National Parks

How to Explore a National Park for Free

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

Got it all here, free National Park days for 2020.

National Parks offer priceless beauty and for 5 days in 2020 the admission price will be priceless. When the National Park Service will waive the usual park admission. Though only about 100 sites of the 419 National Park Service sites charge admission ($3 to $35) and the remaining sites are free to enter year-round.

With iconic destinations like Mount Rushmore National Memorialor Grand Canyon National Park, your family can explore for free. Throw the tent in the SUV and it’s a budget vacation kids will remember for years. Most camping spots cost less than $30 a night and even gourmet marshmallows are a bargain when toasted over a campfire.


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 was set aside to protect and preserve 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 419 National Park Service sites. Withnational parks, national historical parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores, your family can find a site in your state.

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

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 of North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Free National Park Days in 2020

The National Park Service charges reasonable fees for their parks, a week in Grand Canyon National Park is $30 for seven days. Though the National Park Service offers several fee-free days sprinkled throughout the year.

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

Free National Parks Day in 2020

Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Monday, January 20, 2020
First Day of National Park Week & Junior Ranger Day Saturday, April 18, 2020
National Park Service Birthday Tuesday day, August 25, 2020
National Public Lands Day Saturday, September 26, 2020
Veterans Day Wednesday, November 11, 2020

If you plan on visiting several national parks, an annual pass might be for you. I found several options and I’ve been an annual pass holder for years.

National Park Service Passes

Type of Pass



America the Beautiful Annual Pass All visitors $80
Military Pass Current U.S. military members and their dependents Free
Every Kid in a Park Pass U.S. 4th graders (including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10-years-old) 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

More Free Fun in National Parks

Junior Ranger Program

Did you know that your kids could earn a Junior Ranger Badge at most National Park Service Sites for FREE (some parks charge $3 for the program booklet).

Junior Rangers are junior park rangers. Kids from 5 to 13 can join the ranks as they explore, learn and protect our national treasures. Most parks, over 200 national park sites in all, hand out free booklets specially designed for each park (a few parks charge $3 for the booklet). 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.As we explore the park the Junior Ranger booklet points out the 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 features or history of the park.

Finally kids raise their hands to recite the Junior Ranger Oath promising to explore, learn and protect our 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.

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 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 i the Visitor Center of all parks. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Know Before You Go:

  • Since National Parks are popular destinations during school breaks 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 2020. Find the date for fee free days along with details on America the Beautiful Annual Passes along with passes for Military members, Senior Passes, Volunteer Passes and even the free pass for 10-year-olds. #NPS #Free National Park Service | Free days for National Parks | 4th Grader National Park Passes



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