If you’re already looking ahead to road trips or family vacations this year, here’s one way to do it on the cheap.
While most of the 409 national parks in the U.S. are free to use anytime, 127 of them charge an entrance fee of anywhere between $3 and $30. To encourage travelers and campers to visit new places, the National Park Service waives this cost on 16 fee-free days:
- January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- April 16 through 24: National Park Week
- August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
- September 24: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Some of the nation’s most popular parks are among those that normally charge a fee. Fee-free days are an opportunity to see places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley and Crater Lake and save upwards of $30.
Not the outdoorsy type? Even some national historic sites, like Vanderbilt Mansion in New York, are included.
If you’re interested, you can find all participating parks by state, or search through the full list of national parks, including those that are free anytime, to find a park near you (or your next destination!)
Note that you may still face some fees for things like camping, parking, reservations or concessions. The fees waived on fee-free days include entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees.
(But if you are camping, here are a few ways to make your trip even cheaper!)
More Ways to Use National Parks for Free
If you can’t make it on a fee-free day, you may be able to get free or discounted entrance to national parks year-round some other way.
The National Parks Service offers an $80 annual pass that covers entrance to national parks, lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other sites.
Military members can get the annual pass for free.
Through the national Every Kid in the Park program, fourth-graders can get a free annual pass for their families. Educators can also get involved through this program, obtaining free passes to take students on a national park field trip.
Seniors age 62 and older can buy a Lifetime pass for just $10 in person at a federal recreation site, or for $20 through the mail or online.
People with disabilities can get a free Access pass in person, or for a $10 processing fee through the mail or online.
Both the senior Lifetime pass and the Access pass offer a 50% discount on some amenity fees for things like camping, swimming, boat launching and specialized interpretive services.
Volunteer with participating federal agencies for at least 250 hours, and get a free Volunteer pass.
If you want to learn while you travel, you can apply for an Artist-in-Residence program with the National Park Service and stay at a participating park for free while you work on your next project.
However you do it, consider including national parks or historic sites in your travel plans this year. For families — and curious travelers of all ages — it’s a fun, educational and affordable way to spend a vacation.
With more than 400 to choose from, there’s probably one not far from you!
Your Turn: Will you visit a national park this year?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more.