Visiting national parks in your summer holidays is a great way to get the whole family involved and out in nature.
The only snag is that it can get quite costly when you have a large family to visit some national parks.
Luckily, I’ve discovered there are many national parks that are FREE! That’s right, free national parks.
This had to be the best discovery since sliced bread!
I began to research a list of national parks that are free, offer free days if they are not free every day of the year, or have sections that are free access or only require a backcountry permit (which is also free).
This is my ultimate freebie list for national parks visits.
What National Parks Are Free?
Many national parks only offer free access on certain days of the year. It is free to access national parks in the U.S. on days like January 18, April 17, and November 11. However, there are national parks that are free all year round, or at least have free sections all year round. These parks include North Cascades National Park, Redwood National Park, Channel Islands National Park, Great Basin National Park, Hot Springs National Park, Voyageurs National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Congaree National Park, Biscayne National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park—to name but a few.
The National Park Round-About
While not all national parks are free, there are many that have free days or free entrance to certain sections.
Some national parks are so remote, that while they are free, the cost of reaching them makes them more expensive than paid parks.
So I was careful to create my free park list based on each park being free and easily accessible.
National Parks That Are Free on Certain Days
Knowing which are free days can really help you plan your trips to national parks. In the U.S., the national parks are free to day-visitors on the following days: January 18 (the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.), April 17 (first day of National Parks Week), August 4 (one-year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act), August 25 (national parks service birthday), September 25 (National Public Lands Day), and November 11 (National Veterans Day). On these days, you can visit any of the national parks in the U.S. for free.
Free National Parks
In alphabetical order, the following parks are free to the public:
- Biscayne National Park
While a park may seem to be a forest or open plane, it can also be an underwater wonderland like this park. The entrance is free for day-pass visitors.
- Channel Islands National Park
I found these five islands off the California coast to be a must-see. While hiking the shoreline and taking a dip in the ocean is free, you would have to pay for the opportunity to scuba dive the reefs of the park. However, I found loads of free activities at this island dream.
- Congaree National Park
Also a free park, this national park allows entrance and participation in activities at no charge. However, note that the ranger-led activities are on Saturdays only. If you want to rent a canoe, you would have to pay a rental fee. I took my own canoe for free.
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
While this park is free, donations are welcomed to help the preservation efforts. There are many activities you can participate in at this national park, from biking (bring your own bike) to rides on the railroad, hiking, and more.
- Great Basin National Park
Entrance may be free at this park, but if you wish to go on a cave tour, there will be a per person charge. Camping inside the park is charged, but there are many free camping sites outside the park with paid shower facilities at motels in the area.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
With no entrance, I was not surprised that campsites come with a fee and picnic areas charge for the rent of a pavilion. However, there are loads of things a day visitor can do for free.
- Hot Springs National Park
Entrance, guided tours, and access to the natural museum are all free at this national park. If you wish to camp at the park, there will be a daily fee.
- Kenai Fjords National Park
If you like a colder climate, this park offers free entrance and camping. View the majestic glaciers and hike the tundra for free.
- North Cascades National Park
Another free park, the North Cascades National Park offers a range of activities, and while the campsites are paid, I obtained a free permit for the backcountry camping sites. Just pick up a permit at a ranger station.
- Redwood National Park
Since there are no entrance stations, entrance into this national park is free. Certain areas of the park are paid service areas, such as driving to golden bluffs beach.
- Voyageurs National Park
Also, a free park, this national park is free for day visitors, while overnight camping and cabins are fee-bearing services. Hike, bird watch, or stargaze for free at this amazing park. I wanted to go on a guided tour or a boat tour, and there was a small fee.
Frequently asked questions about what National Parks Are Free
How many national parks are free?
Of the 419 parks managed by the National Parks Services, only 108 charge entrance fees, with the rest being free. This means that 311 parks are free.
What is the most expensive national park?
In a bit of a contradiction, Biscayne National Park, while being free for day visitors, is also the most expensive. This is because most of the activities require boat rental, scuba diving equipment, and guided tours, which all cost quite a penny.
Which is the least visited national park?
Not all national parks are easy to reach. Some, while being free, require quite a journey to get to. The least-visited national park is the National Park of American Samoa or Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic. This is because reaching the park requires a boat trip or a flight by seaplane, which makes entrance (while free) quite expensive as the cost of travel will be high.
The Final Freedom
Visiting national parks in the U.S. is a great pastime, and you will never be bored. Plus, many of them offer free entrance, and some have free activities too, which helps anyone (like me) on a budget explore and enjoy America’s beautiful countryside.
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