Why You Should Head to Your Nearest National Park This Saturday

Every year, the fourth Saturday of September marks National Public Lands Day, the largest single-day volunteer effort for the country’s public lands. It’s also a fee-free day. Here’s how to get involved.

Why You Should Head to Your Nearest National Park This Saturday

For the 2018 National Public Lands Day, volunteers helped build fences in Grand Teton National Park.

Courtesy of the National Environmental Educational Foundation

You don’t need an excuse to visit a national park. Those dense forests, rolling hills, towering cliffs, and rainbow canyons are reason enough. But on Saturday, September 28, there’s a little extra incentive for you to get out and explore the country’s public lands. In honor of the 26th annual National Public Lands Day (NPLD), organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), parks, monuments, and recreation areas in U.S. states and territories will be hosting volunteer events—and what’s more, plenty of park sites that usually charge admission will be fee-free for everyone, volunteer or no.

Many of the NPLD events will kick off in the morning and end in the early afternoon, so after a morning of work, volunteers will be able to spend the rest of the day in the great outdoors, enjoying the fruits of their labor by hiking along newly trimmed trails or relaxing, perhaps with a cocktail, in scenic and well-groomed picnic areas.

In addition to volunteer efforts, many NPLD celebrations include educational activities such as this talk, which took place at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

In addition to volunteer efforts, many NPLD celebrations include educational activities such as this talk, which took place at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography

National Public Lands Day is the largest single-day volunteer effort in the country, and this year more than 100,000 people are expected to join in the activities. Events, which vary by park, will mostly include trail maintenance, river or coast cleanups, tree planting, and the removal of invasive species, as well as hikes, educational talks, and other fun activities. But a number of parks are going big. One of the biggest NPLD events, for example, will take place in Yosemite: Some 2,000 people are expected to participate in a park-wide cleanup, including climbers from all over the world who will rappel down El Capitan and Mount Watkins to remove trash left on ledges. Volunteers at the Grand Canyon–Parashant National Monument can actually help build a trail; using hand tools, they’ll work alongside Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service staff to create a half-mile path around Pakoon Springs. And in El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, volunteers of all ages will work to refurbish El Toro Trail, which was damaged during hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The National Environmental Education Foundation has created an interactive map that allows users to filter by location, so you can find the nearest event to home—or to wherever you happen to be. Here are a few fun events near big cities across the country:


National Public Lands Day Tree Planting
Get your hands dirty in Riverdale, Illinois, helping the local Student Conservation Association plant, mulch, and water 85 trees around the neighborhood.


National Public Lands Day at Clear Creek Canyon Park
In addition to cleanups, activities at this Denver NPLD event will include erosion control and habitat restoration. At the end of the day, join in a food-and-music-filled celebration in honor of your efforts.


National Public Lands Day with Memorial Park Conservancy
The NPLD event at Houston’s Memorial Park will end with complimentary beer as well as lawn games and a food truck, so raise a glass to your fellow volunteers and dig into a well-deserved meal.

Los Angeles

National Public Lands Day at White Point
Help remove invasive plants, water native ones, and groom trails at White Point Nature Preserve before a guided nature walk and children’s art activity.


National Public Lands Day EcoAction Day at Long Key Nature Center
At one of Broward’s county parks, take time to visit the exhibition hall to learn about Long Key’s geology, ecology, and history after spending the morning replacing exotic plants with native ones.

Volunteers in 2018 help clear debris from a waterway in Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C.

Volunteers in 2018 help clear debris from a waterway in Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography

New Orleans

Trail Maintenance and Cleanup in Fontainebleau State Park
At lovely Fontainebleau State Park, volunteers will clear trash and debris along the Bayou Cane Hiking Trail and Sugar Mill Nature Trail.

New York

Shoreline Cleanup at Marine Park and Plumb Beach
The Jamaica Bay–Rockaway Parks Conservancy will be spearheading two cleanups in Brooklyn; attendees can help pick up trash and debris along Gerritsen Inlet or at Plumb Beach.


Public Lands Day on the Lower Salt
Phoenix is going all out with a two-day celebration that encourages people to enjoy the public lands. In addition to volunteer activities such as helping plant a new butterfly way station, visitors can test mountain bikes, kayak a portion of the Salt River with REI’s Outdoor Programs Team, and try out a stand-up paddleboard with No Snow Paddleboard.

San Francisco

Vegetation Clearing for Preservation at Point Reyes National Seashore
At beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore, volunteers can help remove overgrown vegetation around a historic structure set for restoration, then learn about the building’s history and participate in a facilitated meditation.

Washington, D.C.

National Public Lands Day at Rock Creek Park
Celebrate both NPLD and the anniversary of Rock Creek Park’s creation with the National Park Service, NEEF, and Rock Creek Conservancy during a day of park maintenance and native plantings.

And with hundreds more events, NPLD is an easy excuse to play outside this weekend—just don’t forget your sunscreen and water bottle!

>>Next: 11 Crowd-Free National Parks You Should Visit

Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.

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