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10 Best Natural, Cultural, & Historical National Park Events

Becky Hart | May 1, 2024

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United States National Parks truly are natural treasures. And while they’re best known for their epic vistas, imposing mountains, soul-cleansing forests, and all things of natural beauty, they also offer so much more.

The next time you’re planning a trip to the national parks, time your adventure with one of these events and dive deep into American nature, culture, and history.

Nature Events at National Parks

1. Great Basin Astronomy Festival

For 15 years, Great Basin National Park has hosted its Astronomy Festival and for good reason. Free from light and other pollution, the park has some of the clearest night skies you’ll find in the United States. It’s even been recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as an International Dark Sky Park.

The Great Basin Astronomy Festival takes place in early September, just after the new moon. Make your way to the Astronomy Amphitheater for telescope viewing and star parties, but don’t miss the Great Basin Observatory Tour, the kid-friendly Artist-in-Resident Art in the Dark program, photography workshops, and so much more.

The festival is popular, so although the events are free, you’ll still need to make reservations for camping, tours, and other activities.

2. Yosemite Firefall

You can’t go to Yosemite without gazing upon El Capitan, a sheer rock wall known for its beauty and challenge to adrenaline-seeking climbers. You might also see Horestail Fall, a tall but otherwise modest waterfall.

Visit the park in February and, if all the conditions are right, that modest waterfall turns into a flame-like natural phenomenon known as the Firefall at Yosemite National Park. As the sun hits the stream of water at just the right angle, it appears as though a lava flow is cascading dramatically down the rock face.

The best time to see the Yosemite Firefall is in late February, a few minutes before sunset. Because it is one of the most popular and awe-inspiring Yosemite National Park events, don’t wait to get there. Give yourself several hours before the main event so you can get a good viewing spot and not get stuck in the crowds.

3. Cave Week

The first week in June is Cave Week in the U.S. National Parks. Canadian national parks and NASA also get in on the action so you can explore the geology and history of these underground wonders.

Lest you think caves are all about rocks and subterranean rivers, remember that they’re also home to all kinds of animals, including bats.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is world-famous for its bats, so if the lava tubes of Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and ice caves of Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska don’t strike your fancy, make your way to Carlsbad Caverns to spend Cave Week with the bats.

Cultural Events at National Parks

1. Native America Speaks

U.S. park lands have been a part of our cultural landscape long before being established as National Parks. You can experience more of this cultural history at the Native America Speaks program at Glacier National Park.

Throughout the summer, beginning in mid-June, members of the Blackfeet Nation and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes share their history through singing, storytelling, and artifacts.

The program has been running for more than 40 years. Events are free, but if you visit the Museum of the Plains Indian, there is a small admission fee in the summer.

2. North Canoe Voyage

One of the lesser-known parks in the U.S. is Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, near the Canadian border. With its location, you might’ve guessed that the area’s history is closely connected to Indigenous traditions and French-Canadian explorers.

That’s where the North Canoe Voyage comes in. Every Saturday in the summer, you can join a ranger-led interpretive program where you paddle a 26-foot replica of a North Canoe. Along the way, you’ll learn about the life and adventures of the voyageurs, French travelers who explored the region’s waterways as part of the fur trade more than two centuries ago.

Voyageurs National Park can also be a great spot to catch the Northern Lights.

3. Arts in the Park

Many U.S. national parks have artist-in-residence programs, and Arches National Park is no exception. Each year in the warmer months – July in 2023 but April and May in 2024 – the park’s community artist leads a series of workshops and demonstrations so you can be part of combining the beauty of Mother Nature with your own creativity.

The 2024 Community Artist at Arches, Annie Dalton, creates native plant-inspired works. You can join her on flower hunts to make your own masterpiece.

4. Maple Sugar Time

Everyone knows that nothing beats a bottle of pure Vermont maple syrup. Two of the best maple sugaring events at national parks happen a little farther west, though.

In March, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in Michigan and Indiana Dunes National Park host festivals dedicated to tapping maple trees and collecting the ingredients for that sweet pancake topping.

At Sleeping Bear Dunes, Maple Sugaring Days include tours of historic farms where making maple syrup and maple sugar candy is a way of life. There are plenty of activities for visitors of all ages, not to mention maple syrup sampling.

At Indiana Dunes, you’ll visit historic Chellberg Farm to learn about the different methods of maple sugaring, going from early American Indian tradition through pioneer methods and into modern syrup production.

Historical Events at National Parks

1. Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site 50th Anniversary

The Tuskegee Institute was founded in 1881 as a school for African Americans in Alabama. Original legislation only provided funds for teachers, not buildings or equipment, so Booker T. Washington led the initiative to purchase land. Students built the institute themselves, literally laying the bricks to pursue education.

The educational legacy continues into the present day — now called Tuskegee University, the school is still in operation. As a historic site, you can visit to learn about the impact of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and other Black leaders on American history.

The Tuskegee Institute celebrates its 50th anniversary as a National Historic Site in 2024.

2. Women's Rights Convention Days

Every July, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park hosts three days of events to commemorate the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

The 1848 Women’s Rights Convention marked the official beginnings of women’s suffrage. It’s where Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and others signed the Declaration of Sentiments, saying that “all men and women are created equal.” It wasn’t just about voting, though. It was a call for equality in the social and economic spheres as well.

Go to Convention Days for living history presentations, and visit the museum for an in-depth look at the women’s rights movement from the days of Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the present.

3. Grand Illumination at Shiloh

As the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, Shiloh National Military Park is considered one of the best-preserved battlefields in the U.S.

If you time your trip for early April, you can join the park’s anniversary events. Free living history demonstrations, including artillery and infantry demonstrations, as well as re-created Union Army camps make for an impactful visit.

The Grand Illumination is one of the anniversary’s highlights. Park officials light 23,743 luminaries on the battlefield — one for every casualty during the two-day battle.

Protecting Event Travel

Whether traveling for a two-day event or a week-long festival, remember to protect your trip with travel insurance. Get a quick quote online by answering a few simple questions and we’ll recommend the best travel insurance for you. You can also chat with one of our licensed agents.

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