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Take a Road Trip and Visit a National Park for Free on These 4 Days in 2018

man viewing zion national park
George Stackpole/Unsplash


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 417 national parks in the U.S. are free to use anytime, 118 of them charge a $3 to $30 entrance fee. To encourage travelers and campers to visit new places, the National Park Service will waive these fees for four days in 2018:

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 up to $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 one near you (or your next destination).

Note: You may still encounter 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.

If you are camping, here are a few tips for camping on a budget.

More Ways to Use National Parks for Free

If you can’t make it to a national park on one of the fee-free days, 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 $80 or an annual pass for $20. Senior passes require proper documentation and may be purchased in person at a federal recreation site, online or through the mail.

People with disabilities can get a free pass in person, or through the mail or online with a $10 processing fee.

Both the senior pass and the access pass offer a 50% discount on some amenities like camping, swimming, boat launching and specialized interpretive services.

Volunteer with participating federal agencies for at least 250 hours, and you’ll receive 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 2018 travel plans. 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!

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more. Editorial assistant Jessica Gray contributed to this post.

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