The great National Parks of the United States preserve some of the most spectacular wild places on earth. Every year, for a few select days, the parks service makes entry to these parks free for everyone.
The purpose of these events are to ensure that these natural wonders remain as accessible as possible to all Americans, no matter their means. The dates may not be the same, but each year they are chosen so that there is a free day in each season of the year. It’s a great time to get out, enjoy the wonders of nature, and show your love of our National Parks.
2018 Free National Park Days
- Monday, January 15th (Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- April 21st (Saturday): First day of National Park Week
- September 22 (Saturday): National Public Lands Day
- November 11 (Sunday): Veterans Day
Jan 15 – MLK Jr. Day
Yosemite National Park: Yosemite is famous for fantastic winter landscapes. It has all the ideal landscapes for snow-dusted majesty, dramatic rock formations, proud trees, and frozen waterfalls. When visiting any park during the winter, be sure to check with the park website to look for road or park closures due to weather. Yosemite usually keeps the main roads clear in winter, but strong storms can close the park.
Our choice for a picturesque winter hike? The aptly named Snow Creek Trail.
Everglades National Park: If you are looking for something a little less snowy this time of year, Florida is a good bet. January is in the midst of the dry season which is ideal for viewing the wildlife here. As the water dries up, the animals concentrate in the remaining wet areas making for easy viewing.
Our choice for a sunny stroll? Manatees, alligators, and egrets oh my at the Anhinga Trail.
Apr 21 – National Park Week
Grand Canyon National Park: Summer is the peak season for America’s grandest national parks. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, you need to make plans. The park can be pretty crowded in the summer, so if you need accommodations, make them in advance and arrive early. No matter the challenges, you will forget them when you catch your first glimpse of this certified natural wonder of the world.
Our choice for a jaw and elevation dropping vista? Get your Oohs and Ahhs on the South Kaibab Trail.
Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone is one of the nation’s best parks for seeing wildlife. During the fall months, you are bound to encounter Elk, Buffalo, and many other signature animals in the park. Of course, no visit would be complete without visiting one or more of the geysers. Download a geyser schedule for your mobile device so you can view the most spectacular eruptions without a long wait.
Our choice for the best geyser outside of Old Faithful? You can’t swim, but you will stare at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Sep 22 – National Public Lands Day
Acadia National Park: Acadia is one of the new parks along the eastern seaboard. It’s a beautiful place year round, but the fall season brings out a riot of colors that make the hikes all the more wondrous. The best scenery is at various points along the coastline. The only real challenge you will face is the weather. Fog is common in the mornings and can obscure the view of the water. Fall is also the height of lobster season which means the best prices and selection.
Our choice for an adrenaline-pumping adventure? Precipice Trail is not for the weak of heart.
Glacier National Park: Fall is a bit chilly in Glacier, but you will be blown away by the vistas you find everywhere in the park. For the best experience in fall, visit one of the lakeside lodges. The fall colors of the trees on the mountainsides reflecting in the cold still water is a wonder to behold. You will have to pay extra for trips on the lake, but it is well worthwhile.
Our choice for a one-of-a-kind hike? Have a Jack and Rose moment at Iceberg Lake trail.
Nov 11 – Veterans Day
Death Valley National Park: Death Valley is a popular park due to the immense variety of spectacular landscapes. The fall is the best time to visit for perfect weather, not too hot, not too cold. For a one day trip, we recommend touring the valley floor. You can see quite a few of its unique environments in the course of a day, spending an hour or so exploring each one. There are both diners and convenience stores in the park, so it’s easy to grab a meal after a day of exploration.
Our choice for a unique perspective? Feel your highest at the lowest point in North America at Badwater Basin.
Big Bend National Park: The weather around Big Bend is perfect this time of year. You may have heard people tell you that Texas is flat and boring, Big Bend is anything but. The Rio Grande cuts through this swath of mountainous desert terrain creating an environment of truly striking beauty. Due to the size of this park, expect to spend a fair bit of time driving, but be sure to stop and take a couple of short hikes to fully appreciate the landscape.
Our choice for social media swoon-worthy pictures? Everything really is bigger in Texas at the Lost Mine Trail.
Consider a Group Outing
One great way to take full advantage of a Free National Park Day is to go with your whole family, a big group of coworkers, or a bunch of good friends. It’s easier to convince people to come along when it is free, and National Parks are a great way to bond and share the wonders of nature with others. If you plan a picnic – which you absolutely should – just be sure you pick up after yourself and don’t feed the wildlife.
Not Everything is Free
Keep in mind that while Free National Park Days mean no entrance fee, there may be other charges for tours, camping, or facility use. Also, not every park participates in Free National Park Days. Some parks are run by State or Private concessionaires who do not participate. You can find a complete list of participating parks here.
Some Things are Always Free
There are more than 400 sites run by the National Parks Service and the majority of them are normally open to the public free of charge. Even if it isn’t Free National Park Day, you can probably find a historic or natural recreation area near you that is free to visit. The Parks Service makes it easy to find all their parks, historical, and recreation areas here.