For the third weekend this summer, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS)  is waiving the entrance fees to all of its parks, monuments, recreation areas, and other unique places. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to flee the house – and hoping to take advantage of the summer weather – consider visiting one of America’s amazing coastlines, where popular activities include swimming, beachcombing, hiking, and picnicking.
Along the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll find a wealth of preserved seashores, including Cape Cod  in Massachusetts, Fire Island  in New York, Assateague Island  beside Maryland and Virginia, Cape Hatteras  and Cape Lookout  in North Carolina, Cumberland Island  in Georgia, and Canaveral  in Florida. If you enjoy frolicking in warmer waters, head to the Gulf of Mexico, which nurtures two national seashores: Padre Island  beside Texas and Gulf Islands  near Florida and Mississippi. Of course, those that live closer to the Pacific Ocean have an option, too: California’s Point Reyes National Seashore , where visitors can hike or have a picnic along the beach, tour the historic lighthouse, explore the backcountry via horse or mountain bike, or watch migrating birds and gray whales.
Some travelers might be surprised to learn that the Midwest also offers its shared of protected coastlines, including Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore  in Lake Superior and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore  along Lake Michigan. Of course, my favorite national lakeshores lie beside Michigan’s lengthy coastline: Sleeping Bear Dunes  (231/326-5134) along Lake Michigan and Pictured Rocks  (906/387-3700) along Lake Superior.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Earlier this week, I paid a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which encompasses 35 miles of windswept coastline, several inland lakes, two offshore islands (North and South Manitou), and the largest freshwater dunes in the world. While there, I toured the Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Museum in Glen Haven, rode along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (a seven-mile route that presents several observation points and picnic areas), and, naturally, tested my stamina on the strenuous Dune Climb, the top of which provides a lovely view of Glen Lake. Although I enjoyed visiting the park on a warm summer’s day, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is truly a year-round destination, ideal for hiking, bicycling, kayaking, and camping in the warmer months or cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter. Even scuba divers will appreciate the park’s proximity to the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve , which protects several shipwrecks and dock ruins.
With its pristine beaches, multi-colored cliffs, enormous dunes, wooded trails, lovely waterfalls, and historic sites, Pictured Rocks is an equally wondrous destination. My husband and I once spent an incredibly peaceful afternoon there, hiking to Miners Falls, searching for Petoskey stones below Miners Castle, and dipping our bare feet into the bone-numbing waters of Lake Superior. As with Sleeping Bear Dunes, visitors to Pictured Rocks can enjoy a myriad of activities, from hunting, fishing, and backcountry camping to touring photo-worthy sites like the Grand Sable Dunes and Au Sable Light Station. Kayakers, boating enthusiasts, and cross-country skiers are also welcome in the park, and scuba divers will relish Pictured Rocks’ proximity to the Alger Underwater Preserve , which offers access to intact shipwrecks, sea caves, and underwater interpretive trails.
If you do decide to take advantage of this final free-admission weekend, have fun, be safe, and tread lightly in America’s national parks, seashores, lakeshores, and other precious places, so that future generations can enjoy them, too.