Great Smoky Mountains AssociationHoliday Shopping can be stressful, especially for those who would rather be spending time in the outdoors. Finding creative gifts takes planning and means negotiating crowded stores and parking lots. This can be a chore for anyone. For outdoor lovers this is doubly true. Finding a different way to shop for items that are unique and meaningful is a pleasure.

This holiday season, one place to look for unusual gifts is to some of the most famous supporters of the great outdoors – the National Parks. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Zion National Park and Yosemite National Park all have Cooperating Associations – non-profit organizations that operate interpretive centers and gift shops within park boundaries. The proceeds from sales in these shops go directly to support the National Parks. Sometimes products sold in the shops provide direct financial support to a specific need in a Park, such as combating an infestation of an invasive species, building a museum to house artifacts, or supporting a new children’s program.

Many of these National Park Cooperating Associations offer memberships for a small fee. Association membership benefits can include discounts on purchases in the shops and in local business surrounding the parks, as well as newsletter subscriptions and invitations to exclusive Association events. A membership in one Park Association can often be used for discounts in different Association shops across the country. Memberships make great gifts and can be purchased on an individual or family level, for a year or for a lifetime.

Other gifts from National Park shops include books on history, field guides, regional culture, adventure and travel. Children’s toys, puzzles, holiday ornaments and apparel are also offered. Often, locally made products such as specialty foods, pottery, music and artwork are available. Not only are those who shop in these stores helping to support the National Parks, but also the local artists whose goods are sold there.

A trip to a Cooperating Association store is very different from a trip to the mall.  Most shops are located within National Park boundaries, allowing the opportunity to combine holiday shopping with some outdoor exploration, such as a scenic hike.

For those who do not have a National Park close by, internet shopping is a great option as most National Park Cooperating Associations have online stores. A list of Association shops is available at the National Park Service Website.

Outdoor lovers and people who want the gifts they share this holiday season to give in multiple ways will find National Park Cooperating Association gift shops a great choice.