Table of Contents Show
What’s more iconic than a family road trip to experience national parks? Unfortunately, it can be costly when you start adding up the expenses for fuel, hotels, and meals.
Thankfully, you can score free entry to national parks on a handful of days. This can be a great way to reduce your costs while experiencing the natural beauty of America.
Today, we’ll share when you should plan your visit if you want to get into national parks for free. Let’s take a look!
What Are National Parks?
National parks are areas of protected land set aside by the government to protect their natural, cultural, or recreational values. The National Park Service became a part of the Department of the Interior in 1916 to help protect these federally owned lands.
While many people might think of the 63 designated national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Tetons, the country has more than 400 National Park Service (NPS) units.
The hundreds of units include national parks, monuments, historic sites, and several other designations. Some units can also receive a combination of titles.
While these may be public lands, it’s not the wild west when you visit them. NPS Rangers frequently patrol the grounds and enforce rules and regulations to protect the land, wildlife, and natural resources.
Trust us; you don’t want to get caught breaking the rules in a national park.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit National Parks?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer regarding the costs of visiting national parks. Entry fees vary based on the park and can range from zero to $35 per vehicle. Additionally, some units charge per-person fees instead of per vehicle.
Many national parks require multiple days to experience all they have to offer. Luckily, admission to many of these NPS units is good for up to seven days. This can give you plenty of time to explore and adventure.
We strongly advise that you check the fees for any park you plan to visit. If not, you may be in for a surprise when asked to hand over your credit card.
When Can You Get Free Entry to National Parks?
The National Park Service offers a few days each year when they waive entry fees to national parks. These dates include:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 16
- The first day of National Park Week on April 22
- Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act on August 4
- National Public Lands Day on September 23
- Veterans Day on November 11
If your goal is to get in for free, then you’ll want to visit on one of these days.
Unfortunately, just because the park waives fees doesn’t mean they remove the need for timed-entry reservations. Some of the most popular parks and attractions require advance reservations.
For parks like Arches, Glacier, and Yosemite, you may need a reservation several months in advance.
Pro Tip: You’re Wasting Money If You Don’t Have a National Parks Pass. Learn more about the pass by clicking the link!
What Is the Cheapest Way to Visit National Parks?
The America the Beautiful Pass is worth considering if you frequent national parks. This $80 pass covers the entrance fees to thousands of federal recreation sites for a year. In addition to covering entrance fees, cardholders can receive discounts on other recreational fees.
While anyone can purchase the $80 America the Beautiful Pass, you can find special programs that offer discounts. Additionally, seniors, military members and veterans, and those with disabilities can get free or discounted passes. Also, fourth-grade students can get a free annual park pass too.
If there’s a chance you’ll visit more than one federal recreational area in a year, these passes can pay for themselves. However, if the parks you plan to see don’t charge admission, you might waste your money by purchasing the year pass.
If you’re eligible for a lifetime pass, we encourage you to get it as soon as possible. You never know when a program or pass may get discontinued.
5 National Parks to Visit on Free Entry Days
While all national parks are worth visiting, some make great candidates on free entry days. Why waste your time visiting a park that never charges an entry fee? We’ve found five fantastic national parks you should see on free entry days.
As a bonus, we’ve selected parks that don’t require timed-entry reservations. Let’s dive in!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park sits in the southwestern corner of Utah. The park covers 35,000 acres and is most known for its geological formations.
You’ll find hoodoos, spires, and natural amphitheaters throughout the park. And it offers phenomenal opportunities for hiking, camping, stargazing, and photography.
It’s a unique and stunning NPS unit that offers visitors various activities. And Bryce Canyon remains open year-round and offers a different experience each season.
Spring and fall are the most popular times to visit due to the mild temperatures and beautiful scenery.
Visiting on one of the free entry days can help you avoid this national park’s $35 entry fee.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park sits in northwestern Wyoming. These 310,000 acres have a reputation for towering peaks, pristine lakes, and incredible wildlife. It can be an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with plenty of opportunities for hiking, fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing.
If you visit this park, you’ll quickly notice that it’s a diverse destination that offers something for everyone. It also stays open year-round, but the best time to visit for hiking and other outdoor activities is mid-June through mid-September when the weather cooperates. However, visiting on a free entry day saves you $35.
Keep in Mind: These Are the Best National Parks in the USA! Are any of these free parks on the list? Let’s find out!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park sits on the Big Island of Hawaii. It covers over 323,000 acres and is home to active volcanoes and a diverse ecosystem.
Additionally, visitors can experience the park’s rich cultural heritage. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a popular hiking, camping, and sightseeing destination.
While the park remains open year-round, the best time to visit is during the cooler and less humid months, from September to November and April to June.
The park offers various activities for visitors of all ages and interests. You can save yourself $30 by visiting on a free entry day.
This is your chance if you’ve ever wanted to see an active volcano. You may even get lucky and get to see lava erupting.
However, whether a volcano erupts, keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Hawaiian goose, the nene. They tend to dart in front of visitors driving through the park.
Badlands National Park
The 240,000 acres of rugged land that makes up Badlands National Park lies in southwestern South Dakota. The park’s most notable features include its unique geological formations, striking landscapes, and abundant wildlife. It can be a fantastic park to visit if you enjoy hiking, camping, or going on scenic drives.
The park remains open year-round, but April to October is the best time to visit. The winds can be horrible at any time of year, but the winters become incredibly harsh.
If you want to avoid paying the $30 entry fee, plan to visit Badlands National Park during a free entry day. While you’re at it, stop by Wall Drug and enjoy their free ice water.
Keep in Mind: Make an entire camping trip out of your visit to Badlands with our guide to Badlands National Park Camping!
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park sits in the southern region of Oregon. The park is just over 180,000 acres, but the most prominent feature is Crater Lake.
This is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest in the world. Visitors to the park enjoy hiking, camping, and views from the scenic route around the lake’s rim. Crater Lake National Park has a 33-mile scenic drive and over 90 miles of hiking trails.
You can visit any time of year. However, the best time to go is from late June to early October. The weather tends to be more favorable during this time, and the park’s facilities are up and running. If you can plan your visit on a free entry day, you can save $30.
Explore National Parks Without Breaking the Bank
While it’s not possible to eliminate all of the costs of visiting national parks, visiting on free entry days can help. To maximize your savings, consider visiting during the off-season.
This can provide cheaper fees for area activities and campsites. In addition, you’ll end up sharing trails and other attractions with fewer people. For those who enjoy peace and quiet while exploring, this is music to your ears.
Have you ever visited a national park on a fee-free day?