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10' Free Adventures at National Parks

From bear-watching and grueling glacier hikes to hot spring soaks and access to off-limits fossil tracks, national parks have lots to offer.

  
By Saundra Latham, Cheapism
 
Shutterbugs can get a better feel for landscape photography during camera walks through Yosemite National Park in California. Led by staff photographers with the Ansel Adams Gallery, walks are offered four days a week, limited to 15 participants.
Topics may include camera basics and Adams' famed work in the park.
  

[post_ads]Budget-conscious travelers love national parks, but many don't realize how many free, unique activities they offer -- beyond brief ranger-led talks or walks. These 20 enticing adventures give a taste of what's possible at no cost during your next national park vacation.
  
  
Use a GPS to explore Maine's Acadia National Park on a unique hunt for EarthCaches, hidden clues that teach visitors about their surroundings. The program takes four to six hours to complete, and the search is confined to trails, roads, and other hard surfaces.
   
   
Fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee put on a dazzling mating-display light show for about two weeks in late May to mid-June (viewing dates are announced in late April).
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While viewing is free, visitors must enter a lottery to get a parking pass, and the passes and shuttle buses to the viewing area require a nominal fee.
    
    
Float down Cedar Creek on a leisurely four-hour canoe tour with rangers in South Carolina's Congaree National Park. Watch for bald eagles and enjoy the dense old-growth bottomland forest, the last of its kind in the country. Reservations must be made in advance online, and groups are limited to 12 people. Children must be at least 6 years old to participate.
   
   
[post_ads]Ranger-led paleontology tours offer close-up views of fossilized animal tracks in a part of California's Death Valley National Park that is typically off-limits. The 7-mile round-trip hike is strenuous, and no kids under 10 are allowed. Hikes are limited to 15 people, with spots filled via a lottery.
   
   
Not afraid to get wet? Go off trail on a guided hike through some of Everglades National Park's famous sloughs, perhaps better known as swamps. Participants must wear long pants and sturdy closed-toe shoes to participate. Groups are limited to 15 people 12 and older; reservations are required.
   
   
Visitors who want to explore Yellowstone's backcountry with an expert can participate in a guided five-hour Ranger Adventure Hike to such places as the Yellowstone River, Avalanche Peak, Garnet Hill, and Lone Star Geyser. Groups are limited to 15 or 20 hikers and reservations are required.
  
 
True to its name, Glacier National Park in Montana can be a formidable place in the winter, with many activities off-limits. But rangers lead two-hour snowshoe walks on winter weekends, perfect for visitors who want to appreciate the park while it's quiet and uncrowded. Participants can bring their own snowshoes or rent.
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From April through November, visitors to Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley National Park can participate in "quests" following rhyming clues that help tell the natural and cultural history of the area -- no GPS required. At the end of each quest, participants find a hidden box with a completion stamp and a log to sign. In all, there are 40 quests along the Ohio and Erie Canalway.
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Travel Magazine: 10' Free Adventures at National Parks
10' Free Adventures at National Parks
From bear-watching and grueling glacier hikes to hot spring soaks and access to off-limits fossil tracks, national parks have lots to offer.
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