America’s national parks are full of adventure, wonder and history. So much history, in fact, that the National Park Service is celebrating a big birthday this year: 100 years of outdoor exploration. 2016 is a year of celebration for the 410 units of the National Park Service, and you’re invited to join in the party at your nearest—or if you’re the road trip type, farthest—National Park, Monument or Historic Site. Visit NPS.gov for more information and special centennial events.
To commemorate 100 years, the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees to all 412 parks nationwide from Aug. 25-28.
Learn more at findyourpark.com.
Pullman National Monument
11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Chicago
Chicago is home to only one National Monument, which honors the Pullman Historic Neighborhood originally built to house workers of the Pullman Palace Car Company in the 1870s. President Barack Obama designated the 300-acre neighborhood that remains of the country’s first planned industrial community as a national monument last year. Walk through the historic streets that were home to diverse families trying to survive in a growing Chicago during the Industrial Revolution.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
426 S. Seventh St., Springfield
Illinois’ favorite son grew up in Springfield, about 200 miles south of Chicago, and his home has been immortalized as a historic site where visitors of all ages can learn and explore. See what it was like to live in Central Illinois in the 1800s, with no TV, cellphones or social media! Tour the home where Abraham Lincoln lived for 17 years and explore the four blocks around his home, which are filled with many other historic homes and exhibits.
A bit of a drive
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
9922 Front St., Empire, Mich.
You’ve seen Lake Michigan from Chicago and from Indiana, but unless you’ve seen it from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the northeast corner of Michigan, it’s like you’ve never seen it at all. Take in the lake from 400 feet high on a glacial moraine at Pyramid Point or drive through the seven-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive to see the colors change with the seasons surrounding the lake. Walk through the town of Glen Haven, which has been restored to what it looked like in 1900, including a blacksmith shop and general store. And of course, you can climb the sand dunes on your own or take a ranger-led hike for more history.
Mammoth Cave National Park
1 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Mammoth Cave, Ky.
About 380 miles from Chicago, you’ll feel transported to an entirely different world under the earth at Mammoth Cave National Park, the longest known cave system in the country. With 390 miles of underground caves to explore, the park attracts about 2 million visitors per year. Take a cave tour titled “Frozen Niagara” or “Star Chamber” to learn about the formations growing in every direction in the cave. A special nature walk for kids leaves every weekday at 1 p.m.
Isle Royale National Park
800 E. Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Mich.
Who says you can’t take your kids on an island vacation without leaving the Midwest? Drive 465 miles north to the tip of Michigan’s upper peninsula, then leave your car behind. Hop on a boat from one of three departure towns to Isle Royale National Park, an archipelago of a large island and 450 smaller islands so far north you’re nearly in Canada (but you don’t need a passport). Hike through barely touched terrain, kayak, or scuba dive to discover the most intact collection of shipwrecks in the National Park Service.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
1100 N. Mineral Springs Road, Porter, Ind.
Cross off a national park and summer fun all at the same time with a visit to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which runs along 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan, just an hour from Chicago. There are 15,000 acres filled with 45 miles of hiking trails that will take you through dunes, wetlands, prairies, rivers and forests. Camp under the stars or go for a swim on the far side of the lake for a new perspective.
The Big One
Yellowstone National Park
Go back to where the Park Service all began with an epic family road trip to America’s first National Park—Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. It may be 1,300 miles from Chicago, but the trip will be well worth it for the whole family. Take in the soaring explosions at Old Faithful, look for bears and bison from the trails, explore the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, enjoy a stagecoach ride through the wilderness that ends with a traditional chuckwagon cookout at the historic Roosevelt Lodge, and much more in this 2 million-acre playground.
Along the way, you can stop at Badlands National Park and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, and on the way back, stop for a night to take in the stunning views at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. It may be a lot of time in the car, but it will be a trip you’ll never forget.