America’s Best Idea — our national parks — is even better when admission is free! Mark your calendar now for entrance fee-free dates for the coming year. On these dates, FREE entrance is available to 108 national parks across the country that normally charge a fee.
During the fee-free days, the parks waive entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservations, camping, tours, concessions and fees collected by third parties are not included in this promotion.
These are the fee-free days at U.S. National Parks for 2023:
- January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- April 22: First day of National Park Week
- August 4: Celebrating the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 23: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Here is just a sample of what you can do during free entrance days in the national parks. Be sure to go online or call before you go to verify times and other details, such as possible visitor restrictions.
Cabrillo National Monument in California lies at the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula, just west of the city of San Diego. The Visitor Center features the “Age of Exploration” exhibit, films, and ranger-guided programs with interesting insights into the history of Cabrillo. Features of the park include views of the harbor and city of San Diego, whale watching in January and February, and birding is popular year round.
Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah has famous fossil finds, dramatic river canyons, mysterious petroglyphs and endless opportunities for adventure. Kids can earn a special Junior Ranger Paleontology badge by completing age-appropriate activities.
Yellowstone in Montana is our nation’s first National Park. Popular activities include picnicking, fishing and hiking. The park features the largest active geyser field in the world, including Old Faithful, along with amazing wildlife.
The Grand Canyon in the northwest corner of Arizona and close to the borders of Utah and Nevada, provides many opportunities to learn about nature, science and history. Take a tour with a park ranger. Visit one of the many Information Centers. Watch a park orientation film (it starts every half hour from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily). Use your cell phone for a fun way to learn about the park and listen as park rangers give two-minute audio tours at points of interest on the South Rim. (During winter, South Rim roads are open, but are snow-packed and icy in places. Call 928-638-7496 for updated road conditions recording.)
Padre Island National Seashore southeast of the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. The park protects 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats teeming with life. It is a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and a haven for 380 bird species. It also has a rich history, including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554.
Everglades National Park in Florida is America’s third-largest National Park at 1.5 million acres. The park provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile and the elusive Florida panther. Popular activities include photographing birds, hiking and observing wildlife, and ranger-guided tours.
Especially for Kids. At participating National Parks, kids can participate in the Junior Ranger program. Participating parks provide a FREE booklet that describes all sorts of age-appropriate activities in the park. When they’ve completed the tasks, they are awarded an official Junior Ranger badge.
Entrance fees to extremely popular parks are in the $20 to $30 range for private cars, and the cost may depend on the number of people 16 and older in the car (children 15 and younger are always free). Many of the smaller parks, historical sites and recreational areas have lower fees, and 265 sites are always free.
Another way to save if you’re planning a trip that includes multiple national parks, is to consider the $80 annual pass that provides entrance to all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and many other federal lands — more than 2,000 in all. Also keep in mind that adults age 62 or over are eligible for a senior pass, which includes entry to the same parks as the annual pass but for less — $20 for one year or $80 for a lifetime pass. In addition, Congress recently passed legislation authorizing a free lifetime pass to national parks and other federal recreation areas for eligible U.S. military veterans and Gold Star families.
Find a park by going to the National Park Service website and using the search tool or interactive map. You can search for parks in your state or parks that feature activities you like, such as camping, fishing or hiking, as well as educational programs and historic sites.