National Park Free Days
Road trip season is upon us! Students are celebrating graduations and what better way to mark your first summer of “freedom” than to hit the road and visit a new place! If traveling abroad seems too overwhelming at first, consider checking out some national parks right here in the U.S. where there is plenty of adventure and exploration to be had.
National Parks not only offer activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, and simply taking in the beauty of nature and the wilderness, there are also plenty of historical and cultural sites to visit as well. Many national parks are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while others are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. These parks, as well as other parks and sites, are operated by the National Park Service to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein…”
Those of us who frequent National Parks know that you must pay for entry–this is usually the cost of a car and doesn’t exceed $30. Sometimes you can even buy a pass that will last you a weekend or a whole week, allowing you to enter the park as much as you’d like until the pass expires. The National Parks Service also offers a series of passes known as America the Beautiful, which allows you entry into any national park, landmark, historic site, and animal refuge. A basic annual pass is $80.
(Here is a comprehensive list of some popular national parks and sites, and the cost of entry.)
If you’re looking for a trip with as little extra expenses as possible, here’s a fun fact: out of over 400 national parks, almost 300 are free to enter year round (however, most of these are historic sites, as opposed to parks that offer camping, hiking, etc.). Considering the cost of travel, lodging, food, and snacks for the road, if you’re traveling by car, another expense may not be the most exciting thing when you arrive at your destination.
Have no fear adventurers, for I have compiled for you the list of free entry days that cover the cost of any national park you’d like to visit!
*Disclaimer! Free days are a wonderful thing, but prepare to see a higher volume of visitors on those days as opposed to days when you must pay to enter.
2020 Free Days
- January 20, 2020 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- April 18, 2020 – First Day of National Parks Week
- August 25, 2020 – National Parks Service’s Birthday
- September 26, 2020 – National Public Lands Day
- November 11, 2020 – Veteran’s Day
2021 Free Days
As you can see, there’s not much variation, so it’s not hard to remember!
Now that you know when to make your plans, because let’s be honest, free is always better, let’s check out some popular and some more underrated–but equally exhilarating–national parks.
Zion National Park
Zion can be found in the southwest corner of Utah. The geography is stunning, as it intersects at the point of three different geomorphic regions: the Colorado Plateaus, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert. This is Utah’s first national park and is known for stunning features such as the Checkerboard Mesa and a deep slotted hiking trail called “the Narrows” which is 16-miles one-way. The Kolob Canyons area of Zion is a protected national monument. In 2017 alone, more than 4.5 million visitors explored the landscape. And with the nickname “the heavenly city” what’s not to love for explorers and adventurers of all ages!
Acadia National Park, Maine
Located in Maine, at the northeastern tip of the continental U.S., you’ll find this beautiful national park. The park is primarily housed on the Atlantic coast of Maine’s Mount Desert Island. Here, you’ll find Cadillac Mountain peak, the highest point on the East Coast of the U.S. The park, renamed twice before settling on Acadia in the late 20s, boasts 150 miles of hiking trails and several more mountainous peaks to explore. Acadia is also the oldest national park in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River, so this one should definitely make your bucket list!
Olympic National Park, Washington
On Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, you’ll find a conveniently named Olympic National Park. Olympic is home to some incredibly diverse landscape, with coastline, rainforests, and even snow-capped mountains, which makes for a breathtaking natural adventure. Hiking is as popular as the exploration of tide pools along the coast of the park, perfect for exploring the coastal wildlife!
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana
Atop a volcanic hotspot, this national recreation area is an exciting sight for all to see at least once! Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S., established in 1872. There are over 500 geysers to enjoy, along with hot springs, rivers, canyons, and forests boasting natural wildlife. While you’re there, definitely make time to see Old Faithful, the most famous geyser of Yellowstone, which erupts every 44 to 125 minutes!
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
One of America’s most visited national parks, many come from far and wide to view this stunning natural geographical phenomenon. The canyon itself is immense–a mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 277 miles long. It is almost overwhelming. Visitors can choose to visit the north or south rims, with plenty of hiking trails to trek and even stunning observation points that are popular at sunrise and sunset. If you’d like to see the whole canyon in a short amount of time, look into helicopter tours.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
This national park is comprised of 7 islands and a protected coral reef and is located in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Key West, Florida. The main island has an ancient fort that once housed an accomplice in Lincoln’s assassination–calling all history buffs! After taking in the historic architecture, you can enjoy the vast water, wildlife, and beaches this protected area has to offer. It’s definitely a more relaxed national park, with more sunbathing and picnics as opposed to hiking and camping!
Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, Hawai’i
A fairly recent addition to the list of U.S. National Parks, this one was established and became protected in 2000. The entire trail is comprised of many smaller trails that weave throughout the big island. These trails boast views of crystal clear water as well as black lava cliffs and plenty of breathtaking wildlife. As you walk, you’ll find yourself crossing through ancient settlements which were in continuous use by the Polynesians more than 1,500 years ago. Once again, you’ll be getting a stunning view and a healthy dose of history.
Harper’s Ferry National Park, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland
You can access this national park from WV, VA, or MD. Even while living in Virginia for two years, I had no idea that Harper’s Ferry was also a protected national park! This park is more of a historic community, as it hosts reenactments on civil war battlegrounds. There are also historic hiking trails to take in scenic views of the Shenandoah or Potomac rivers if you’ve had enough history for one day!
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Yes, Ohio isn’t all flat horizons and corn fields for miles! Between Cleveland and Akron, you’ll find this stunning, scenic national park. Anything but flatlands, this park has deep gorges and cascading waterfalls, making it a hiker’s paradise. This park also has a good dose of history, as the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail has been restored and can be followed along the original canal’s path. There is also a Canal Exploration Center with more information on the 19th century canal. Explore even more and you’ll see that the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs directly through the park.
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Alaska
The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is one of the most remote national parks, located on the Seward Peninsula in Nome, Alaska. If you love reindeer, this should have a place on your bucket list, as you can witness reindeer herding as well as other wildlife such as caribou and muskox. The Bering Land Bridge once connected Alaska to Asia and was once home to turbulent volcanic activity. Now you can enjoy the sights of hot springs and lakes formed in volcanic craters, known as maar lakes.
Now that you have some options, you can start planning your adventure, see the beauty of national parks, and learn the history behind these stunning places.
(If this is your first time roaming outdoors, check out this article for first time hikers, perfect for traveling to a national park!)
So, tell us about your adventures to the national parks, or about the ones that have made your bucket list! Don’t forget to pin!