Although you usually have to pay a fee to enter a national park, there are nine days a year that are free entrance days. If you want to make your trip more affordable, here’s how (and when) you can get free entrance to national parks.
What You Get on National Park Free Days
On national park fee free days, you don’t have to pay to enter the park. More than 400 locations are part of the national park system, so you have plenty of options available.
Here are just some of the parks that participate in free entrance day:
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Death Valley National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Yosemite National Park
In total, the national park system covers over 84 million acres of land, featuring a total of about 17,000 miles of hiking trails and 5,000 miles of various kinds of shoreline. Over the more than 400 parks in the system, about 133 usually have entrance fees. The rest are free every day of the year that the park is open, so you may want to take that into consideration when selecting a destination.
Costs on National Park Fee Free Days
Free entrance days at the national parks only eliminate the fee for entering. Other amenities that usually come with a fee may still cost you, so it’s important to keep that in mind.
Here are some options that may still have fees, even in free entrance days:
- Boat launches
At times, tour companies may offer deals in conjunction with free entry days, but that isn’t guaranteed. Even if they don’t, since the cost to enter the park on free entrance days is $0, it may make paying for the other amenities less burdensome. However, the participating national parks may be more crowded too, so making reservations in advance (if possible) is a wise move.
National Park Fee Free Days 2019
On five days each year, the National Park Service covers the entrance fee for all visitors. That means anyone can enjoy a day at the park for free.
In 2019, the fee-free days are:
- Monday, January 21 – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday
- Saturday, April 20 – First Day of National Park Week
- Sunday, August 25 – The Birthday of the National Park Service
- Saturday, September 28 – National Public Lands Day
- Monday, November 11 – Veterans Day
Do State Parks Participate in These Fee Free Days?
National park free entrance days technically only apply to sites that are part of the national park system. State-run parks are operated by different agencies, so they do not automatically participate.
However, many states that usually charge for entry into the parks operate their own fee-free days. For example, Washington State has 12 free entrance days in 2019, four of which coincide with fee-free days at national parks.
If you would prefer to head to a state park that usually charges for entry, then you will need to check with that park system to see if free entrance days are available.
Drawbacks to the Free Entrance Days
The only potential downside to going to a national park on a fee free day is that the location may be crowded. Free entrance days are incredibly popular, so many parks see more visitors than they would on a typical day.
If you are hoping for a quiet trip to the park, you might be better off getting a pass and going on another day. Similarly, annual pass holders may prefer to avoid free entrance days, especially since there is no financial benefit if you already have a pass.
What If You Miss the National Park Fee Free Days?
While heading to a national park on a free entrance day can help you save money, they are actually very affordable even on days where a fee is necessary. In fact, for just $80, you can get an unlimited annual pass, ensuring you do have to pay a fee with each visit.
Plus, some people are eligible for discounted or free passes. For example, all U.S. 4th graders can get a free annual pass for their family. Active duty military members and their dependents can also get free annual passes, as well as members of the Reserve or National Guard.
For $80, seniors age 62 or older who are citizens or permanent residents can get a lifetime pass. Annual senior passes only cost $20. Individuals with disabilities can qualify for free passes as long as they can show documentation for residency or citizenship and for their disability.
Participating federal agency volunteers with 250 hours of service are eligible for a free pass as well.
Do you visit national parks of fee free days? Tell us why in the comments below/
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