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Visitors walk along a tail at Joshua Tree National Park. The park will offer free admission on Saturday, April 20, 2024.  (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Visitors walk along a tail at Joshua Tree National Park. The park will offer free admission on Saturday, April 20, 2024. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Marla Jo Fisher
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Do you like the Great Outdoors?

For the kickoff of the annual National Park Week, which for 2024 will be held April 20-28, the to its parks and monuments on Saturday, April 20.

This can save you $50 or even more, but here’s what you need to know, from someone who’s taken advantage of it in the past.

Show up at dawn. Seriously. I know, I know. Don’t hurt me. But then you get there before the thundering hordes arrive. As you might guess, free passes are a huge draw.

You don’t need to sign up or register. Just show up and go.

Tourists stop to gaze at the spectacular Yosemite Valley from the national park's Tunnel View lookout. Yosemite National Park will offer free admission on Saturday, April 20. (Photo by Getty Images)
Tourists stop to gaze at the spectacular Yosemite Valley from the national park’s Tunnel View lookout. Yosemite National Park will offer free admission on Saturday, April 20. (Photo by Getty Images)

Here are the nine national parks in California: Channel Islands (the boat ride won’t be free), Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Lassen, Pinnacles, Redwood, Sequoia, Yosemite. You can also drive to Zion National Park in Utah — one of my faves — in about eight hours.

Personally, I suggest Joshua Tree National Park, which is my favorite local place. I even bought a place there. Here’s how I do it:

Get on the road before dawn with snacks, sandwiches, water, a swimsuit and a towel. Watch the pink sun rise over Mt. San Jacinto, which is a truly beautiful sight. At this hour, there won’t be any traffic, so you should make it to the west park entrance in 90 minutes or so, depending obviously on where you start.

Head directly to the Wonderland of Rocks area from the town of Joshua Tree where there are several interesting trails. That’s my favorite part of the park. Alternately, you could keep driving to 29 Palms, and visit the park headquarters where there’s also a trail. We typically hike around until the crowds arrive around 11 a.m. Then we leave, stopping in town for early lunch, and head to Desert Hot Springs and buy a cheap day pass for the pools at the Desert Hot Springs Hotel & Spa. Yeah, it’s very ’70s and less than fancy. But the hot water feels great. You can also get a massage if you’ve booked it in advance.

Then, head home refreshed and with your head screwed on straight.

If you’ve never been to Yosemite, what the heck? Maybe April 20 is your day. Just be aware that there will still be snow up there, so dress warmly and check for road closures.

Note that there will be special national park events all week long, so take a look online to see what’s available. And enjoy!

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