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Ready to Hit the Road? Many National Parks Cater to the Older Crowd

National Park landscape
Seniors often enjoy many of the parks’ benefits such as solitude, ranger-guided programs and wildlife viewing opportunities.

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If you’re a senior ready for adventure or a family caregiver arranging a trip for older loved ones, consider the U.S. national parks. U.S. national parks are a bargain for retirees, and seniors can enjoy nearly all of them without having to brave long hikes or climb on horses. For most, a car or bus will do.

Those who are 62 or older qualify for the America the Beautiful Senior Pass. The lifetime pass is available for a nominal fee at any national park that charges admission. Benefits include admission for the senior and up to three guests at any national park site, or for everyone in the vehicle at sites that charge per-vehicle entrance fees.

When accompanied by someone with a senior pass, children younger than 16 are free and do not count toward the number of guests. In addition, seniors are entitled to half-priced camping and other amenities at facilities run by the National Park Service. The discounts do not apply to lodging and other amenities run by private vendors.

Seniors often enjoy many of the parks’ benefits such as solitude, ranger-guided programs and wildlife viewing opportunities. Knowing what to expect can help maximize the enjoyment and minimize the costs. National parks are in every type of climate, so weather can vary from hot to frigid. Many seniors have difficulty tolerating weather extremes, so visit the National Park Service website,, to research the average weather conditions for each park. In general, spring and fall offer the most temperate weather and smaller crowds. School breaks draw large crowds of families.

Here’s a look at 10 popular vacation destinations in the national park system that may appeal to seniors:

  • Acadia National Park, Maine – People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. The first national park east of the Mississippi River is home to many plants and animals, and the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast. The summit at the 1,532-foot Cadillac Mountain provides an awesome 360-degree view of the jagged coastline that runs around the island.
  • Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania  – The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point in the Civil War, the war’s bloodiest battle with 51,000 casualties and the setting for President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” A museum gallery features interactive programs, multi-media presentations and exhibits with relics from one of the largest museum collections in America. Tour the battlefield park with a licensed battlefield guide in a car or on a bus.
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – A powerful and inspiring landscape, the Grand Canyon overwhelms the senses through its immense size, 277 river miles, 18 miles wide and a mile deep. The park’s free shuttle buses connect the lodges with restaurants, shops, visitor centers, scenic overlooks and trailheads. Plenty of organized senior tours are available, and visitors don’t have to be a hiker to get an awesome view.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, North Carolina – Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between the two states. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains and the quality of its remnants of southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park. With 800 miles of maintained trails, hikes can range from short leg-stretchers to strenuous treks. Wildlife viewing includes bears; some 1,500 live in the park.
  • National Mall and Memorial Parks, District of Columbia – Must-see icons include the National Mall, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Beyond those historic sites, National Mall and Memorial Parks also manages the Constitution Gardens, George Mason Memorial, John Ericsson Memorial, Old Post Office Tower and the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.
  • Redwood National and State Parks, California – Most visitors know the parks as home to the world’s tallest trees, icons that inspire visions of mist-laden primeval forests bordering crystal-clear streams. The tallest redwoods are 350 feet high, and oldest ones have been around for an estimated 2,000 years. The parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands and nearly 40 miles of wild coastline. There’s a rich mosaic of wildlife diversity and cultural traditions.
  • Trail Ridge Road, Colorado – The 48-mile road provides a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountain National Park. It is the highest continuous motorway in the U.S., with more than eight miles of road at 11,000 feet and a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet. There are numerous stonewall turnouts, often on major curves to provide ample space for visitors to take in views. It’s about a two-hour drive without stopping, but it’s a good idea to plan for three or four hours to take breaks at the overlooks.
  • Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island and Ellis Island, New York Harbor – The historic islands sit next to each other. The Statue of Liberty will be closed in October 2011 for one year for renovations, but Liberty Island remains open via ferry. More than 12 million immigrants passed through the doors of Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954, hoping to achieve the “American Dream’’ while weaving their way into the fabric of American life.
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – Easily reached by car or bus, it became America’s first national park when it was established in 1872. With parcels of land also in Montana and Idaho, it is home to grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk. Preserved within the park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world’s most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
  • Yosemite National Park, California – It was one of the first wilderness parks in the United States and is best known for its waterfalls. Within its nearly 1,200 square miles, visitors can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area and much more. The Tioga Road, a 59-mile seasonal road, ranks as one of the best scenic mountain drives and climbs 3,200 feet to the 9,945-foot summit of Tioga Pass.

For more information and to find a park, go to

Last revised: October 19, 2011

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