Every year, the U.S. National Park Service grants free entry to all visitors on designated National Park Free Days. These National Park free admission days allows for free entry into all National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Sites, National Battlefields and even the National Seashores totaling 423 National Park sites spanning over 85 million acres across the U.S.!
This is a recurring blog post, regularly updated with new information each year.
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Free Days at U.S. National Parks (2023)
What is the purpose of the National Park Service “free entry days”
The National Park Service grants the National Park free entry days to provide an opportunity to its’ citizens of all ages to visit and experience the parks; especially those National Parks that charge an entrance fee.
How many National Parks are there in the U.S.?
As of the date of publishing this article, there are 423 National Park sites in the United States. Spanning over 85 million acres, our parks extend beyond the 50 states. Our National Parks even extend into American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
However, aside from the 423 designated National Park sites, there are also public lands that are influenced or managed by the National Park Service.
There are over 19 naming designations. While these units are commonly referred to as parks, multiple parks may be managed together as an administrative unit within the National Park Service. (Numbers below based on NPS data – November 2022)
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Which Parks can I visit on National Park Free Days
National Park free days are the perfect time to load up the car and go explore the beauty, culture and history of our Nation’s National Parks. But, those free entry days aren’t just limited to the 63 “National Parks” that are located across 30 states.
The free entry also includes those entities in the U.S. territories in the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico that are protected by the National Park Service. But, the question remains, which days are the National Park free days?
This means anyone who enters any of the hundreds of parks across America won’t have to pay the entry fee. Nor do visitors need to present their America the Beautiful or Access pass.
According to the National Park Service, participating Parks waive their entrance fees on nationally designated fee free dates.
That said, we do highly recommend that you initially check with each park for operating hours and event schedules before arriving at the entrance gate.
Also, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some national parks and recreation sites have altered their operating hours, fee collection and pass sales, visitor services, and facility operations to protect visitors and staff.
Again, prior to packing up the RV or loading up your car, check with the National Park Site you plan to visit for fee collection, pass availability, service and activities information or park attendance restrictions
What National Park free days don’t cover
While visiting our National Parks for free is nice, there are some entities within the parks that are not free.
For one, camping inside the National Parks is not free. Neither are concessions such as gift shop items and restaurants. Also, some entities under the National Park Service may charge for parking and tours.
For example, Mount Rushmore National Monument charges for parking. The parking facility is operated under a concession contract between the National Park Service and Xanterra Travel Collection. A parking ticket entitles a non-commercial vehicle unlimited entry to the memorial for one year from the date of purchase.
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What if I can’t visit on the National Park free days?
The National Park Service realizes not everyone can take off of work or school to visit on each and every free day. That’s why they designated several different days throughout the year to give everyone a chance to enjoy the Parks for free. Listing the days in advance gives plenty of opportunity to plan your visit.
How much is it to visit a National Park outside of the Free Days?
The average cost to visit a National Park varies from park site to site. Surprisingly, only about a quarter of our National Park sites charge an entrance fee. The majority of National Park sites or units are free throughout the year; regardless of day, date or time.
That said, a little over 100 of the U.S. National Parks do charge an entrance fee ranging from $5 per person (walk-in or bicycle in) to $35 vehicle fee (including RVs) that covers entrance for up to 4 adults for a specified amount of days. Children ages 15 or under are admitted free.
For example, private non-commercial vehicles can purchase a 7-day pass to Yellowstone National Park for $35 per vehicle. However, that pass only applies to Yellowstone and no other park. Which means, if you wish to visit Grand Teton National Park, you will be need to pay their entrance fee of $35 per vehicle as well.
Be aware, the National Park free days does not cover online reservation fees, amenity or user fees for activities. This includes camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.
Did you know?
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became America’s first National Park. But also, it’s the World’s first national park because of its’ unique hydrothermal and geologic features. Within Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, visitors have unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem, explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, and view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
How are the National Park entrance fees acquired?
The U.S. National Parks are partly funded partly through citizen taxation via the federal government.
But also, some National Parks may acquire funds through admission fees. These entrance fees are based on individual walk or bike-ins or by the vehicle up to 4 adults.
Only about a quarter of our National Parks charge daily entrance fees, They can range anywhere from about $10-$15 for an individual walk-in or bike-in.
National Park entrance fees range from between $3 on up to $30 for motorcycles.
Or if you’re visiting by car, National Park entrance fees range from $20 to $35 per vehicle.
Some parks may offer weekly passes for about $35 so visitors can go in and out of their park for up to 7 days.
Also, Saguaro National Park in Tuscon, Arizona offers their own annual pass for about $45 a year (2022 price). That allows Saguaro National Park Annual Pass holders unlimited visits to that Saguaro National Park only.
As with ALL National Park Interagency Passes, each pass covers up to 4 adults in one vehicle; including the driver. Children under the age of 16 are admitted for free.
How are the National Park entrance fees allocated?
About 80% up to even the entire amount of entrance fees for those particular parks actually remain in those parks where they are collected. The remaining percentage is farmed out to administration fees at the National level.
Learn more about how entrance fees are used to improve the visitor experience.
Can visitors get a discount for visiting multiple National Parks?
Visiting the National Parks outside of the fee-free days can get pretty expensive; especially if you’ll be visiting multiple parks or even the same park several times through out the year. Even 2 or 3 park visits can rack up about $100.
Realizing that, the National Park Service has implemented several versions of the National Park Interagency Pass.
Of those, the most popular pass is the Annual Park Pass which any American citizen can buy for $80. It allows you to visit multiple parks and federal lands for a year to the date of the pass. To obtain your Annual Park Pass, visit any of the designated pass acquisition locations.
That said, if you’re only going to visit 1 or 2 National Parks that charge entry fees, it may not be feasible to get the Annual Pass. Therefore, just pay the entrance fees accordingly.
When are the National Park Free Days for 2023?
The National Park Service designated 5 in 2023 free entry into all U.S. National Parks and National Park sites.
January 16, 2023 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday
In honor of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., National Park Service sites will waive entrance fees as the first fee free day of the year. Commemorating on the third Monday of January every year, it is also a day of service when hundreds of volunteers participate in service projects at parks across the country.
April 22, 2023 – First Day of National Park Week
Every April, during the presidentially proclaimed National Park Week, the National Park Service in conjunction with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, celebrates America’s treasures. National Park Week. This is an ideal time to explore amazing places, discover stories of history and culture, help out, and find your park.
Therefore, entrance fees will be waived on the first day of National Park Week to encourage everyone to enjoy their National Parks.
August 4, 2023 – Great American Outdoors Day
Every August 4 will be a free entrance day to celebrate the signing of the the Great American Outdoors Act. This landmark legislation joins the other scheduled entrance fee-free days which commemorate or celebrate significant dates.
The Great American Outdoors Act will enable national parks and other federal lands to repair and upgrade vital infrastructure and facilities that will enrich the visitor experience, protect resources, and enable increased access for all visitors.
September 23, 2023 – National Public Lands Day
National Public Lands Day is also a designated as a National Park Fee-Free Day, granting free admission for visitors to national forests, parks, refuges, and rangelands across the U.S.
To venture out to a forest near you, use their online visitor map to find the nearest national forest or grassland. You can also make reservations for these and other federal lands by visiting Recreation.gov.
November 11, 2023 – Veterans Day
There are dozens of National Battlefields, Military Parks, and Historic Sites that commemorate and honor the service of America’s veterans. In addition, every national park is part of our collective identity that defines who we are and where we came from as a nation. They are reminders of the values, the ideals, and the freedoms that our veterans protect.
Therefore, in honor of those that serve and have served in the United States military, National Park units around the country will be offering all visitors fee-free entry during the Veterans Day weekend.
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Final thoughts on National Park Free Entry Days
So, now that you know what days the National Parks are free to explore for the current or upcoming year, it’s time to get planning your National Park visit! Make sure you plan early because, especially the larger National Parks, they are very popular at certain times of the year. Each National Park has its’ own unique qualities and reasons why it’s a designated National Park. No two National Parks are the exactly same. And, once you visit one park, I promise that it will entice you to visit them all.
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