yellowstone national park service birthday united states wilderness protection preservation

Yellowstone, the first national park in the U.S., was created about 44 years before the National Park Service was founded.     Photo: Bertl123/Thinkstock

Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

Visit any national park for free today

Today the National Park Service celebrates its 98th birthday by generously offering visitors free access to the parks it protects.

Historian Wallace Stegner might have put it best when he said that "national parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." From the time Congress created the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916 until today, the organization has grown to oversee 401 parks across the United States.

Every Founders' Day, park visitors get a birthday gift: waived fees to all 401 of those beautiful and wild places (although the good old NPS points out that only 133 of those parks usually charge an entrance fee to begin with). NPS also offers a handy map to help you locate the parks closest to you or that offer certain activities, from fishing to horseback riding. 

We can't wait to see how NPS tops this gesture on its 100th birthday in 2016. Until then, we're booking it to the nearest park for some celebratory explorations (and referencing this to possibly avoid the birthday crowds).