Stow Cash, National Park It Up

The first free National Parks days of the year are just ahead.

FIRST 2012 FEE FREE: While those national parks that charge entry fees -- not all of our country's parks do, as you likely know, but some of the biggies like Yosemite charge a get-in fee -- observe a handful of entrance fee-free days throughout the year, the first weekend is always the one we like best. After all, it falls in winter, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., meaning that the parks are usually a bit quieter, a bit colder, a bit more full of snow. Except this year. The warm temps and sunny, dry days that have taken hold of our early January have extended to California's parks for the most part; Tioga Pass in Yosemite has been open, which is highly unusual, and the park went ahead and opened its stables for riders, too, another unusual move. So, in short? Winter may seem a bit summerish over the free National Park days, which are just ahead on Saturday, Jan. 14, Sunday, Jan. 15, and Sunday, Jan. 16.

DEALS AND PERKS: While, for many, it is enough simply to get inside a park and hike or picnic, some desire more to-dos. With that in mind, various concessionaires have deals going during the holiday weekend. See what's going on at your favorite park and get enjoying. Thanks for saving us money but not wonder, National Park System.

PARKS TO THINK ABOUT: Lassen Volcanic National Park, Pinnacles National Monument, and Lava Beds National Monument are three more to think about; kudos to Visit California for the recs.

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