If you want to spend more time in the outdoors this year, a national park is hard to beat. Between the fresh air and the exercise, everyone can benefit for time outdoors. Even better than time outdoors is free admission. Every year the National Park Service waives admission several days during the year. Read on for the free National Park days in 2023.
With 423 National Park Service across the U.S., only about 100 sites charge admission ($3 to $35). The national parks are an amazing value since most NPS sites charge by the vehicle and not by the person, like typical attractions. Some iconic destinations like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Olympic National Park are totally free to enter since each never charge an admission.
To stretch your vacation dollars even more, camp in one of the park’s campgrounds. Most camping sites cost less than $30 a night and even gourmet marshmallows are a bargain when toasted over a campfire. It’s vacation your family will remember for years.
Free National Park Days in 2023
The National Park Service charges reasonable fees for their parks, a week in Grand Canyon National Park is $35 for seven days. Though the National Park Service offers several fee-free days sprinkled throughout the year.
Free National Parks Days in 2023
|Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday||Monday, January 16, 2023|
|First Day of National Park Week & Junior Ranger Day||Saturday, April 22, 2023|
|Anniversary of Great American Outdoors Act||Friday, August 4, 2023|
|National Public Lands Day||Saturday, September 23, 2023|
|Veterans Day||Saturday, November 11, 2023|
Note: Fee-free days does not include user fees like camping, boat launches, shuttle buses, ferry rides, parking fees and tour fees.
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–EveryKidinaPark.gov||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|
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.
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, 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 discuss 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.
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.
Where to Stay in a National Park
The larger national parks feature historic lodges, many built over a 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.
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.