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Happy Centennial, National Parks Service! Established in 1916 by  

an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson, the Park Service now oversees 411 areas covering more than 84 million acres. And, while the service wasn’t established until 1916, the first national park, Yellowstone, was designated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.

Our parks are busy places. Last year, the number of recreational visitors to our national parks, which include battlefields, monuments, and other historic sites, totaled 307,247,252.  If one of those visitors wasn’t you (because, that’s almost the entire population of the United States), what are you waiting for?

To get you started, the Smithsonian Magazine has provided its annual list of the 20 best small towns to visit … with a twist. This year, to recognize the National Park Service’s Centennial, all of the recommendations (towns with populations under 20,000) are located within driving range of a national park. How cool is that?

From Hawaii to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, these small gateway towns have history, culture, food, art, and more. Don’t be shy, because these towns are used to the seasonal crowds and the locals will make sure your experience is memorable.

Want to make a donation or help out in some other way, visit the National Park Foundation.

To find a park near you, click here. Or check out the park service’s map guide.

Have fun celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service this year. And if you stop by any of those small towns, remember these places don’t always have the services and drugstores you may be accustomed to back home. And, your local park service ranger may or may not have what you need. All the more reason to make sure you’ve got an AAACK! Pack for the trip. Happy Centennial and enjoy America’s park system!


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