7 National Parks Near SF to Visit for Free Veterans Day Weekend

Are you longing to visit one of Northern California’s otherworldly National Parks, but feel daunted by intimidating entrance fees? Well, this Veterans Day weekend brings good news.

The National Park Service invites all visitors to remember our veterans by visiting any National Park Service site for free on Veterans Day weekend, November 11th–12th. This includes all the wonderful local National Parks and Monuments near San Francisco, plenty of which are a brisk-and-beautiful joyride away.

We’ve gathered a list of the closest National Parks and Monuments to the San Francisco Bay Area, the shortest drive being under a half hour, and the longest being about 5 hours (depending on traffic, of course). Here are 7 of the nearest parks and monuments to San Francisco to visit for free this Veterans Day weekend, listed by distance:

Related: The SF Must List: What to Do in San Francisco This November

1. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Photo: Bernard Spragg. NZ, Flickr, Creative Commons

Located in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers visitors the sights, sounds, smells, and stories of Pacific Coast maritime history. The Park includes a magnificent fleet of historic ships, a Visitor Center, Maritime Museum, Maritime Research Center, and the Aquatic Park Historic District, all of which will offer free admission in honor of Veterans Day.

2. Muir Woods National Monument

Photo: Prayitno, Flickr, Creative Commons

Enter the redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument to walk among old growth coast redwoods and stroll along the cool Redwood Creek. Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, this primeval forest is both refuge and laboratory, and is a popular destination for San Franciscans given its close proximity and inimitable features.

Related: Views and Victorians: Things to Do in Alamo Square Park 

3. Pinnacles National Park

Photo: Daniel Hartwig, Flickr, Creative Common

23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would is now known as Pinnacles National Park. A diverse landscape unlike any other, travelers may journey through grasslands, chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms. Hikers enter rare talus caves and emerge to towering rock spires teeming with life such as Prairie and Peregrine falcons, Golden eagles, and the highly endangered California condor. Visitors can explore two systems of talus caves, which are formed by massive boulders wedged in ravines and widened by water and erosion. Rocks the size of houses hang overhead head as you make your way through a cool, dark environment that shelters Townsend big-eared bats and red-legged frogs, among others. If you prefer a more sun-soaked experience, hike the 32 miles of trails decorated with California poppies, bush lupine, mariposa lilies, and a variety of other wildflowers. These flowers are pollinated by the park’s 400 species of bees, a higher density of species per area than any other known place in the world. You may also see bobcats, coyotes, black-tailed deer, lizards and snakes, tarantulas, and perhaps even a mountain lion (oh my!).

4. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Photo: Daveynin, Flickr, Creative Commons

Whiskeytown Lake’s beautiful crystal-clear lake, surrounded by mountain peaks, is the most prominent feature of the park.  However, water-based recreation is merely one aspect among the parks many features. The 39,000 acres surrounding the lake hold four waterfalls, pristine mountain creeks, 70 miles of trails, and opportunities to explore the history of the California Gold Rush. Whiskeytown Lake is not brimming with Maker’s Mark, however.

Related: The 7 Best Fully-Fenced Dog Parks in San Francisco 

5. Yosemite National Park

Photo: Anna Irene, Flickr, Creative Commons

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is one the the most important natural sights in the United State. It is best known for its waterfalls, but within its approximate 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and beyond. Millions of people visit Yosemite each year to experience its miles of mountainous scenery, including high cliffs, deep valleys, tall waterfalls, ancient giant sequoias, and a large wilderness. Whether you want to chill by the water or endure rigorous climb, Yosemite will satisfy your nature needs. 

6. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Photo: Sodai Goma, Flickr, Creative Commons

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes. It may sound like Hades, but it is so scenic that you’ll feel like you’re on Mount Olympus. Jagged peaks illustrate the park’s eruptive past while hot water continues to shape the land. Lassen Volcanic Park will scratch your itch for adventure with its remarkable hydrothermal features like thumping mud pots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. Make sure to read all signs carefully and stay on trail to ensure a safe journey.

Related: 7 Campsites Near San Francisco 

7. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Photo: Paul Balfe, Flickr, Creative Commons

Kill two birds with one stone by checking out the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, a Land of Giants. These two parks lie side-by-side in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley. This dramatic landscape is colored by tableaus of rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees. Explore Sequoia Groves to stand in awe of the giant sequoia trees or the mountain landscapes along the Generals Highway and the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. If you want to make a workout out of your excursion, then climb Moro Rock to enjoy views of the hills below and the wilderness to the east.

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