Mountains and forests. Rivers, lakes and waterfalls. The Grand Canyon. All for free.
This year, the National Park Service is offering 10 “free days.” Those are the dates when all national parks, monuments and historical sites offer free admission.
The first free day of 2017 was in January, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The next one is on Monday. A couple of weekends in April will follow that.
Conveniently, all of these free-admission days fall on or around a weekend, which is super-handy for planning a three-day trip. Here’s this year’s list:
- Monday, Feb. 20: Presidents Day
- Saturday and Sunday, April 15-16 and April 22-23: Weekends of National Park Week
- Friday, Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday
- Saturday, Sept. 30: National Public Lands Day
- Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend
Of the National Park Service’s 400 sites, more than 120 typically charge anywhere from $3 to $30 a day for admission.The big, legendary parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite cost the most money. Here’s an official list of these parks, sorted by state.
Again, all entrance fees are waived on these free days. During your visit, you’ll still have to pay for things like concessions, tours and campsite reservations.
Your Other Options for Exploring National Parks
This is one of those cases where you’ll have to make a time-versus-money decision. It’s possible that some of these national parks may be a bit more crowded on free-admission days, and you’d have the park more to yourself on a different day.
Then again, the biggest driver of national park attendance is the time of year, with summer being by far the busiest time for many of the major parks.
Here are some options to consider:
- If you’re planning on hitting lots of national parks this year, you should go ahead and spring for an $80 annual pass.
- Annual passes are free for active-duty U.S. military and their families, and permanently disabled U.S. citizens.
- Seniors ages 62 and older pay only $10 for a lifetime pass.
- If there’s a fourth-grader in your family, you should take advantage of the Every Kid in a Park initiative. Fourth-graders and their immediate families are eligible for a free annual pass good for every national park.
- For more information, Travel and Leisure has a good primer on how to use a national park pass.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite national park?
Mike Brassfield (email@example.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He has yet to get to Yosemite National Park, but it’s a goal.