The national parks are one of America’s greatest ideas. But entrance fees can quickly take a chunk out of your travel budget. Fortunately, there are five national park free entrance days each year where you can enjoy the great outdoors and save some money.
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law, creating the first federal public park in North America. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act to create the National Park Service. At the time, there were only 35 units in the country – today, there are 423 national park units.
The Roosevelt Arch still towers over the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Etched into stone, the phrase “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” comes from the 1872 act signed by Grant. The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve nature and history, maintaining land and historic buildings for interpretation and recreation by anyone.
Keep reading to find out when you can get free admission to the national parks, other ways to save money, and travel ideas to help you plan a national park adventure.
Free National Park Days in 2023
The National Park Service announces a few dates for free admission to their parks each year. Only 108 of the 423 national park units charge an admission, but a break from the entrance fee is welcome.
The National Park Free Entrance Dates in 2023 are:
- Monday, January 16, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- Saturday, April 22, on the first day of National Park Week
- Friday, August 4, on the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- Saturday, September 23, on National Public Lands Day
- Saturday, November 11, on Veterans Day
Other Ways to Save Money on National Park Entrance Fees
Although there are only a few national park free entrance days each year, there are other ways you can save money on entrance fees. One of these options might be perfect for you – and they also make excellent gifts for friends and family.
Inside Tip: Interagency Passes, commonly known as Annual Passes, require registration with verified government-issued identification. That means, unfortunately, it is impossible to buy an annual pass for someone as a gift. Instead, buy a gift card at any national park unit giftshop equal to the pass amount.
American the Beautiful Pass
The most popular type of annual pass is commonly known as the America the Beautiful Pass. For $80 per year, the pass covers admission to thousands of National Park Service, US Forest Service, and other public lands units across the country.
Military Annual Pass
The Military Annual Pass is available for current US military members and their dependents, as well as Reserve and National Guard members. It’s free of charge and features the same perks as the America the Beautiful Pass.
Military Lifetime Pass
The Military Lifetime Pass is free and available to Gold Star Families and US Veterans. The pass features the same perks as the American the Beautiful Pass.
4th Grade Pass
The 4th Grade Pass is the most intriguing annual pass the agencies overseeing public lands offer. The pass is available free of charge to fourth graders in public, private, or home schools. The pass features the same perks as the America the Beautiful Pass and covers the entire family.
The Senior Pass is available to any US citizen age 62 or older. You can choose to pay $20 for an annual pass or a one-time fee of $80 for a lifetime annual pass. The passes feature the same perks as the America the Beautiful Pass.
The Access Pass is available free of charge for any US citizen with a permanent disability. The pass features the same perks as the American the Beautiful Pass.
An intriguing incentive to volunteer for a public lands agency is to earn the Volunteer Pass. The pass is available free of charge for anyone who completes at least 250 volunteer hours. The pass features the same perks as the American the Beautiful Pass.
Carpool with Other Travelers
One way to save money while visiting many national park units is to ride together in a single vehicle. Many parks, like Shenandoah National Park and Arches National Park, charge a fee per vehicle, not per person. Remember what it was like to sneak into a drive-in movie theater in the trunk of someone’s car?
Exploring the National Park System
Three hundred fifteen national park units never charge an entrance fee. So, you don’t need to wait for a national park free entrance day to explore one of those units. With that in mind, where should you explore during those five days each year the entrance fee is waived?
You could head to one of the east coast national parks like Shenandoah National Park, which typically charges $30 per vehicle to drive the 105-mile Skyline Drive for a day. Or you could visit one of the west coast national parks like Zion National Park or Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks to skip the $35 fee per vehicle.
Browse through these articles to find a national park unit to visit during a free entrance day.