiful surroundings in the world. Choose your setting – mountain view, ocean view, or even city view. The 12,000 campsites in national parks include spots in New York City and in Boston.

Go For a Ride
Some of the prettiest scenery you’ll ever see is along the 5,450 miles of paved road in national parks. In fact, 1,100 miles are designated parkways designed especially for sightseeing. Just be sure to get out of the car at overlooks or trailheads and stretch your legs. It’s amazing what you will find not far off the road. Wander to a waterfall at Shenandoah or meander through a meadow at Rocky Mountain.

View Wildlife
National parks are the best places to view wildlife in their natural habitats. Don’t get too close but enjoy seeing everything from baby birds to two-ton bison in a park. Watch the strutting age grouse perform its annual courtship dance in Grand Teton or the spring migration of grey whales at Point Reyes. Or, encounter prehistoric wildlife such as a saber tooth cat at Badlands or a Stegosaurus at Dinosaur. There are 233 national parks with preserved fossils, some which date back two billion years.

Be a VIP
Help out as a Volunteer-In-Park on National Volunteer Day on April 21. Participate in the spring planting at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a shoreline clean-up at Golden Gate, or park day at Stones River. Check out a list of volunteer opportunities at www.nps.gov/getinvolved/volunteer.htm

Go Green
Take part in Earth Day activities at many national parks. There will 50 exhibiters, food, music, and family activities at John Muir’s birthday celebration at John Muir National Historic Site. Saratoga will host exhibits and an art show featuring pieces made from natural and recycled material. The Grand Canyon will have a variety of interactive exhibits at its largest ever Earth Day event. Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial will host an Earth Day Jamboree.

Explore, Learn, Protect
Kids five to 12 years old are encouraged to take part in free Junior Ranger programs in almost every national park. Ask for a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center and earn a badge by completing different activities.

Take to Two Wheels
One of the most popular things to do in a park is ride a bike. You set your own  pace  and  can easily stop to relax or take in the view when and where you  want. One  of  the newest bike trails was recently built in New River Gorge.  More  than 1,400 Boy  Scouts and leaders volunteered 78,544 hours to construct  a  12.8-mile mountain bike trail. Other popular parks for biking include  Acadia which has 45 miles of old carriage roads, Canyonlands, home of  the  103-mile  White  Rim Road loop, and the C&O Canal and its 184-mile long towpath.

More information: www.nationalparkweek.org.

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