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Five national parks to hit this weekend
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, Badlands National Park offers spectacular scenery and a surprising array of activities to keep you occupied. The windswept landscapes range from towering jagged rock spires and winding canyons to open grasslands and and miles of prairie. The Badlands also contain a huge fossil bed dating back more than 30 million years, giving visitors the opportunity to peek back in time to an era when long extinct animals still roamed the area. Today, the park is home to a large herd of bison, plenty of big horn sheep, and the endangered black footed ferret, amongst other species of wildlife.
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
The National Park system is home to one of the most spectacular cave systems found anywhere in the world in the form of Carlsbad Caverns, located in the far southeast section of New Mexico. With its 94 individual caves, carved from the limestone that is prominent in the region, the Carlsbad Caverns are otherworldly in their beauty. The underground labyrinth is filled with narrow, twisting passages as well as large chambers and open passageways. Perhaps the most spectacular is the Big Room, which is 8.2 acres in size, handicap accessible, and well lit with electric lights. The more adventurous will want to sign up for one of the tours that will take them deeper into the Earth, where they'll make their way with headlamps into seldom visited dark crevasses.
Located deep within the Cascade Mountain range, Crater Lake was formed when water from retreating glaciers in the last ice age, filled in the caldera of an extinct volcano. The lake is six miles across and more than 2000 feet in depth, making it the deepest in the U.S. It also happens to sits at the middle of 250 square miles of pristine wilderness that is the perfect outdoor playground. Hikers and backpackers will find plenty to love on the spectacular trails, and SCUBA divers have been known to plunge deep into the lake's crystal clear blue waters. In the winter, the hiking gives way to skiing and snowshoeing as well.
Congaree, South Carolina
South Carolina is home to the remains of the largest old-growth floodplain forest in North America. Conagree National Park covers more than 22,000 acres and is home to 75 species of ancient trees, earning it a designation as a International Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can stroll beneath one of the world's highest natural canopies along 20 miles of trail. But to really explore this park you'll want to break out a canoe or kayak, and paddle deep into the interior. The park offers free guided tours on most weekends, although an advanced reservation is required. Birdwatchers will enjoy Congaree as well, with its plethora of birdlife, and white tailed deer, raccoons, and otters are also frequently spotted.
Great Basin, Nevada
Don't be fooled by the desert location of Great Basin National Park, it is far from a dry, dead wasteland as many believe. In fact, the park is alive with plants and animals, and is accented by snow capepd Wheeler Peak, which stands over 13,000 feet in height. The best way to explore Great Basin is on foot, and there are plenty of great hiking trails to take you past the parks top attractions, such as the 5000 year old bristlecone pine trees and the six-story tall Lexington Arch Trail. If you do go to Great Basin, be sure to stick around after dark, as the view of the night sky is spectacular, with the Mikly Way on full display.
These are just a few of the many national parks and monuments that will be fee free this weekend. To find others, be sure to head to NPS.gov to checkout the options close to you.