The wildly popular Grand Canyon National Park, which sees about six million visitors annually, is celebrating a big birthday in 2019: the big 1-0-0.
Way back in 1919, the Grand Canyon National Park Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson, and it’s been an icon for the NPS ever since. Though the park’s actual, official birthday is on February 26, the festivities will stretch out all year and include historical presentations, family fun weekends, cultural demonstrations—and yes, there will be cake, too.
The Founder’s Day Centennial Celebration will take place on February 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center Plaza. Visitors will get to see demonstrators from Grand Canyon’s traditionally associated tribes, hear from NPS staff, enjoy performances from the Flagstaff School District Choir, sign the park’s birthday card, and eat cake. While many events will go on all day, the official kick-off is at 1 p.m.
An especially great time for families to visit the park is between June 20 and June 29. Several special events and programs are stacked together for a truly special week of fun. Soon, families will be able to register for the AZ State Parks Family Campout, June 20-23, an event for beginning campers led by state park rangers at Mather Campground. A special Junior Ranger Day will take place on June 22, as well. Kids can learn all about what rangers do, and how they can do their part to keep our National Parks safe and spotless—and they’ll get some sweet swag, too.
June 22-29 is the week of the Centennial Summerfest as well as the Grand Canyon Centennial Star Party, both of which run all eight days. Summerfest is a celebration of Arizona food, drink, and native culture at the Visitor Center Plaza, and the Star Party, which starts at 7 p.m. every night at the South Rim Visitor Center, brings together amateur astronomers from across Arizona, who have volunteered their telescopes to show off the planets, stars, and more to the general public.
There will also be naturalization ceremonies held at the Grand Canyon throughout the year. Lucky individuals will get to take the oath of citizenship at one of the country’s most famous natural features during its centennial.
And for those who can’t make it to the events, give the Grand Canyon a follow on whatever social media platform you prefer; many of the events will be broadcast, live-streamed, or re-capped, and virtual tours will go up online for anyone who can’t make it to the park in person.
As always, there are free admission days to all NPS parks, and what better time to visit the Grand Canyon for free than during its centennial year? The fee-free days are Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 21, National Parks Week between April 20 and April 28, NPS Founders’ Day on August 25, Public Lands Day on September 28, and Veterans Day on November 11.
The park’s sold-out, wait-list-only historical symposium on February 20-23 isn’t the only event for history buffs looking to celebrate. There will be a wide variety of talks and performances dedicated to Teddy Roosevelt, the driving force behind protecting this natural wonder as a national park.
Also, on May 19, the park will lay a plaque and host a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of a famous 1869 expedition led by John Wesley Powell; it’s widely considered to be the first significant geo-scientific survey of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. That will be followed by a talk on the same expedition from award-winning historian Michael F. Blake the next day.
This year isn’t just the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park, it’s also the sesquicentennial of the transcontinental railroad. The park has declared May 10 to be “Railroad Day” to mark the 150th anniversary of the cross-country railroad, and will host programs dedicated to the importance of rail transportation to the Grand Canyon.
Natural Science Programs
The Grand Canyon will have special demonstrations, games, and information on local and national environmental initiatives for Earth Day on April 20, all of which will be free and open to the public.
There will also be an intensive two-day programming on mapping the Grand Canyon on February 28 and March 1, and a Geoscience Symposium dedicated to the latest efforts and methods of studying the geology of the unique canyon on April 18-20. For the truly adventurous, there will be a Preventative Search and Rescue Symposium, April 21-23, all about keeping the Grand Canyon safe and fun for visitors.
Grand Canyon Wildlife Day will be celebrated from May 31-June 1, and features demonstrations and displays by wildlife biologists on the critters that call the national park home.
Arts & Culture Programs
On May 19, award-winning photographer and National Geographic’s 2016 Adventurer of the Year Pete McBride will give a presentation on his 750-mile hike along the entire length of the Grand Canyon. The park will host its 11th annual Celebration of Art from September 7-15. It serves as a venue for artists inspired by the park to show off their work, and as a fundraiser to help get an art gallery built for the park’s South Rim.
Later in the summer, on August 8 and 9, is the park’s Native American Heritage Days celebration. The North Rim will host a variety of events, activities, and demonstrations from members of tribes from across the Colorado Plateau, as well as from non-tribal member experts. Visitors can learn about all kinds of topics, from pottery and ethno-botany to Native American music and dance. There will also be a special Native American Heritage Month Celebration on November 9 and 10, with a special focus on the culture and history of local tribes.
Additionally, the Phoenix Symphony will be performing pieces inspired by the Grand Canyon throughout year.