These celebrations offer fun ways to get out and enjoy the season in a national park.
Note: Park staff and partners charge modest fees to attend some of these events, though many are free.
1. Fire Island National Seashore, New York
In 1929, a floatplane pilot named William Wincapaw was so grateful to the lighthouse keepers and Coast Guard staff who made his journeys in the Northeast safe during treacherous weather, he began bringing simple presents like magazines and coffee to their remote outposts each December. This brightened their holidays and earned him a reputation as the “Flying Santa” — a tradition later carried on by his son and family friends. Fire Island National Seashore now hosts an annual re-enactment of Wincapaw’s acts of generosity, and 2019 marks the park’s 17th year of this tradition. Visit at 11:30 a.m. on December 14 to see Santa appear atop the seashore’s historic lighthouse.
2. Tumacácori National Historical Park, Arizona
For more than 40 years, this historical park has held its Fiesta de Tumacácori during the first full weekend in December to celebrate the cultures of Arizona’s Santa Cruz Valley where the park is located. Visitors can enjoy food, crafts, music and a range of holiday-themed events, including a procession to the park’s historic church where visitors can participate in a multicultural Mass. As part of a second holiday tradition on Christmas Eve, volunteers light luminarias throughout the park at sunset, giving the historic ruins a festive glow.
3. Kings Canyon National Park, California
At more than 267 feet tall and nearly 29 feet wide, the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon is one of the most massive living organisms on the planet. In 1924, a local man named Charles E. Lee was visiting the giant sequoia when he overheard a young girl remark that it would make a lovely Christmas tree. Lee was so inspired, he organized a holiday program the following year and convinced President Calvin Coolidge to formally designate General Grant as the nation’s Christmas tree in 1926. The chamber of commerce in nearby Sanger, California, continues to host an annual “Trek to the Tree,” now in its 94th year. Attend this year’s event at 2:30 p.m. on December 8 for singing and a wreath-laying ceremony at the tree.
4. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Washington
Ring in the Year of the Rat on January 25 with a special Chinese Lunar New Year exhibit at this innovative community-based museum. A traditional lion dance will kick off the event, and the museum will host a variety of activities throughout the day. Kids can also participate in a special coloring contest that will run until the end of March. The museum is an affiliated area of the National Park Service as well as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
5. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
If you prefer your winter festivities with a healthy dose of sunshine, trade the ice and snow covering much of the country for some Polynesian culture during this Makahiki season, the time of the Hawaiian New Year. On December 14, the Kahuku Unit of this popular park will host a family-friendly holiday event featuring a variety of performances, including traditional Hawaiian music, as well as crafts, decorations, toys and food for sale with proceeds benefiting park projects and educational programs. On December 17, the park will also host a holiday concert at the Kīlauea Visitor Center Auditorium featuring acclaimed Hawaiian musicians.
6. Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Iowa
Each year, the town of West Branch, Iowa, hosts an old-fashioned holiday celebration in honor of its most famous former resident, President Herbert Hoover. The event, which takes place on December 6 and 7 this year, includes a class where participants can paint their own ceramic Christmas trees, live music from a local choir, and horse-drawn wagon rides through the historic site and the town. Check out the special holiday-oriented exhibits at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, which offers free admission during the event.
7. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, Georgia
This newly expanded historical park features includes important Native American earthworks such as ceremonial mounds and burial mounds that were built thousands of years ago. It’s too late to attend this year’s Indian Celebration, which takes place each September, but visitors can enjoy a different kind of park experience on December 7, when rangers host a Holiday Lantern Light Tour to the top of the Great Temple Mound.
8. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming
Yellowstone’s geysers and thermal springs create magical winter scenery that is snowy … and steamy. Most of the park roads are closed to cars in winter, making way for travel by skis and snowcoaches in the less-crowded off-season. Visitors can go ice skating at the Mammoth Hot Springs outdoor rink, enjoy a ranger-led tour on snowshoes, or attend an educational program to learn more about the park’s remarkable wildlife and geology. Private concessioners also offer special packages for guided winter tours, including cross-country skiing and wildlife-watching trips, all in one of the country’s most spectacular settings.
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