U.S. National Parks are incredible. A visit to a national park is an opportunity to enjoy nature, protect the planet, and celebrate time with friends, family, and fellow park-goers.
And national parks are even better when they’re free!
Every year the National Park Service (NPS) announces several “fee-free days” to ensure that the parks remain accessible to everyone.
“Whether on an entrance fee-free day or throughout the year, we encourage everyone to discover their national parks and the benefits that come from spending time outdoors,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams in a statement.
“National parks are for everyone and we are committed to increasing access and providing opportunities for all to experience the sense of wonder, awe, and refreshment that comes with a visit to these treasured landscapes and sites.”
There are more than 420 national parks in the United States and 110 have admission fees. This means that during 365 days, more than 310 parks are completely free to visit.
In this article we’re highlighting this year’s fee-free days, alternative ways to get free or discounted park passes, and ways you can make a positive difference for national parks all year round —
2022 Free National Park Days
The NPS has made five days completely free to visit in 2022:
2023 Free National Park Days
While the NPS doesn’t officially announce entrance fee-free days until the beginning of the year, these are the expected dates for 2023:
You can also keep an eye out for other fee-free days offered by other federal and state land management agencies including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation. (We recommend searching “Fee Free” on their respective websites when planning your next trip — or following their Facebook pages to stay on top of fee-free days.)
How else can I get free or discounted access to national parks?
Fourth Graders and Their Families
Thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program and the Every Kid Outdoors Act, fourth graders in the United States get free entry into National Parks. We wish we would have had this when we were kids!
The pass is valid from September 1 through August 31 of a student’s fourth-grade year.
According to the Every Kid in a Park program, when a fourth grader travels with their family and friends in one vehicle, they get everyone in for free (at participating sites that charge per vehicle). And if visiting a site that charges per person, the fourth grader and up to three accompanying adults will be admitted for free.
So, it’s about time you befriended a cool kid — they come with perks!
You can learn more about the fourth grade pass at everykidoutdoors.gov.
People with Disabilities
The National Park Service offers a free lifetime Access Pass to any U.S. citizen or permanent resident who “has been medically determined to have a permanent disability… that severely limits one or more major life activities.”
You can learn more about how to qualify and access the National Park Access Pass on the National Park Service’s Accessibility page.
U.S. Military Members and Their Dependents
Current U.S. military members and their dependents, Reserve, and National Guard members can get an annual America the Beautiful - National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Military Pass for free!
U.S. Military Veterans
Veterans get free access to national parks for life! All you need is to present one of the following forms of identification:
- Department of Defense Identification Card (non-expired CAC Card)
- Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
- Veteran ID Card
- Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card
There are also new lifetime passes available to veterans — which is especially helpful for national parks where there isn’t a person to present your identification to.
Learn more about these benefits and read FAQs from the National Park Service.
Gold Star Families
Gold Star families receive similar National Parks benefits to veterans. According to the National Park Service, Gold Star family members must “download and print a voucher to present to park staff, exchange for an Interagency Military Pass, or place on the vehicle dashboard at unstaffed sites.”
Explore the list of federal locations that issue passes or access your voucher online on the National Park Service military FAQ page.
Eligible National Park Service Volunteers
The Volunteers-in-Parks (VIP) program provides opportunities for parks-lovers of all ages to volunteer in national parks. You can volunteer as much or as little as you want, but if you complete at least 250 volunteer hours —with a federal agency participating in the Interagency Pass Program (IPP) — within one year, you will receive a one-year Volunteer Pass.
This will give you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas participating in the IPP — including every national park!
U.S. Citizens Over 62 Years Old
On your 62nd birthday (or anytime after), you can (and should!) buy an $80 lifetime pass. This pass will get you into any U.S. national park for free for the rest of your life. You can also purchase a significantly discounted $20 annual pass.
Anyone & Everyone
If you’re going to visit multiple parks in a year, the annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is only $80. It’ll pay for itself in just a few visits!
This is especially helpful for trips to locations — like Arizona or Utah — where you might be visiting multiple national parks in a day or week.
This pass is available to anyone — and according to the National Parks Service, those traveling with passholders can usually enter parks for free.
We recommend buying the pass from (our wonderful affiliate partner!) REI, because they’ll also donate 10% of the pass’s proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, the National Park Foundation, and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
The pass is good for one year from the month you purchase — so there’s no need to wait until the beginning of the year to buy.
How much do national park admission fees cost?
Admission fees for national parks range from $5 to $35. For example, Zion National Park currently charges $20 per person — and Pictured Rocks National Park charges $5 per person.
Many parks allow you to pay per vehicle — which brings the price down significantly if you’re visiting with your whole family or a group of friends.
According to the National Park Service, all of the money from admission fees remain with the service — and 80%-100% of the money stays in the park where it was collected.
And again, the annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is only $79.99.
How else can I support U.S. National Parks?
Practice Responsible Recreation
When you visit national parks (or anywhere, really), you have the opportunity to leave the place better than you found it.
Pick up your trash, pick up someone else’s trash, stay on marked trails, follow park rules, be thoughtful about fire, and thank a park ranger. It’s what Leslie Knope would want you to do.
Buy Products That Support National Parks
If you’re going to shop anyway, you might as well choose to buy products that make a positive difference. There are a number of incredible brands that donate a portion of their profits to support national parks.
Explore our curated recommendations of gifts for national park lovers
Call Your Representatives
Our national parks are protected because of intentional legislative choices throughout American history. By calling your elected officials, you can help ensure that national parks have the funding they need, are cared for after disasters, and are never auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Simply let your representatives know that you value national parks and want them to work to protect them. This becomes especially relevant when national parks are in the news.
Become a Volunteer
Giving a little bit of your time and energy to a national park near you can make a big difference — and there’s a diverse range of opportunities available.
“Some positions are specialized and require particular talents, knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as a background check,” reads the NPS website. “Other positions only require a desire and willingness to volunteer.”
Unique volunteer opportunities include:
- Group volunteering events
- Citizen science opportunities
- The Community Volunteer Ambassador Program
- Artist-in-Residence programs
- The Girl Scout Ranger Program
- Boy Scout volunteer programs
- The International Volunteers-in-Parks Program
- The Amtrak Trails & Rails Program
Some volunteer opportunities come with small stipends, free housing, or other perks.
Regardless of the volunteer position you take on, it’s a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time in the parks, make a meaningful difference, and, as mentioned earlier, a great way to get a free national parks pass.
You can explore volunteer opportunities at volunteer.gov.
Become a Park Ranger
People who work in recreation-centric careers, including park rangers, consistently rank their jobs among the most meaningful jobs in the United States. And every day you get to play a role in protecting and celebrating nature.
While jobs in the National Park Service are highly competitive, there are plenty of ways to get your foot in the door — including specific career opportunities for students and for adults over 55 years old.
If the life of a park ranger aligns with your lifestyle, budget, and values, it’s an absolutely dreamy career choice.
Explore employment opportunities on the NPS website.
You might also like:
- Explore the best quotes about national parks
- Explore the best quotes about trees
- Read about the efforts to rename public lands that carry derogatory names
- Read about the ecologists saving ancient sequoia trees with “good fires”
- Dive into Good Good Good’s calendar of environmental holidays