Celebrate the Holidays in These 7 National Park
America's national parks don't just celebrate our nation's geographical and ecological treasures; they honor our diverse cultural heritage, especially during the holiday season. In November and December, parks across the country light up, quiet down and host events that give us a chance to reflect on what's important in life, such as time with family and friends.
With work and school schedules often more flexible during the holidays, consider making your time together even more memorable by scheduling a trip to attend one of these national park events. To help get you started, we've put together a list of six national parks where your family can make memories while experiencing the magic of the season.
National Christmas Tree Lighting and Pageant of Peace
The National Christmas Tree lives right next to the White House at the Ellipse in President's Park. Traditionally, in early December, the president flips a switch to light the tree and dignitaries including the first lady and performing artists join in to read Christmas stories and sing carols with their festive audience.
The celebration continues on-site throughout December with the Pageant of Peace, which features daily holiday-themed performances by dance, musical, theatrical and other creative groups from across the nation. Travelers can also walk around the site to see decorated Christmas trees for each U.S. state and territory, giving visitors an America-wide celebration with local flavor from wherever they call home for the holidays.
Victorian Open House
As you step in the Kohrs family ranch house, you may feel as though you've stepped back in history. Visitors will find this home, built in 1862, filled with Victorian-era holiday decorations and special collections that, like Santa, can only be seen once a year - during the holidays. Speaking of Santa, he'll be making a special appearance at the ranch home's Victorian Open House from 1 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 8. Tour the house, go for a horse drawn wagon ride, roast marshmallows over a bonfire, visit the blacksmith shop for an iron candy cane and enjoy doing crafts with the whole family. Can't make the event? You can still see the home in its holiday decor through early January.
Polar Express Train Rides
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Brecksville, Ohio Reading of The Polar Express; Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Photo courtesy of NPS.
Many people will jump at the chance to climb aboard a vintage train in Cuyahoga Valley National Park for a ride to the North Pole and a bedtime reading of holiday favorite The Polar Express. Park staff members encourage young visitors to wear their coziest pajamas for this evening event, and they provide cookies and hot chocolate to round out the magical experience on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, one of the longest-running, top excursion railways in the U.S. Do you hear sleigh bells?
Hanukkah Party and Synagogue Tours
Touro Synagogue National Historic Site, Newport, Rhode Island
Since the mid-1600s, faithful Rhode Island Jews have congregated in Newport to take advantage of the religious freedoms offered by the New World, and Touro Synagogue has been serving as their home since 1763. Today, the temple continues to welcome Jews and visitors alike, and it also serves as a historic repository of Jewish heritage. On Jan. 1, visitors can take tours of the synagogue and join in on the synagogue's Hanukkah party. Call 401-847-4794, ext. 207 in advance to make reservations.
African Burial Ground National Monument, New York, New York
2019 marks the 53th anniversary of Kwanzaa, a holiday celebration of African-American heritage and the cultural effects of the western African diaspora. At African Burial Ground, where free and enslaved Africans were buried from the late 1600s to the late 1700s, participants celebrate Kwanzaa with music, dance, spoken word performances, educational lectures on African spirituality, crafts workshops, libation ceremonies (honorary drink pourings) and the lighting of the kinara candleholder.
Rafting with Santa
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Boulder City, Nevada Raft with Santa; Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Black Canyon River Adventures.
Santa Claus doesn't spend all his time at the North Pole; on Christmas Eve, he's in the Nevada desert piloting a raft down the Black Canyon of the Colorado River below Hoover Dam. You can join Santa on the 4.5-hour Christmas Eve ride and tour, offered by Black Canyon/Willow Beach River Adventures, before he climbs in his sleigh. Wrap up your adventure with hot chocolate, cookies and gifts.
Colorado is a mountain lover's dream, with some of the tallest peaks in the continental United States and 58 'fourteeners' - mountains exceeding 14,000 feet in height. With towns world famous for their slopes, winter sports and fireplace-laden resorts, Colorado is often thought of as a winter paradise.
But summer in Colorado provides a different kind of experience altogether. This beautiful, adventure-filled season presents travelers myriad opportunities to explore without bundling up. Whether you prefer mountain treks, music festivals, ancient dwellings, historic mining towns or scenic drives, a visit to Colorado in summer has it all.
Plan a Summer Colorado Vacation to Breckenridge
What to See and Do
Nestled between sky-high peaks, Breckenridge is one of the prettiest towns in the country and is a mecca for both winter and summer outdoor adventure. Open June through September, the Summer Fun Park is a favorite destination for families visiting the area, offering guided hikes, 4x4 tours, zip lining and a day camp that teaches children outdoor skills while immersing them in science, nature and the arts. Take the alpine slide to the bottom of the mountain, where you can pan for gemstones, ride the GoldRunner Coaster or enjoy a friendly game of mini golf.
If you're visiting Colorado in summer and want to soak in an aerial view of the Rockies, take a hot air balloon ride above the peaks mid-May through early October with Colorado Hot Air Balloon Rides. Or if traditional outdoor sports are more your speed, the Breckenridge area offers endless fishing, rafting and horseback riding. Bring the family to Breckenridge Stables for a trail ride, followed by fondue at Swiss Haven Restaurant. After a full day, rest in cabin-style rooms in the heart of town at The Lodge at Breckenridge, which offers views of Boreas Pass, Breckenridge Ski Resort and the Tenmile Range from 10,200 feet. The Lodge's $20 daily resort fee also covers amenities like on-site parking and breakfast.
Plan a Summer Vacation in Colorado Springs
What to See and Do
Less than 100 miles south of Denver lies a completely different mountain landscape filled with wild rock formations showcasing shades of red and orange more often found in deserts. The Colorado Springs area is also home to Pikes Peak, one of the country's most famous fourteeners that is said to be the second most visited mountain in the world. Drive to the top via the Pikes Peak Highway. At the top, stop at the Pikes Peak Summit House, home to the only doughnuts made above 14,000 feet. Tip: Eat your treats atop the mountain, as their texture will change with a decline in altitude.
Take one day during your Colorado Springs summer vacation to drive to the postcard-worthy Garden of the Gods in West Colorado Springs. With its dramatic red sandstone formations towering as tall as 300 feet, this National Natural Landmark provides a wonderful backdrop for family photos while exploring.
Later, drive about 5 miles southwest to Manitou Springs, where you can visit the cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi or soak in the naturally carbonated mineral spring fountains long sought for their healing properties. In Manitou Springs, travelers can stay at The Cliff House at Pikes Peak, which has cozy, well-situated rooms with easy access to all the nearby areas of interest, including the Springs Orleans, a local go-to for authentic Cajun food.
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