After 100 years, the National Parks are better than ever.

Set along a 118-mile sweeping curve of the Rio Grande, this 801,163-acre park is wild, rugged, and remote—the largest expanse of roadless public land in Texas. It's filled with historic sites (including Native American encampments and adobe homes); fossils from the Cretaceous and Cenozoic eras; and a wealth of biodiversity, with more species of birds, bats, butterflies, cacti, and reptiles than any other park. One of the top 10 places in the world for stargazing, Big Bend has the darkest skies in the lower 48 states and has been designated an International Dark Sky Park. Its 150-mile web of trails extends along the Rio Grand and up to 7,832-foot Emory Peak in the Chisos Mountains. One of the most popular campsites is located at the Chisos Basin—5,400 feet up and surrounded by still higher cliffs. Several outfitters offer guided float trips on the river, which are particularly breathtaking where the river cuts through the 1,500-foot Santa Elena Canyon. For more information on Big Bend National Park visit
Zack Frank/Getty Images

Zack Frank/Getty Images

Many Southerners may not realize 10 of the nation's 59 national parks are right here in our backyard. Whether it's the sprawling desert of Big Bend in Texas to the lush forests of Shenandoah in Virginia, the South is home to (what we think are) some of the best national parks around. Not only that, but some of the oldest ones are here, too. In fact, Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas was established in 1832—40 years before even Yellowstone was officially designated a national park. So in honor of 100 years of the National Park Service, here are five reasons why we think you should pencil in a weekend at a national park—and soon.

1.Natural diversity. National Parks capture the natural diversity about the South. Included in the swath of the great Southern outdoors are swamps, deserts, forests, canyons, plains, and coasts—all preserved and accessible to the public, thanks to the National Park Service.

2. Close to home. Wherever you live in the South, one's never too far. Use to well, find your closest park (and other public lands!). Plus, explore events and activities to experience the local flora and fauna.

3. Natural treasures. They're home to—and protect—some of the world's great natural treasures. For example, the Big Bend in far west Texas has been designated an International Dark Sky Park, as it's home to the darkest skies in the lower 48 states.

4. Budget-friendly. It's a relatively affordable way to vacay. The attractions and entry are often inexpensive or free, and most areas have a variety of accommodations: stay in quaint local bed and breakfasts, or go the rustic (and very budget-friendly!) route and camp.

5. Family-friendly. They're great for families—there's adventure, education, and relaxation. In Hot Springs, you can relax at a contemporary bath house, hike local trails, or hit up the local distillery and craft brewery, Superior Bathhouse (and try the microbrew made with mineral spring water!)