7 National Parks to Celebrate America This July 4th

July makes its mark in our calendars with many hours of sunshine, open swimming pools, barbecues and festivals. You may also associate the month with ice cream, time off from school or work, fireworks and songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Yes, July 4th — Independence Day — grabs the most attention midsummer, so take a few liberties of your own and make plans to celebrate this treasured national holiday in one of America’s most cherished places: its national parks.

Celebrate the Fourth of July in the Nation’s Capital

National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.

  • Drive 4 miles north from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

What better place to celebrate America’s birthday than in its capital? Beginning around noon, vacationers can catch the city’s annual Independence Day Parade along Constitution Avenue, on the north side of the National Mall. After watching the procession, you’ll be in a prime location to explore the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

From the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and around the Tidal Basin, stroll past iconic monuments paying tribute to the nation's founders, presidents, veterans and civil rights activists. Stop at the National Archives across the street to see the document that put everything in motion: the Declaration of Independence. At the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, view the impressive flag (it’s one-fourth the size of a basketball court) that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812’s Battle of Baltimore and inspired Francis Scott Key to pen what is now the U.S. national anthem.

As the celebrations continue and crowds grow, stake out your spot on the National Mall’s lawn for A Capitol Fourth. The event’s gates open at 3 p.m. for the evening concert performed by top musicians and the National Symphony Orchestra, and it concludes with a bang. Grab a seat and get ready to watch sparks fly, literally, over the capital as fireworks launch from the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool.

A Capitol Fourth - Confetti/Capitol photo With confetti, fireworks and live entertainment — ranging in the past from Neil Diamond to Dolly Parton and even the Muppets from Sesame Street — A Capitol Fourth is a giant birthday bash for America and the place to be in Washington, D.C. on July 4th.

Bonus: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival occurs on or around the Fourth of July for two weeks each year. So while you brush up on your American history, you can also learn about African, Armenian and Catalonian cultures this year through fashion, food, music and dance.

Spend the Fourth of July in ‘America’s Oldest City’

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine, Florida

In 1565 — more than two centuries before the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence — the city of St. Augustine was founded. Here in America’s oldest city, you’ll find her oldest masonry fort, at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and one of the largest Fourth of July fireworks displays on the East Coast.

Castillo de San Marcos photo Throughout the Castillo de San Marcos’ centuries-old existence, four countries have commanded the masonry, but not once has it ever fallen to military force.

Independence Day visitors can combine both attractions in one day. Toss a few blankets and other picnic supplies in your rental car and drive to the monument, where you can park nearby on the street or in any of the city garages for free on July 4th. Explore the monument’s thick walls (up to 19 feet in some places), moat, turrets, prison rooms, courtyard and gun deck on a ranger-led tour and see cannon demonstrations — all included with the cost of admission, which is $10 for adults and free for children ages 15 and younger.

Afterward, grab your picnic supplies, throw your blanket down along the bayfront — anywhere between the monument and the Bridge of Lions — and get ready for one big and bright show that’s choreographed to popular patriotic tunes. Don’t be afraid to sing along during St. Augustine’s 20-minute fireworks display.

Before returning your car and flying home, spend a day in Jacksonville like a local. In Big Talbot Island State Park, go for a peaceful walk through the driftwood forests on Boneyard Beach. Later, see how many of the more than 2,000 animals and 1,000 plant varieties you can spot at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Here, July 4th vacationers will be just in time to catch Dinosauria — a guest-favorite return exhibit boasting 21 life-size animatronic dinosaurs including a T. Rex and a 50-foot long Spinosaurus — on display through July 7.

Join an Annual Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration

Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Wyoming

If you don’t know what to do on the Fourth of July but you do love a good Western film, then Fort Laramie National Historic Site may be the best destination for your next Independence Day. Established in 1834, Fort Laramie began as a fort to trade fur, but it transformed into one of the best-known military posts in the northern Plains due to its location along the emigrant trails and role in negotiations with Native American Nations.

Step back in time by celebrating America’s freedom, frontier-style, at one of the very forts that stood at the crossroads of America’s western expansion. Paying homage to its past, the historical site’s Fourth of July festivities include old-fashioned games like foot and sack races, pole climbing and egg tossing and a 38-gun salute. While there, see a variety of living history presentations that include a Native American warrior program showcasing cultural traditions of the northern Plains tribes and a 19th-century equestrian drill team performance.

At the end of the day, the fort’s staff re-enact a 1876 retreat parade ceremony, a U.S. Army tradition with roots dating back to the Revolutionary War. Today the ceremony signals the end of day and duty while also providing an opportunity for service and community members alike to pay respects to the flag. During Fort Laramie’s retreat, the staff invites kids to participate as they lower the nation’s colors during a cannon firing, ensuring that — even without fireworks — America’s birthday celebration ends with a bang.

Fort Laramie Cannon Firing photo Begin and end your Fourth of July with the firing of a cannon during Fort Laramie Historical Site’s old-fashioned celebration. Photo courtesy of the National Park Foundation.

 

Explore the Smoky Mountains’ July 4th Festivities 

Near Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee 

Kick off your Smoky Mountains Fourth of July at the midnight parade in Gatlinburg, where patriotic night owls have marked the first Independence Day parade in the nation for more than 40 years. Starting promptly at 12:01 a.m. July 4th, paraders in this Smoky Mountains town will march more than a mile, beginning at traffic light No. 1A on East Parkway, and will keep the party going through a 10 p.m. fireworks show downtown.

Bird’s eye view of Gatlinburg photo Independence Day celebrations begin in the middle of the night in Gatlinburg, a scenic getaway nestled next to the 520,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Vacationers can also share their holiday enthusiasm by driving about 7 miles north, via U.S. Route 321, to Pigeon Forge for the Patriot Festival. Event parking at the Teaster Lane city parking area is free, and so are the shuttles that will take guests to the festival in Patriot Park. Beginning at noon, this family-friendly, admission-free Fourth of July festival will fill your holiday with live music, food and games. A grand fireworks finale will light the skies over the Smokies around 10 p.m., ending the festival in an appropriately patriotic way.

Celebrate the Fourth of July in New York City

Liberty Island, Ellis Island, Grand Ferry Park, and East River State Park, New York

Start at Liberty Island and wave hello to Lady Liberty. In 1886, France made a gift of the copper statue to the United States. Since then, the Statue of Liberty has been a widely recognized symbol of freedom — to immigrants who arrived by ship at Ellis Island and to the millions who live in or visit New York each day. Get there by driving downtown to Battery Park and pulling into one of the metered spots at Battery Place. Then, catch a Statue Cruises ferry, which run every 20 minutes from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from Battery Park to Liberty Island.

Upon arrival, gaze up about 305 feet from the Statue of Liberty’s base to the tip of her flame, or climb inside to peer out from her crown. Tickets to go inside the statue’s crown or its pedestal, where you can explore the Liberty Island Museum, are limited and available for purchase up to six months in advance via the National Park Service. If you didn’t reserve tickets, that’s OK — go for a Park Ranger Guided Tour to learn all about Lady Liberty’s symbolism, history and restoration.

From Liberty Island, hop on another Statue Cruises ferry to visit nearby Ellis Island, a U.S. immigration station from 1892 to 1954, where an estimated 40 percent of U.S. citizens can say an ancestor arrived in this country. At the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, learn about the people who came through the island and search for your own ancestors’ names on the Wall of Honor.

Finish one of the nation’s biggest holidays in its biggest city by catching the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks on the East River. Though you can see the fireworks up and down Manhattan’s east side, consider driving to view them from either Grand Ferry Park or East River State Park in Brooklyn. Street parking is available, and both parks provide space for your family to spread out before catching the Fourth of July show in the sky.

New York City Fireworks photo More than 50,000 fireworks and pyrotechnic effects paint a festive and unforgettable scene over the Manhattan skyline during Macy’s Annual Fourth of July Fireworks show.

 

Be Awed by Yellowstone’s Natural Fireworks and Nearby July 4th Attractions

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, and Big Sky, Montana

Experience America’s birthday in its first national park, where nature has its own interpretation of fireworks. Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park’s most beloved geyser, puts on a 1.5- to 5-minute show about every 90 minutes year-round. Spraying water up to 184 feet into the air during each eruption, Old Faithful is sure to deliver a Fourth of July spectacle equal to, if not better than, the holiday’s traditional explosives. In between watching for Yellowstone’s many other geysers to erupt and searching for wildlife like bison and elk in Hayden Valley, consider checking out local Fourth of July festivities taking place just outside the park.

Old Faithful photo Old Faithful is just one of about 500 geysers in Yellowstone National Park where Fourth of July visitors can catch a show erupting.

Drive about 50 miles north from Yellowstone’s West entrance to Big Sky, Montana, for a Fourth of July celebration filled with kids activities — like a home run derby — as well as basketball and disc golf tournaments, foot races and an all-American barbecue. Stick around into the evening for the annual Fourth of July Concert at Town Center Park. The free event is part of Big Sky’s family-friendly Music in the Mountains series, which features known and up-and-coming country musicians every Thursday from June through September. Independence Day concertgoers will be treated to a special fireworks-filled finale.

See the July 4th Celebrations in the Grand Canyon Area

Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff National Monuments, Flagstaff and Page, Arizona

While you cannot shoot off fireworks in the Grand Canyon for the Fourth of July, there’s still more than enough of America to see and celebrate in one of the world’s largest canyons, measuring about 270 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. When you’re not off hiking the Rim Trail or seeking scenic views from must-see stops, like Grandview and Navajo points along Desert View Drive, discover a variety of local July 4th events taking place just outside the park.

Grand Canyon photo While you can catch fireworks in nearby towns like Flagstaff, make sure to spend one evening soaking in a Grand Canyon sunset from Mather Point during your Independence Day escape.

Drive less than 75 miles southeast from the canyon’s South Rim to Flagstaff, Arizona — one of the area’s best places for Fourth of July activities. Throughout the holiday week, the city hosts a Fourth of July parade in its historic downtown, multiple concerts and its annual Art in the Park Fourth of July Show (June 30-July 2) featuring art and crafts from dozens of Southwest artists, live music and a wine garden serving up sips from Arizona wineries. For fireworks in Flagstaff, you’ll see sparks fly at Continental Country Club’s Lights on the Lawn. The event includes food and a beer garden, plus a kids zone with waterslides.

Before heading back to the Grand Canyon, drive less than 10 miles east of downtown Flagstaff on Interstate 40 to check out some more American beauty at the Flagstaff Area National Monuments, which include the red pueblos of Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano and the white cliffs of Walnut Canyon set against Arizona's blue skies.

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