The National Park Service turns 100 on Thursday marking a century since Woodrow Wilson signed into law the act creating the agency. Celebrations begin with free entry Thursday through Sunday at the 124 parks that charge fees.
In addition, parks, historic sites, seashores and other public lands are planning celebrations too on what's also called Founders Day.
In Washington, D.C., more than a thousand people are expected to show up at the Washington Monument on Thursday morning to form a Centennial Living Arrowhead, the symbol of national parks, using brown, green and white umbrellas.
The desert park east of L.A. is hosting a free reception with cake and refreshments from 1 to 2 p.m. at the visitor center. You can also check out "Historic Photography in Death Valley," an exhibition that includes photographers Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Frederick I. Monsen, and George A. Granton. It's on through the end of the year.
The valley of Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls became a national park in 1890, though Abraham Lincoln had set the land aside in 1864 before the National Park Service's creation.
On Thursday, the park will host a hike to the top of Lembert Dome, a high point at about 9,000 feet; a program on Stephen T. Mather, the agency's first director; horse-drawn stage-coach rides; and tours of frontier artifacts at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Other events continue year-round; check out events this weekend and beyond; (209) 372-0200.
Yellowstone, which includes parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, was the first to be created and placed under the supervision of the Department of Interior in 1872.
The park [(307) 344-7381] plans An Evening at the Arch concert at 7 p.m. Thursday. Performers Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Teddy Roosevelt re-enactor, Joe Wiegand and others will take the stage at the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Mont. (Free tickets were given out lottery-style in July; 6,000 are expected to attend.) You can watch a live broadcast by registering at livestream.com.
The South Rim of the Arizona park on Thursday will host a naturalization ceremony for new citizens and hand out birthday cake at 1:30 p.m. at Centennial Central at the train depot.
To appreciate California's most famous trees, this park (really series of parks) in Northern California will host a Centennial Tour of the Tall Trees Grove. It's hard to get to this little-known spot of redwoods and ferns (you drive six miles down a gravel logging road).
Visitors also can take nature walks Thursday and Friday to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a mile north of Orick, Calif.
This wide-ranging parkland in San Francisco includes the Presidio and other former forts, Alcatraz Island and points in between.
The celebration is from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Main Parade ground at the Presidio [(415) 561-4700] where you can sing Happy Birthday to the parks, grab a free cup of hot chocolate and experience a storytelling session around the campfire.