Looking for Special Holiday Programs? Here's a Sampling at Parks from Coast to Coast

Painted Desert Inn in the snow.

A snowy day at the Painted Desert Inn at Petrified Forest National Park. NPS photo.

Looking for a break from shopping, football, and end-of-year hustle and bustle? December is prime time for special programs and events in a number of parks. Here's a sampling in areas from coast to coast.

Weekend of December 4-6

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (Iowa)

A Christmas Past will feature a number of activities from Friday, December 4 through Sunday, December 6. The weekend opens on the West Branch Village Green with a tree lighting ceremony and music at 6:00 p.m. During the weekend, downtown West Branch will feature brick fireplaces for roasting marshmallows, fresh cooked doughnuts, photos with Santa Claus, and family-friendly holiday crafts and activities to celebrate the season. Shops will be open for business all weekend.

Horse-drawn wagon rides on Friday and Saturday evenings start at 5:30 p.m. from the Visitor Center of Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. The rides take visitors through the historic site and historic downtown West Branch. The last wagon rides begin at 8:00 p.m. The Herbert Hoover Birthplace Cottage, Blacksmith Shop, Schoolhouse, and Friends Meetinghouse will be open to visitors on Friday and Saturday nights until 8:30 p.m. Park ranger Chuck Ping demonstrates the art and craft of blacksmithing in the Blacksmith Shop on Friday and Saturday nights from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Living history interpreters will lead ornament-making activities at the Visitor Center from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum displays Christmas trees in its annual holiday exhibit, this year with 20 decorated trees based on the life and travels of Herbert Hoover. Free weekend performances at the Presidential Library and Museum include stage presentations by The Young Footliters, and Christmas carols by the Uncalled Four quartet and the West Branch Community Choir. Sunday afternoon from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. is the Presidential Library and Museum’s Holiday Open House, featuring refreshments and visits with Santa Claus and Aunt Holly.

Saturday, December 5

C&O Canal National Historical Park (Maryland)

Holiday Music at the Historic Great Falls Tavern will be held from 1:00 until 4:00 p.m. Festivities will feature a free concert of 19th-century musical selections by the Gilmore’s Light Ensemble. Members of the group, dressed in mid-1800's-era clothing, compose traditional 19th-century music using hammered dulcimer, guitar, banjo, mandolin, and accordion. Light refreshments will be available, and a $5.00 per vehicle entrance fee to the park will be charged.

The Great Falls, Maryland, area of the C & O Canal National Historical Park is located at the intersection of Falls Rd. and MacArthur Blvd. in Potomac, Maryland.

Tuesday, December 8

Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

Holiday Open House and 103rd Anniversary of the park at the Painted Desert National Historic Landmark from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Visitors are invited to enjoy hot drinks, cookies and treats, and holiday cheer. Cultural demonstrators will demonstrate traditional art work at the Painted Desert National Historic Landmark, and may have some of their beautiful work available for sale through the Petrified Forest Museum Association.

At 10:00 a.m. take a tour of the Painted Desert Inn (look for the architectural details that reflect the region’s rich heritage, including a skylight by the CCC and murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.) At 1:00 p.m. there will be a Ranger Program at the Rainbow Forest Museum (learn about petrified wood and the ancient environment: Late Triassic), followed by a 3:00 p.m. tour of Puerco Pueblo and Petroglyphs.

Thursday, December 10

Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

2009 Annual Holiday Open House from 4:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. in the Chapin Mesa headquarters area at the park. This holiday celebration features special tours, luminarias, musical entertainment, and refreshments. The regularly scheduled ranger-guided tours of Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling in the park, will be presented at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. Special evening tours will be offered at 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m.

Luminarias will glow along the pathways throughout the headquarters area, a National Historic Landmark District, and along the trail to Spruce Tree House. The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum will remain open until 9:00 p.m. Visitors are advised to dress warmly and bring a flashlight.

The non-profit Mesa Verde Museum Association Museum bookstore will be open, highlighting the sale of historic, limited-edition photographs of the park, books, posters and great gift ideas for the holidays.

No park entrance fee will be charged after 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 10, 2009.

Saturday, December 12

Petersburg National Battlefield (Virginia)

Christmas on the Plantation, a living history program, will be held at the General Grant's Headquarters Unit of Petersburg National Battlefield. Guided tours will occur at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. as living historians demonstrate how both free and enslaved people celebrated the holidays in 1858.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (California)

Christmas At Sea! This special holiday celebration at the park's Hyde Street Pier features live music, refreshments, ornament making, costumed characters from 1901, and a special visit from Santa Claus..

The Dogwatch Nautical Band starts the festivities aboard the historic ferryboat Eureka at 3:00 p.m., performing traditional sea chanteys with a holiday twist.

Kids of all ages will enjoy the popular ornament-making activities and refreshments from 3:00-4:45 p.m. As the band concludes its performance, a park ranger will read a popular holiday story.

Another highlight of the celebration is the arrival of the jolly fellow in the red coat. Santa arrives at 4:20 p.m., and will listen to children’s wishes until the afternoon portion of the program ends at 4:45.

No reservations are required for the above daytime activities at the park. The following evening activities DO require reservations, which can be made by calling 415-447-5000:

Beginning at 6:00 p.m., the park’s costumed Living History Players will take you back to Christmas 1901, where you will meet and talk with the captains, wives, and crews aboard the historic vessels at Hyde Street Pier. Lamp lit guided tours leave every 20 minutes until 8:20 p.m. With the lights of San Francisco twinkling in the background, the historic ships and characters offer a memorable holiday experience.

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Holiday Open House. This free event will take place from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 12, 2009. Special activities include music, crafts and an appearance by George Washington Carver.

For additional details on any of the above events, click on the link with the park's name for each listing.