How to Visit National Parks for Free to Create Fun Family Memories for a Lifetime

By Stephanie Pletka

It was a hot summer day in June, as our car slowly meander through Yellowstone, passing waterfalls and streams. The kids were all fighting in the backseat over who was taller, when suddenly, a 2000-pound scruffy buffalo, nonchalantly walked by our side view mirror, down the yellow line along the winding road; as if it discovered a short cut to the meadow. The fighting turned into whispers of “whoa” and epic laughter, as they viewed a phenomenon that only wildlife in a National Park could offer. The kids, to this day, still talk about those family memories. 

America, with its 63 protected National Parks offers an array of glorious scenery and untouched streams, where the mountain peaks seem to touch the billowy sky. There are 1000’s of hiking trails, geysers and glaciers, waterfalls and biking paths, awaiting your adventure.

Are you ready for a road trip, to leave the rat race of suburbia for bluer skies and cleaner air? To make memories, hear the laughter of your kids and build relationships for a lifetime? 

It costs anywhere from $35-$70 per car to visit a national park, like Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Glacier. And $80 per car for an annual pass. 

Yellowstone Hot Springs

4 Ways to Visit National Parks for Free:

  1. Travel with a 4th or 5th grader
  2. Military Can Claim a Free Pass (Show ID)
  3. Volunteer with a Federal Agency (NPS)
  4. 62 & older can purchase an annual pass for $20. (Visit the park with your grandparents)

Free Entrance Days:

1/18    Martin Luther King Jr

4/17    1st Day of National Park week

8/4      Great American Outdoors Act

8/25    National Park’s Service Birthday

8/25    National Public Lands Day

11/11  Veterans Day

If the criteria doesn’t apply to you, grab a National Park Pass and plan your trip today, where only a buffalo could quell the back seat fighting and turn those mundane vacations into family memories of a lifetime. Here’s to Living Your Best Mom Life.

SWIM, BIKE, RUN! I hadn’t raced in a triathlon since I was in my mid-20’s. That was 20 years ago. My SWIM BIKE RUN had become, COOK, CLEAN and Wipe little butts. A few things have changed over the years: my weight, my fitness level and like most, I’ve had kids, lots of them.

My attention, for years, has been placed on them. This year, I decided to reverse the trend and focus on me, while maintaining all the “plate juggling” that comes with raising a family.

I didn’t want to sign up for this event. I gave all the excuses in the world. But ultimately, my husband “double dog dared me” and if you’re Southern, well . . . You don’t take that lightly.

The first step, join a gym. Check! My ultimate goal was to complete 14 laps, down and back. That didn’t seem difficult until I began swimming. 4 laps into it, I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.

My heart felt like it was about to burst and my body didn’t seem to be gliding through the water, as it once did. I saw a lifeguard in the corner of my eye, standing over me, waving her arms. Alarmed, I stopped to see what was going on. Was someone hurt? Was I in the wrong lane?

She said: Are you ok? You seem to have difficulty swimming. If you need assistance, there are floaties in the closet.

What? I said: Are You talking to me? What could I have possibility looked like to have had a lifeguard rush down from her Stand to offer me FLOATIES- how embarrassing. I never took my goggles off until I hit the locker room, to keep from being identified on my next trip, if there was EVER a NEXT trip.

The morning of the race, everyone had State of the Art equipment, fast, light-weight bikes: Cannondale, GIANTS. You’re judged by the type of bike you ride. It sort of separates the “Men from the Boys.” My husband had one of those bikes. You can pick it up with your pinky – Sleek, fast. Not me, I had a mountain bike: fat tires, takes 2 people to lift it. In an effort to ease the humiliation, my young sons were trying to find examples of other racers with mountain bikes. “Look Mom, see there’s another mountain bike.” Uh, yes son, he’s 13. Ok, just forget it.

Reflecting on my 20’s, it was a different experience back then. No kids, no schedules; freedom was at my fingertips. We could eat Nachos with a glass of wine, after a long work week and not gain an ounce. Nowadays, it’s baked chicken and steamed broccoli just to maintain. I remember my “Swim Cap” color; It was yellow, a megaphone to the world that I was STILL young.

This time, when the Race Official wrote my age with a permanent marker, on the back of my leg, it said: 41.

I wanted to explain, that I actually felt younger than this. Can you write that underneath 41?

I was no longer a yellow cap, but a purple one; I was now 2 swim cap colors behind, with a chasm of 50 pink-headed caps, separating me from my beloved Youth.

To makes matters worse, we were Almost the last group to enter the water. The only people behind us were the blue caps. These were the ones to FEAR!

They were the 12-18 YEAR OLDS! As if I had a ton of self-esteem, being placed virtually last in a line, behind 1000 racers, now we’ve got the “quick as lightning” group behind us; teens with endless energy, who will pass you on the swim, upping the probability that you may, in fact, be the last person to make it to the finish line. My goal: to see as few “blue caps” as possible. My Prayer: Please http://bible.comGod, let me finish before the banner was taken down!

As if training for the SWIM, BIKE, RUN wasn’t enough, there were the Transitions. They added 2-3 minutes, (ok 6, because I couldn’t find my bike), then another 3 to put on my shoes, switch from helmet to cap, put on lip gloss. Hey, you feel good, if you look good!

In the scheme of life, it’s important to note: you’re really only competing against yourself, not the yellow caps, screaming “YOUTH.” You’ll never be younger than you are today. Oprah said: Remind yourself – this VERY moment is the ONLY one you know you have FOR SURE.

Embrace the power, the wisdom, the knowledge and influence you’ve gained in the years you’ve lived.

Wave your Purple Swim Cap proudly. Like the markings on your leg, all things mature, and with development comes freedom and adventure! While the main event is SWIM, BIKE, RUN, learning to successfully navigate Life’s Transitions is a major part of the process. There are many ups and downs, changes we don’t expect. Just like coal to a Diamond, the adversities and pressures of life – allow us the experiences to grow and walk through the Door of Greatness.

Life is What You Make It! Cheers to Purple Power, Lip Gloss and 40-plus ladies signing up for their next Race.

Here’s to Living the Best Version of You!

Written for 

Before kids, I slept in as late as I wanted, Remember those days, girls?  No kids, extra money and after putting in a 50 hour work week, weekends were made for adventure and exploration.

Running to the grocery store was a breeze. It was just Me, Myself and I. Grab wine, grill the steaks and voila, dinner was served.

Fast forward 6 years and leaving home for the weekend is like renegotiating the Geneva Convention. It’s nearly impossible. I found myself with 4 kids under 7 and life had become a car seat toting, chicken nugget eating kind of life. I had no idea the strength I would need to haul, install, comfort and carry all these children, something my personal trainer never prepared me for. Driving to anywhere was like moving. Strollers, diapers, snacks. Forgetaboutit. The list is enough to make a grown man cry.

I had no idea I could carry a toddler in one arm and a 17 lb baby in a car seat on the other, while wrestling a bag of candy from little hands on aisle 9. Curse those marketing folks.

I wasn’t prepared for the physical aspect of raising children.

The arms that comfort a fearful child, alleviate the boo-boos and console the hurt.

I should have these arms insured by Lloyd’s of London. If Heidi Klum can insure her legs, why not my arms?

The arms that hold, hug, console, pick up, throw in the air, carry on their shoulders, flip upside down and tickle. These are the arms that lacked the strength before kids, yet found a way to push through and grow stronger as the needs of life created the ‘iron sharpens iron’ mentality.

We feel tired and worn, like our favorite blanket we held as a child. A piece of fabric that brought comfort, delight, calmed fears, provided security when we felt all the feels. As moms, we’re the saving grace to our kids; though at times we don’t feel enough.

Oh, girlfriend, you’re enough.

You’re more than enough.

If a stranger tried to provide the same comfort to your child at a Big Box store, can you imagine the squeals and screaming, the running and bucking in the cart. Because guess what, you are the magic, the one with the pixie dust. You are the one and only.

When you feel like quitting, remember, you are the only one they’ll allow to console, love and comfort, so take heart. Your world won’t be their world forever. You have the strength of motherhood. It may be 2 weeks or 6 months from now.

Their little worlds will expand. Before you know it, their crawl becomes a run, and you won’t be their complete world, only a piece of the larger puzzle.

Embrace the moments that create your strength. For one day, you’ll sleep in those crisp, high-thread-count sheets and hear the peaceful sounds of nothingness. Then the doorbell will ring and just as your family has doubled in size, so will your heart and your strength, once again.

Here’s to living the Best Version of You.


Do you ever feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders?  In my case, it came in the form of a purse.  I bought this cute, sassy little bag and before I knew it, I had stashed inside,  $13 in change.

The very thing holding me down, weighing on my shoulders was a bag of change.

As I cleaned out my purse, it hit me, of all the junk I’m throwing out, receipts, a mismatched shoe, the one thing I truly needed to keep – was the BAG OF CHANGE.  Not the endless quarters, dimes and nickels, but a BAG OF CHANGE, the unscheduled, impromptu, not sure what will happen next, change.

What an Epiphany.

We find ourselves in the Rut of Life, walking down the aisles of the SAME grocery store, looking for the same food, cooking the same meals, paying the same bills, folding the same laundry, when what we’re looking for is CHANGE.

I had replaced my own thoughts, needs, and dreams for those in my household under 4 ft. 2, allowing their emergencies to become my own.

~ I’m hungry.

~ I need help.

My days were filled with: Don’t holler, quit fighting, drink your milk, stop touching that, put it down, stay out of the road – and before I knew it, I lost myself.  I had become one of those items in my purse, weighing Me Down!

I wanted to be the “Leading Lady” of my own life, not the Best Friend next door.  So I began to give the kids more responsibilities that were appropriate for different ages and stages.  They could help prepare meals and wash laundry. They began to appreciate how much work it took to complete a task. I began to hear:  “Thanks, mom, and I appreciate what you do for us.”  It was a win win!

I began to put myself on the “To Do” list, take tennis lessons, set aside time to exercise – in PEACE.  I read an interesting book, listened to an inspiring podcast, placing me back on Top!

It’s to their detriment if they see a haggard mom who’s always unhappy, washed up and playing second string to her own life. What kind of role model of would I be? “Hey kids, this is your future you.”  I would be running for the hills.

It’s time to shake things up.  Try new recipes, visit a new grocery store, change your fashion style, volunteer at a local organization.  It’s time to clean out your “Purse of Life” and remember to Keep the Change.  Here’s to Chasing Your Dreams and Writing Your Story.

I sat on the end of my bed in tears, with 3 kids in tow, a supportive spouse and a good life, but something was missing. I had started a Video Production Co. a year earlier, and with the juggles and struggles of work/family balance, deciphering how many ways to cook a chicken, and dropping off 3 kids at pre-school, keeping up with the Joneses seemed an impossible task.

I felt isolated. Don’t get me wrong: there were people all around, but the connections of like-minded women, discussing, listening, the “I’ know how you feel – I’ve got your back” sort of connection, was missing. Deep rooted relationships had fallen by the wayside. I had become an expert plate spinner, swirling in “organized” chaos, but it turns out, it was just chaos.

Suddenly, I found myself separated from the human race with little beings needing my full attention and sleepless nights had become the lowly standard. 

My carpool attire had become LuLu Lemon with a ponytail. But most days, it wasn’t even that. I found myself in the midst of moms who made motherhood look easy.

As I reached out for advice, tips, and authenticity, I found myself listening to women up the ante on how their pre-schooler was learning Japanese. Another multiplication. Seriously?

My child wasn’t potty trained, their first word was Hurry, and I caught one eating dirt in the backyard.

I fell into a depression, too vulnerable to show my vulnerability, rather I padded myself with isolation. The perfect breeding ground for disconnection.

Social media and decorating sites created the perfect storm for mom guilt, judgment and comparison traps, reflecting only the beautiful parts of life, the perfect angles, vacation spots, and happiest moments. There were few pictures of moms struggling, laughing about their mistakes, posting pics of destroyed laundry rooms or applauding you for being the “World’s Okayest” mom.

My husband looked at me and said: You should write, post and blog about these issues. Become your own answer. And that week, came to life. The Solution: Authentic Relationships! Find your tribe, your people. And celebrate.

It’s been my goal to help other moms connect, laugh, relate, discuss and empower one another through authenticity, vulnerability and intentional living.

It’s so easy for us women to fall out of the pack and go it alone. Don’t allow vulnerability to create isolation, rather let it empower you, catapult you to greater levels.

Per the there are various reasons for isolation.

7 Reasons We Find Ourselves Isolated
1. Comparison Traps
2. Money
3. Socializing is Difficult
4. Your Kids Ages & Stages
5. Geography
6. You Don’t Think Like Other Moms
7. Feel Too Vulnerable to Share

Don’t worry about what others think. “Those who MIND, Don’t Matter and those who MATTER, Don’t MIND” – Bernard Baruch.

Splash color on life and allow yourself to be the real deal.

We need more Authentic YOU’s in this world. Besides, dirt never hurt anyone and why is it important to keep up with the Jones’s anyway? Here’s to living the Best Version of You! Tell us how you connect with other moms.




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