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​​How National Parks Celebrate Veterans


With Veterans Day around the corner, it’s the perfect time to explore how the National Park Service honors our past and present military personnel. Whether you’re a veteran, currently serving, a family member, or simply an interested civilian, you can get in on events and programs hosted by NPS. 

In this post, we’re sharing ways for anyone to celebrate Veterans Day at a national park or historical site. We’re also discussing special deals and programs that NPS offers year-round to thank soldiers and veterans for their service. If you’re interested in recharging in nature–with a side of history–for this holiday and beyond, read on.

Veterans Day at National Parks

Veterans Day is a federal holiday that occurs each year on November 11th to celebrate everyone who has served in the U.S. military throughout history, especially living veterans. There are many ways to mark the day, but we think one of the best involves the National Park Service.

NPS has a long and fascinating history with the armed forces. More than a quarter of this bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s employees have military experience. The National Park Service has preserved and protected battlefields and other sites of remembrance, including monuments like the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. They also act as the steward of lands that were used as training grounds and rest-and-recuperation spaces by soldiers. For a list of dozens of national monuments, battlefields, memorials, and parks with military history organized by war, click here.

Even aside from these notable historical sites, you can point your finger almost anywhere on a map of the U.S. and find an appealing national park to visit for Veterans Day. These majestic landscapes are part of what makes our country so unique and have inspired those who fight to protect it. It’s no mistake that the National Park Service’s annual pass is called the “America the Beautiful Pass.” To see “spacious skies” and “purple mountain majesties” for yourself, just choose a location somewhere “from sea to shining sea.” For slightly more practical guidance, check out NPS’ helpful Find Your Park Quiz.

Veterans Day is also one of only five days all year that the National Park Service offers free entrance to every national park. Take advantage of the opportunity by visiting one of the parks that normally charge entrance fees, listed here. With an average entrance fee of $25-$30 per vehicle or $10-$20 per person, these savings could be a nice treat for you and your group. 

The National Park Service is also hosting two main Veterans Day events this year. The first is the Veterans Day Observance at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Join for the wreath-laying ceremony to pay homage to the Americans who fought in the Second World War. The other event is the Commemoration of Veterans Day at Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site. If you find yourself in Upstate New York on November 11th, visit this historic church for a ceremony, educational tour, and wreath-laying.

Year-Round NPS Programs for Veterans 

The National Park Service’s programs to thank veterans and current military personnel go far beyond Veterans Day. NPS has partnered with Operation Live Well to improve the well-being of military members through access to the great outdoors. Spending time in nature has powerful physical and mental health benefits for veterans–and everyone!

If you’re a veteran, active service member, or a Gold Star Family, the National Park Service will provide you with a free annual pass, called the Interagency Annual Military Pass, which includes entrance to all national parks, BLM lands, and other beautiful landscapes managed by government agencies. In an exciting development, NPS will begin offering lifetime passes instead of just annual passes by the end of this year. Even better, this pass covers entrance for not only the cardholder but also several guests accompanying them. This means you can bring your whole family on a restorative and memorable adventure. 

To facilitate these visits and remind us how close we are to the peace of nature at all times, NPS has also recently released an interactive map of over 400 national parks near Veterans Administration and Department of Defense facilities. 

Beyond visiting national parks independently, you can also join a number of programs created for veterans, ranging from archaeological research to scuba diving expeditions. In D.C., veterans and soldiers with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are finding healing through a horseback riding program in Rock Creek Park. In Minnesota, the Vets on the River program is providing scenic guided kayaking and canoeing experiences.

Whether you’re a current or former member of the armed forces or a civilian, national parks have much to offer for Veterans Day and beyond. Let us know how you plan to spend the holiday on Instagram at @myrecvan. 

If you’ve been craving a life of freedom and natural splendor, you might want to consider joining the van life movement. At Rec Van, we carry a wide range of top-of-the-line camper vans that combine the flexibility of travel with the comforts of home. 

Starting a national parks bucket list? Check out “The 10 Best National Parks to Venture to in Your Van this Fall” for our top picks.