NPS-logoThe U.S. National Park Service isn’t quite a centenarian, but the old gal is looking pretty chipper with those 99 candles on her birthday cake this year.

There were national parks before Aug. 25, 1916 — Yellowstone had already been around for more than 40 years at that point — but Congress’ establishment of a parks agency brought administration of federal parks under one roof within the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Nearly a century later, the Park Service’s roster of national parks has grown from 8 to 59, and the agency oversees more than 420 parks, national monuments, national historic sites, and other units. The original mission — “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” — continues unabated.

Birthday visitors to the national parks will enjoy free admission today; here are some great ways to spend your day at one of America’s national treasures:

  1. Take an early morning hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain to greet the new day with sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean (Acadia National Park).
  2. Try your hand at bouldering or rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park, which has climbing opportunities suited for nearly any ability level.
  3. Stand in awe of the majestic Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point; snowshoe here in winter from Badger Pass Ski Area and you’ll have this popular Yosemite National Park tourist spot to yourself.
  4. Soothe yourself in the hot-spring waters of the Boiling River — one of the few places you’re allowed to swim in Yellowstone National Park.
  5. Wade into the Virgin River as you plunge down the Narrows canyon at Zion National Park.
  6. Drive your four-wheeler to Nauset Outer Beach for surfing and sunning far from the Cape Cod summer crowds (Cape Cod National Seashore).
  7. See grizzlies, wolves, and caribou from the safety of a tour bus or out on the open tundra at Denali National Park.
  8. Ride the rails on a scenic tour of Cuyahoga National Park, then bike back along the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath.
  9. Hug a tree at Sequoia National Park — the towering Sequoiadendron giganteum here are up to 3,500 years old, making the Park Service seem like a mere toddler.