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Saturday, April 8, 2023

Visit National Parks for Free This Year

If you're hoping to get outside this year on a budge, perhaps a free trip to a National Park is an option for you. Get out and go hiking, biking, camping, see some national monuments and historical places. These do sometimes take planning, since the parks can get real busy. 

Each year, the U.S. National Park Services open their gates to everyone and waive the daily entry fee to make getting outside cheaper and more fun.

With winter dragging on and some places still getting fresh blankets of snow, you might be ready to get out of town. In preparation for the warmer temps, or for those of you who don't care how cold it is or how much snow is on the ground, let's talk about how you can get out and explore your national parks this year for absolutely free. Each year, the U.S. National Park Services open their gates to everyone and waive the daily entry fee to make getting outside cheaper and more fun.
  • Jan 16 — Martin Luther King Jr Day (if you want to start planning for next year)
  • April 22 — National Park Week kicks off
  • Aug. 4 — Celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • Sept. 23 — National Public Lands Day
  • Nov. 11 — Veterans Day
If you're an avid outdoors lover, then you may already have an annual pass, because you want to explore all the things. If you're like me, you only go to the parks when you're on a road trip, so you can't see the value of spending $80 for the year when you only spend maybe 3 days at a National Park. For you, save some money and plan your trips around these free days. The parks maybe be more crowded, but that can be part of the fun. Unfortunately, more people may mean fewer glimpses of wildlife, but it really depends on the park. 

Pack your cooler with some delicious foods, a blanket, and throw some clothes in an overnight bag if you plan to make a getaway of it (because, sometimes you aren't that close to a National Park), because getting outside just got easier:

Save some money on your pass

Did you know that seniors (age 62 and over) can buy a lifetime pass to the parks for just $10? Now that's a fantastic deal! Want to get a cheaper pass? Well, you might be able to. U.S. Military and permanently disabled citizens can get an annual pass for free. If you have a child in the fourth grade, with the Every Kid in a Park initiative, your whole family is eligible for a free pass. 

Split the pass with a friend and add $40 to your pass cost. Each pass can have two people as owner on it (and they don't need to be related), so if you have a a friend or family member who also wants to go to the parks, but doesn't necessarily want to spend full price, add both  your names to the annual pass and split the cost. You'll each pay just $60 that way and will only have to work out who gets it when (or go together). This is great for families, because the NPS has a lot of offer for kids, not least of which is the Junior Ranger program, where kids engage in different educational activities at each park and receive a stamp in their parks passports and often a badge for completing each one. 

When to skip a pass

If you only plan on visiting during the above times or you plan to visit the smaller parks that don't charge a fee. For the record, there's almost 300 of them. Here is the list of 120 parks that charge admission that you can get into free on fee free days. If you want to try to avoid the crowds, check out these "hidden" spots.

Want to get away from the crowds? Visit these 15 least popular parks and you'll get the same lovely scenery but have tons of space to yourself:
  • Pinnacles National Park - California
  • Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Texas
  • Congaree National Park  - South Carolina
  • Virgin Islands National Park - St. John, USVI
  • Great Basin National Park - Nevada
  • Dry Tortugas National Park - Florida
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve - Alaska
  • Katmai National Park and Preserve - Alaksa
  • North Cascades National Park - Washington
  • Isle Royale National Park - Michigan
  • Lake Clark National Park and Preserve - Alaska
  • Kobuk Valley National Park - Alaska
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve - Alaska
  • National Park of American Samoa - Vatia, American Samoa

Visit Canada

Canada has National Parks of its own, and they were established before the U.S. NPS. With tons of open spaces, it's a great place to head to get outdoors, plus they also have fee-free deals for under 17s and new Canadian citizens at all 47 parks across the country. Once they are open to Americans again, it's a good excuse to visit and enjoy new outdoor spaces. 

Now that you have some options, all you need to do is plan your trips, find some awesome hiking boots/shoes, charge your camera and get out there. 

What's your favorite national park and why do you love it?

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