Explore Go Lists

Catch the Holly Jolly Spirit

The holidays are a magical time. America’s public lands offer Tranquil Winter Escapes—perhaps you can gather your own holiday mistletoe or cut your own Christmas tree. Enjoy this merry mosaic of holiday festivities that celebrate the history and variety of the cultural traditions of America.

National Wildlife Refuges throughout the country offer a variety of holly, jolly experiences.

Try one of these very merry ideas on our list or—wherever you live—you can probably find holiday traditions, activities and events on federal public lands near you.

Search by state: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming


Tumacácori National Historical Park and Hubbell Trading Post
Tumacacori National Historical Park

The Tumacácori National Historical Park hosts “La Fiesta de Tumacácori” every year during the first full weekend of December in recognition and celebration of the many cultures associated with the site. The fiesta features around 50 food and craft booths, continuous live entertainment and children's activities each day. Check the park's calendar for park demonstrations on December weekends where artisans demonstrate traditions like tortilla and paper flower making, O'odham basket weaving or leather and iron working. Experience Tumacácori at night during the park’s Full Moon Nights and Starry Saturdays and read more in our Spotlight article.

In Ganado, on the opposite (northeast) corner of the state, the Friends of Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site celebrate this meeting ground of two cultures during the annual Luminaria Night. The park will place more than 700 luminarias on the grounds for this special event.


Blanchard Springs Caverns, Ozark National Forest
Blanchard Springs Caverns

The Caroling in the Caverns program at Blanchard Springs is one of the most surreal—yet unique and memorable—ways to ring in the holiday cheer. The acoustics of the semi-dark, underground caverns lend to the incredible vocals and music of area folk musicians. You can also book a cave tour throughout the year.


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
General Grant Tree

In 1925, Charles E. Lee of Sanger, California, started a holiday tradition that continues every December—a Christmas program set beneath "the other national Christmas tree" known as the General Grant Tree. Mr. Lee, then secretary of the Sanger Chamber of Commerce, and Mr. R.J. Senior, president of the Chamber, conceived the idea of an annual ceremony. Mr. Lee wrote to President Calvin Coolidge, who designated the General Grant Tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as the Nation's Christmas Tree on April 28, 1926. The Sanger Chamber of Commerce continues to sponsor the annual Christmas "Trek to the Tree" on the second Sunday of December.


Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

Witness the joys, pleasures and pastimes of the 1840s when you visit this isolated trading post for the annual holiday celebration. The spirit of the old west comes alive during the holiday season with wagon rides, games, toy making and other festivities set right in the midst of Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site—an adobe fur trading post on the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail. The event features candlelight tours of the fort. Check the park’s schedule of events for more information and reservation details.

District of Columbia

National Christmas Tree at the White House and Capitol Christmas Tree
National Christmas Tree TV Event

Want to participate in the magical sights and sounds around our nation’s capital? Join the live webcast of the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at thenationaltree.org. Even if you did not win one of the highly-prized tickets to the event, you can see the National Christmas Tree and visit Santa’s Workshop located at the Ellipse between the National Mall and the White House.

The 2015 tree just arrived! See the other famous Christmas tree at the U.S. Capitol building trimmed and decorated after its trip across the country. Read more about the Capitol Christmas Tree festivities.


De Soto National Memorial
De Soto National Memorial

De Soto National Memorial’s Winter Luminary is a unique and traditional experience. For one night each holiday season, the park lights its trails with thousands of luminaries. Enjoy the night out and listen to classical and traditional music provided by local artists including Native American flute, orchestra and violin. Beginning December 5th you will also encounter Camp Uzita, the living history camp open December through April where rangers and volunteers dressed in period clothing present talks on a variety of historical topics related to the De Soto Expedition and Florida's Native Americans. Visit the park’s schedule of events or Facebook for details.


Fort Scott National Historic Site
Fort Scott's Historic Events

During the candlelight tour, hundreds of candle lanterns illuminate this historical site and over 100 re-enactors bring the 19th century Fort Scott to life. Re-enactors interpret some of the most important events in our nation's history featuring 1865.


Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Check out "Holiday of a Lifetime" at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Join park staff and gaze upon the visitor center Christmas tree trimmed in national park decorations. Make an ornament of your dream national park to hang upon your tree. Check the park’s schedule of events.


Wappapello Lake
Wappapello Lake

What could be more American than 250,000 brilliant Christmas lights? Redman Creek Recreation Area Campground at Wappapello Lake hosts the annual “Festival of Lights Auto Tour.” You can help decorate the campsites or just drive through and enjoy the festive decorations. Check the Wappapello Lake Events page for more details


Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Christmas ball ornament depicting Grant Kohrs Ranch

At Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site you can join cowboys and cattlemen for a Holiday Open House. Celebrate the season with music, children's activities, wagon rides and refreshments. Visit the Kohrs home decorated in Victorian style throughout the month.


Scotts Bluff National Monument and Homestead National Monument of America
Scotts Bluff National Monument

Visit Scotts Bluff National Monument and enjoy an old-fashioned Christmas on the Prairie. Rangers dressed in period clothing will teach you how to make old-fashioned ornaments. There will also be live music and refreshments. The park's Holiday Lights event allows you to ride up the road to the top of Scotts Bluff after regular hours to view lights in the communities of Scottsbluff and Gering.

In Beatrice at the Homestead National Monument of America, celebrate winter traditions of people who lived on the Great Plains during the homesteading era with events like the "Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures." Textile artists inspired by their favorite national park site will have their quilt work on display throughout December in celebration of the National Park Service’s Centennial celebration in 2016. Check the park’s schedule of events for more details.

New Jersey

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Millbrook Village

Listed on the National Register, the holiday-decorated 1790 historic Foster Armstrong House within Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is open for an extended offering of its Old Fashioned Holiday Weekends. The decorated house is located at 320 River Road/County Road 521 in Montague, New Jersey - north of the Milford Bridge. About 22 miles (35.4 km) downriver at Millbrook Village, buildings, decorated in mid to late 19th century style, will be open for tours and demonstrations. Watch holiday meals being prepared over an open fire or woodstove. Children’s activities include hands-on period toys, games, and Victorian crafts. Check the Montague Association for the Restoration of Community History (M.A.R.C.H) calendar of events for more information.

New York

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Shopping is an American tradition, and if you’ve come to New York City for holiday shopping, then what better way to celebrate than by learning about the history of shopping? At Lower East Side Tenement Museum the Shop Life exhibit explores how generations of immigrant entrepreneurs—German saloon keepers, a kosher butcher, a Depression-era auctioneer—brought their dreams for economic success to 97 Orchard Street's basement storefronts.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

Enjoy Christmas with the Roosevelts at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. On Saturday, December 5, 2015 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the park will host Christmas with the Roosevelts at Sagamore Hill. Activities include holiday music, caroling, and a special appearance by "Theodore Roosevelt," as portrayed by James Foote. "Mr. Roosevelt" will share his reminiscences of how the Roosevelts celebrated Christmas at Sagamore Hill and in the White House. Children of all ages will enjoy holiday arts and crafts activities. Complimentary hot cocoa and cider will be provided by the Friends of Sagamore Hill. Check the park's schedule of events. You can now book advanced reservations to tour Theordore Roosevelt's home throughout the year.

Saint Paul's Church National Historic Site
Saint Paul's Church Holiday Music

What American tradition do we hold more dear than our Bill of Rights? In 1733, Saint Paul's Church played a role in raising issues about our freedoms of religion and of the press. Do not miss a special program marking the 224th anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights on December 15th. During the holiday season, the church also presents several holiday music programs. Attend a presentation about the historical development of the Christmas holiday in America, listen to a holiday organ concert or participate in a family friendly holiday program. Join a guided tour, participate in a living history program, go on a cemetery tour or just enjoy a quiet walk on the grounds.

North Carolina

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site decorates the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s home in simple Sandburg style with poinsettias and a traditionally decorated Christmas tree for the entire month of December through January 6. Revel in the free and festive Christmas at Connemara event with local musicians and storytellers. Holiday craft making will be offered in the bookstore. This celebration honors Carl Sandburg and his family holiday tradition of music. For a small fee you can tour the Sandburg Home.Throughout 2015, the furnishings inside the Sandburg Home is packed and stored so interior preservation work can take place in the coming year.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains Back Porch Old Time Music

At Great Smoky Mountains National Park join the “Holiday Homecoming,” an old-fashioned Christmas celebration with traditional music at the Oconoluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina. Across the state line at the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, celebrate the Festival of Christmas Past with old-time music, harp singing, storytelling and reminiscing, craft demonstrations such as weaving, spinning, quilting, basket making, historic toys and games and children's activities. Check the park's special events web page for details.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park for a real Christmas adventure! The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad offers several holiday themed railroad trips including a trip to the Village of Peninsula to choose your own Christmas tree, Mr. Jingeling's Holiday Express, and the Polar Express. Download a complete Winter Schedule from the park website. Read our Spotlight article on Cuyahoga Valley National Park.


Heceta Head Lighthouse and Lightkeeper’s Home, Siuslaw National Forest
Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse may arguably be the most photographed spot along the Oregon coast. The nearby lightkeeper’s home is managed as a bed and breakfast through an arrangement with the Siuslaw National Forest, and during the annual Victorian Christmas Open House, the light station is open to the public from 4:00-7:00 pm. Walk through the beautifully decorated Keeper’s House, listen to musicians perform holiday favorites and pick up a warm drink and goodies from local sponsors. Wait for Santa Claus to make a special appearance. Read more about this area in our Spotlight article.


See also Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in New Jersey.

Rhode Island

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
Touro Synagogue

Touro Synagogue, dedicated in 1763, is the oldest synagogue and most historically significant Jewish building in the United States. The congregation was founded in 1658 by the descendants of Jewish families who fled the Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal and who themselves left the Caribbean seeking the greater religious tolerance that Rhode Island offered. Check on the synagogue's calendar of events for tours and programs in December. The city of Newport has a month long community wide Christmas in Newport celebration. The synagogue offers tours from November through April every Sunday throughout the winter and early spring and additional times the rest of the year.


Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

Join Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park for a Christmas Open House at the Cravens House on Lookout Mountain and see the home decorated in a manner very similar to the Civil War era. Tours begin every 30 minutes and reservations are required due to spacing limitations. Learn how the Cravens family spent Christmas away from their home on Lookout Mountain and find out about some of the experiences that Union and Confederate soldiers and their families experienced after the Battles for Chattanooga.

See also the North Carolina listing for Great Smoky Mountains National Park


San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park presents the Hispanic folk play Los Pastores (The Shepherds) at Mission San Jose. Presented at the mission since 1947, the play depicts the pastores (shepherds') journey to honor the Christ Child and the obstacles the devil puts before them. Check the park’s schedule of events.


Booker T Washington National Monument
Booker T Washington National Monument

Join Booker T Washington National Monument for "An Old Virginia Christmas" event. Take a lantern guided tour led by costumed re-enactors who will examine concerns and dreams of slaves and plantation owners during the Christmas of 1862. Booker T Washington was born here in 1856, and you can read some of his Christmas memories about the holiday traditions he experienced here in Franklin County. Check the park’s calendar or Facebook page.


Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Venture out on a lantern-lit tour with a park ranger at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site! Peak into the past and experience the reconstructed Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort at night. You will carry your own lantern and go through the reconstructed fort's Counting House, Fur Store, Chief Factor's House, Kitchen, and Bake House experiencing historical vignettes with costumed living history interpreters. Sip a cup of hot cider at the end of the tour.


National Elk Refuge
National Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride

Take an hour-long horse-drawn winter sleigh ride with a bonus: a close-up view of the refuge’s great elk herds. Double H Bar, Inc., a private contractor working with the National Elk Refuge, offers the sleigh rides daily from mid-December through the end of March or early April (closed on Christmas day). Get your sleigh ride tickets at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center, located at 532 North Cache Street, north of Jackson's Town Square.