National Parks

How to Explore a National Park for Free in 2024

Mount Rushmore for Kids, What to do in the Black Hills with kids, South Dakota for families,
Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln gaze across the western horizon. Photo Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Spending time outdoors is good for your mind and body. From snowshoeing to hiking to sitting on a pristine beach, time in the National Parks can be some of the best days of your year.  Every year the National Park Service offers free days in which visitors can enter for free. Read on for the free National Park days in 2024

The national parks are an amazing value since most NPS sites charge by the vehicle and not by the person, like typical attractions. With 425 National Park Service sites across the U.S., only about 100 sites charge admission ($3 to $35). Some of the iconic parks, like Olympic National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, are free to enter year-round.

For even more value,  you can camp in one of the park’s campgrounds.  Most camping sites cost less than $30 a night, and even a package of hotdog and gourmet marshmallows are a bargain when toasted over a campfire. It’s a getaway your family will remember for years.

Yellowstone National Park Guide

Free National Park Days in 2024

The National Park Service charges reasonable fees for their parks. A week in Grand Canyon National Park is $35 for seven days. The National Park Service offers several fee-free days sprinkled throughout the year.

Free National Parks Days in 2024

Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Monday, January 15, 2024
First Day of National Park Week & Junior Ranger Day Saturday, April 20, 2024
Juneteenth Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Great American Outdoors Day Sunday,  August 4, 2024
National Public Lands Day Saturday, September 28, 2024
Veterans Day Monday, November 11, 2024


Note: Fee-free days do not include user fees like camping, boat launches, shuttle buses, ferry rides, parking fees and tour fees.

Glacier National Park Guide 
Explore the National Park sites of Texas, like Big Bend.
Explore Big Bend with your family for a taste of the Chihuahua desert, one of four deserts in North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

National Park Service Passes

If you plan on visiting several national parks, an annual pass might be for you. Find several options, and some are free. For more information, check out the NPS website.

Type of Pass



America the Beautiful Annual Pass All visitors $80
Military Pass including Veterans and Gold Star Families Current U.S. military members and their dependents, Veterans and Gold Star Families (Proper ID required) Free
Every Kid in a Park Pass U.S. 4th and 5th graders school year– Free
Senior Lifetime Pass U.S. citizens and permanent residents 62 years and older $80 Lifetime Pass $20 Annual Pass
Access Pass U.S. citizens and permanent residents with a permanent disability Free
Volunteer Pass Visitors volunteering 250 hours a year Free
Grand Canyon National Park Guide

History of the National Park Service

The idea of a national park is an American innovation that the world has adopted. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first area to be set aside for its protection, preserving it for future generations. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service to govern the 35 national parks in the U.S. at the time.

Since then, the National Park Service has blossomed into 421 National Park Service sites. Find the large national parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores, in every U.S. State.

Some parks feature vast, iconic scenery like Glacier National Park in Montana. Others are recognized for their historical significance like San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas or San Juan Island National Historical Park in Washington.

More Free Fun in National Parks

Junior Ranger Program

Did you know that your kids could earn a Junior Ranger Badge or Patch at most National Park Service Sites for FREE? Some parks charge $3 for the program booklet though these parks usually hand out patches.

Junior Rangers are junior park rangers. Kids from 5 to 13 can join the ranks as they explore, learn and protect the U.S. National Parks. Most parks, over 200 national park sites in all, hand out free booklets specially designed for each park. Kids complete educational exercises in their booklet as they experience the national park in a kid-friendly way.

Earn a Junior Ranger patch as one of the things to do on San Juan Island with kids.
Kids earn a Junior Ranger patch or badge at San Juan National Historical Park in Washington when they complete a Junior Ranger booklet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Junior Ranger booklets are available at the park site’s visitor center, usually from the information desk. As you explore the park, the Junior Ranger booklet will point out the park’s highlights. With activities like mazes, matching, and word searches, my kids complete the majority of the booklet on their own.

After completing the required activities, the kids turn in their booklets to the Park Ranger on duty at the Visitor Center. Then Park Rangers will go over each booklet and discuss important biological or geological features or the history of the park.

Finally, kids raise their hands to recite the Junior Ranger Oath, promising to explore, learn, and protect the National Parks. Then kids are encouraged to tell their friends at home about their experience. As a memento of their visit, each kid receives a free collectible badge or patch, depending on the park.

Guide to Junior Ranger Badges

Ranger Programs

When you enter the park stop by the Visitor Center. Along with maps, interpretive displays and current information on hiking, the Visitor Center provides the availability of Ranger Programs. Presented by Park Rangers, the free programs highlight the unique features of a National Park Service site.

Some National Park Service sites offer special summer ranger programs especially for kids, Junior Ranger Programs.

Free National Park Souvenirs

After purchasing a National Park Service passport book, stamp your booklet with a free dated park stamp. Find it in the Visitor Center or Ranger Station at each park.

Enjoy a National Park this year.
After purchasing a National Park Service passport book, stamp your booklet with park stamps located in the Visitor Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where to Stay in a National Park

The larger national parks feature historic lodges, many built over 100 years ago. From the largest log cabin hotel in the world to colorful cabins on the rim of the Grand Canyon, find memorable lodging in the National Parks that doesn’t require pitching a tent.

Top 3 National Park Lodges

Know Before You Go:

  • Since National Parks are popular destinations during summer and holidays, make reservations as early as possible.
  • Reservations for lodging are available 13 months in advance.
  • Parking can be an issue at popular destinations during the middle of the day.
  • Watch your children at all times; many features have barricades kids can climb over.
Explore a National Park for Free in 2021. Find the dates for fee free days along with details on America the Beautiful Annual Passes along with passes for Military members including Veterans and Gold Star Families, Senior Passes, Volunteer Passes and even the free pass for kids. National Park Service | Free days for National Parks | 4th and 5th Grader National Park Passes | National Park Passes for Veterans and Gold Star Families #NationalParks #Free
credit: Pixabay

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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