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The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC.
The Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial (detail above) in Washington, D.C. opened this past summer.

Photograph by Nikki Kahn, Washington Post/Getty Images

Ker Than

for National Geographic News

January 12, 2012

More than a hundred national parks and historical sites across the United States will waive admissions fees from Friday through Monday to commemorate Martin Luther King Day.

(Video: Martin Luther King, Jr., Remembered.)

"Dr. King's story and those of so many others whose efforts changed our country are preserved in the national parks, places where history happened," U.S. National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a statement.

Visitors can retrace King's footsteps at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Georgia, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama, or the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., as well as other sites that have direct ties to King or the civil rights movement.

Enlarge picture of Grand Teton National Park >>

Grand Teton National Park

 

"Fee-free days are important opportunities where the Park Service puts out the welcome mat and invites all Americans to relax, recreate, and learn about our shared heritage," Bryan Faehner, the associate director for park uses at the independent National Parks Conservation Association, told National Geographic News.

Other parks that will hold special events honoring King this weekend include the new Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C., Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee, and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.

More Free-Parks Days Ahead

More traditional nature and wilderness parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon will also waive entry fees this weekend. Fees vary for different sites, but can be as high as $25 per vehicle. Still, many of the country's nearly 400 national parks never charge an entrance fee at all.

The National Park Service will also waive admission fees on 14 other days in 2012:

"People have to get themselves there," Faehner said, "but they won't have to pay an entrance fee, which can turn certain people away."

(Related: U.S. national park tours from National Geographic Expeditions.)

Faehner recommends people to visit national parks during the fall and winter to avoid the summer crowds and to get a different perspective on the sites.

For example, "Civil War and Revolutionary War soldiers fought and struggled throughout the winter months, so park visitors can get a better perspective on what these soldiers went through," he said.

Off-peak visits to wildlife parks can also be rewarding. January is a great time to see bison at Yellowstone National Park, for example, or grey whales at Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

"The changing of the seasons affects what and how you experience national parks," Faehner said.

"Especially in the winter, when you can oftentimes experience a kind of solitude that you might not find otherwise."

Quiz: How well do you know the U.S. national parks? Test yourself >>

 

 

 

 

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