by Kelsy Chauvin, EDGE Media Network

Featured image source: Getty Images

The travel forecast is looking up for 2021, with April showcasing the great outdoors in a big way. Come April 17, National Park Week kicks off events and themes across all 63 glorious U.S. National Parks, from Acadia to the Virgin Islands and Big Bend to Denali.

That's not even counting the 360 other National Monuments, Memorials, Recreation Areas, Preserves, Shores and other historical sites, which total more than 84 million acres of American land and extend into the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Guam.

Celebrating U.S. National Parks is perhaps the best way to summon patriotic spirit while keeping safe social distancing. For LGBTQ travelers, exploring pristine forests, waterfalls, caves, deserts, and peaks is to revel in America's natural wonders and remember why we love this country.

The National Parks Service (NPS) is the country's unique storyteller, and it continues to mark the impact of LGBTQ heritage on American culture.

In 2016, the National Park Foundation published LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History for the NPS. The publication coincided with President Barack Obama's Stonewall National Monument dedication in New York.

While Stonewall's seven acres form the country's sole LGBTQ monument, several NPS sites have ties to the queer community. To celebrate that history and enjoy America's "best idea," here are our top parkland destinations to visit during National Parks Week or any time of year.

Mesa Verde National Park

Magnificent landscapes seem to be everywhere across the Southwest. But Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado is unique as the home of Ancestral Pueblo people who dwelled there since 750 A.D., preceded by even older seasonal occupants who arrived around 9500 B.C.

Those Native Americans are famous for building elaborate cliff dwellings, which today make Mesa Verde the country's largest archaeological preserve.

Legendary author Willa Cather was among the park's first modern-American visitors, dropping by in 1915 with her longtime companion Edith Lewis.

Travel Tip: Cliff dwellings are not currently open, but check the Mesa Verde NPS site for other self-guided explorations across the park's 52,485 acres.

Grand Canyon National Park

Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon may be the best way to contemplate the earth's enormity. Mountain ranges soar high and distant while the canyon plunges more than a mile deep, inviting adventurers to hike down, gaze across, and leave human hang-ups behind. Everyone feels equal at the Grand Canyon, and there is, quite literally, no other place like it.

Travel Tip: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open via the gate at Tusayan, Arizona, though the park's visitor facilities are only partly open.

Visit the NPS's Grand Canyon Plan Your Visit page for the latest.

For LGBTQ-friendly accommodations, check out recommendations from Pride Guide Arizona.

Muir Woods National Monument

As home to the most national parks, California is the ultimate NPS territory.

But for ties to equality and civil rights, pass through Golden Gate National Recreation Area north toward Muir Woods National Monument. Designated in 1908, Muir Woods was protected early on by suffragists and women who are today known to be part of early LGBTQ American history, including Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins and Dr. Pauli Murray,

NPS Tip: "National monuments" can be wilderness areas with varied historical, cultural and/or scientific content. "National parks" are protected for their scenic, educational and recreational value.


Acadia National Park

Maine's breathtaking coastal park spans nearly 50,000 acres, with 60 miles of coastline and 150 miles of hiking trails spread over scenic Atlantic islands and peninsulas. Its century as a National Park has drawn adventurous travelers and scientists, including early American geologist Florence Bascom, the first woman to survey the park's Mount Desert Island and publish her findings back in 1919. Women of Acadia have played other important roles in preserving the park, and many NPS rangers continue their legacy today.

Travel Tip: Driving is allowed through much of Acadia, but consult the latest NPS alerts for seasonal, construction and facility closures.


Keep It Local

State and city parks across America honor LGBTQ people and culture in their own uniquely local ways and offer fresh air with a hint of gay pride. In Brooklyn, Marsha P. Johnson New York State Park honors the brave trans activist with a seven-acre waterfront park along the East River. San Francisco's National AIDS Memorial Grove offers a tranquil space on the east end of Golden Gate Park. The Stonewall National Monument offers a bit of rainbow respite amid the bustling West Village.

Beyond the green spaces are the stories of LGBTQ Americans who influenced the USA's parks systems and national heritage. National Park Week is an opportunity to celebrate another aspect of our country's queer legacy and find inspiration in the same natural wonders as those who came before us.