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I have to admit that when I think of National Parks, I'm picturing the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite. But in this area, we are lucky to have two treasures locally -- Shenandoah National Park and Great Falls National Park. But it doesn’t end there; the NPS oversees more than 400 units -- national trails, parks, parkways, monuments, seashores, historic sites and national historic parks. And boy do we have a ton of these. So whether your pleasure is hiking, biking, camping, boating or horseback riding, find your park and get out there and celebrate nature! (Image: National Park Service/ Public Domain)

Take advantage of these National Parks right in our backyard

Birthdays are a big deal, especially when you turn 100. And that’s why this year everyone is celebrating the 100th birthday of the National Parks Service (NPS) as often as they can! I have to admit that when I think of National Parks, I'm picturing the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite. But in this area, we are lucky to have two treasures locally -- Shenandoah National Park and Great Falls National Park. But it doesn’t end there; the NPS oversees more than 400 units -- national trails, parks, parkways, monuments, seashores, historic sites and national historic parks. And boy do we have a ton of these. So whether your pleasure is hiking, biking, camping, boating or horseback riding, find your park and get out there and celebrate nature!

Rock Creek Park

A visit to Rock Creek Park will have you shaking your head in disbelief that you’re still in D.C. This oasis allows visitors to escape the hectic pace of the Capital. You’ll be surrounded by majestic trees, streams and, yes, animals from coyotes to white-tailed deer. It's a gorgeous spot to hike or bike along the extensive network of trails, even though Beach Drive is closed. Hard to imagine, but you can take private and group horseback riding lessons, board a horse at the stables or enjoy a trail ride. If that’s not enough, there’s a planetarium -- the only one in the NPS.

Potomac Heritage National Trail Network

This network of trails journeys from the Potomac River at the Chesapeake Bay to the Alleghany highlands of Pennsylvania. The network includes 710 miles of existing and planned trails. You can travel the same route that George Washington once explored by foot, bike, or paddling along -- the trails will reveal beauty and history. Make sure to get a digital edition of the Potomac Heritage Trail: A Hiker’s Guide. And don’t forget to check it out in the winter, when you can go cross-country skiing.

Shenandoah National Park

This park is not to be missed. Mostly forested, the park features wetlands, cascading waterfalls, rocky peaks, songbirds, and a night sky you would never see in the D.C. area. With over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, it’s a hiker’s paradise. And don’t worry, there is a trail for every level: easy, moderate, moderately strenuous, strenuous and very strenuous. Campgrounds run the gamut, from the Big Meadows Campground with plenty of activities, to quiet Loft in the southern part of the Park, to small quaint Lewis Mountain. Not a fan of camping? There is lodging available.

Great Falls Park National Park

Be prepared to be wowed. It’s a place I tell newbies, visitors and residents alike to make sure they hit it up. All of the water that meanders leisurely past the Capital first has to maneuver through a series of narrow gorges which turn the river into a raging torrent of white water. Don’t be surprised to hear different languages spoken here since each year a half million people visit. Stroll, hike, picnic, and of course view the falls. But don’t get too close -- they can be deadly. You can see it from Maryland too.

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

Looking for a different way to spend the day? We all know Wolf trap for its performances, but did you know it’s the only national park dedicated to presenting the performing arts? Now is the perfect time to explore the beauty and history of the park without the crowds. You can take a guided tour led by a ranger of the Filene Center. Or how about a backstage tour where you’ll learn how a theater runs? If you wish to hike you can do that too. There are two trails -- one 1.5 miles, and another 2.5 miles.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is a quaint historic community at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. It was here that abolitionist John Brown took a stand against slavery that contributed to starting the Civil War (or The War Between the States, if you are from the south). Hike the trails, wander the beautiful streets and discover history, through the living history event weekends. Do a ranger-led hike to explore a scenic section of the Appalachian Trail or do a Fall Foliage Walk with a Natural Resources Specialist. The Harpers Ferry Historical Association offers workshops that focus on 19th-century trades;there is a fee for this.

Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park

This trail travels 184.5 miles though D.C. Maryland and West Virginia and preserves the early transportation history of our country. The C & O Canal operated for almost 100 years moving coal, lumber, and agricultural products to people living along the Potomac River. The Park features hiking, fishing, camping, horse paths, living history demonstrations, and seasonal activities. At the Western Maryland Railway Station in Cumberland the visitor center has an exhibit area full of interactive and educational displays about the history of the C&O Canal and Cumberland.

Assateague Island National Seashore

A protected area on a long barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia is where you’ll find Assateague Island National Seashore. Interested in marine life? This is the place to explore sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests, and coastal bays. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is home to wild ponies, bald eagles and migratory seabirds. You can even hunt in certain areas. Visit the working 19th-century Assateague Lighthouse. Stop by the visitor center to find info on recreational activities and natural features in the seashore. Camp, join a ranger program, bike, rent a kayak or canoe. Here you’ll learn more about the barrier island environment, collect shells, and go crabbing and clamming.

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