Image: Canyon de Chelly
Paul Foy  /  AP file
The majestic Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, is replete with thousands of ruins, carvings and paintings on stone.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/21/2009 10:11:13 AM ET 2009-04-21T14:11:13

Uncle Sam wants you — to get off your duff, go outside and take advantage of National Park Week. And with some sort of park, monument or historic site in 49 of the 50 states (sorry, Delaware), it’s not that hard to do.

Although the program (April 18–26) is already underway, hundreds of events and activities are yet to come in the days ahead. Some are pegged to National Junior Ranger Day (April 25); others are geared more toward hikers, history buffs and animal lovers. Almost all are free of charge.

For a list of National Park Week activities near you, visit their Web site. In the meantime, consider the following 12 sites, which may not be the nation’s most celebrated destinations yet offer coast-to-coast proof of the beauty, history and diversity of America’s national park system:

Cape Cod National Seashore: From undersea telegraph cables to early radio transmissions, communications technology has deep roots on Cape Cod. During “Kids’ Signal Jam: Talking and Texting with Wires and Without” (April 25), sites throughout the complex will highlight activities ranging from Morse Code to space communications.

Weir Farm National Historic Site: Formerly home to three generations of American artists, this 60-acre farm in southwestern Connecticut will launch two new programs this weekend. The Art Ranger Letterboxing Program invites children to use guided clues to locate stamps in hidden locations, while the Art Ranger Pond Pack encourages them to hike the grounds and sketch what they see.

St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site: This former church just north of the Bronx now houses a museum and historic belltower. On April 24, visitors can ascend the tower stairs to view a 250-year-old bell that was cast in the same foundry as the Liberty Bell and barely escaped being melted down to make cannons during the Revolutionary War.

Morristown National Historical Park: Home to George Washington’s headquarters and a Colonial Army camp in the winter of 1779–1780, this park in northern New Jersey will host “A Revolutionary Weekend” April 24–26. Among the highlights: Revolutionary War reenactments at Jockey Hollow (April 25 and 26) and special exhibits and performances at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum.

Prince William Forest Park: This thickly wooded park south of Washington, D.C., goes to the dogs during Paws in the Park on April 25. Head to the Pine Grove picnic area for working dog demonstrations, agility and obedience workshops and a visit by McGruff, the Crime Prevention spokesmutt. A one-time-only off-leash area will also be available.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Stretching between Akron and Cleveland, the forests and farmlands of this park offer a scenic refuge of surprising diversity. During National Park Week, visitors can participate in an interactive farm program (April 24), enjoy an evening jazz concert (April 25) and join a guided hike along the Wetmore Bridal Trail (April 26).

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site: Pinckney was one of the principal authors of the U.S. Constitution, and his plantation outside Charleston stands as a time capsule of southern Colonial culture. During Colonial Days (April 24–25), visitors can relive those times through historical reenactments, craft demonstrations and displays of African-American heritage.

Biscayne National Park: Normally $35 per person, ranger-guided boat trips to the historic Florida lighthouse on Boca Chita Key are $20 through April 24. On April 25, a sunset cruise ($25) to the lighthouse will feature a historical talk by longtime local resident Beverly Yelen. (Space is limited; reservations are recommended.)

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Natchez Trace Parkway: While the Parkway itself runs nearly 450 miles, National Park Week festivities will be centered at the Parkway Visitor Center near Tupelo, Miss., during the first annual Wildlife Weekend (April 25–26). Activities include a Junior Ranger scavenger hunt, reptile and amphibian presentations and guided hikes along the Beech Springs Nature Trail.

Petroglyph National Monument: This monument on the outskirts of Albuquerque celebrates National Junior Ranger Day with a passel of kid-friendly activities. Highlights include a guided hike to the petroglyphs in Boca Negra Canyon, live wolf presentations, shell-necklace stringing and traditional Pueblan children’s games.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument: Start your visit at the reconstructed hogan outside the Visitor Center, where park staffers will offer an informal Q&A session and fresh cowboy coffee each morning. Follow that up with a four-hour, Ranger-led hike (April 25–26 only) from the rim to the canyon floor. (Space is limited; sign up at the Visitor Center.)

Manzanar National Historic Site: On April 25, visitors to the World War II internment site can participate in the 40th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, which will feature an interfaith memorial service, Ondo dancing and Taiko drumming. Go the day before and you can also catch a 45-minute preview screening of Ken Burns’ upcoming PBS film, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Who knows, perhaps it will pique your interest in pursuing your own National Park week this summer.

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.

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