First of all, if you DO happen to have a 4th grader — you can find out all you need to know about how to get your family into U.S. national parks for free through the Every Kid in a Park program. It’s pretty cool to set a goal to visit as many parks as you can during the 4th grade school year.
But that’s not the ONLY way to get into a national park for free.
FREE Entrance Fee to Your National Parks*
- Every Kid in a Park (4th graders and their families)
- Free Entrance Days 2016
- January – Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
- April – National Parks Week
- August – National Park Service Birthday
- September – National Public Lands Day
- November – Veteran’s Day
- Also check the Fees & Passes menu for individual National Parks — some, like Sequoia National Park, have their own fee-free days scheduled
- Visit a National Park that DOESN’T charge an entrance fee! There are over 400 parks in the system and only 127 actually charge a fee
- Free annual pass for active military
- Access Pass – free for those with a permanent disability
- At many parks, kids under 15 or even 16 are always admitted free
- There’s also a Volunteer Pass, but you must put in over 250 hours of service.
Fee-free days make parks accessible to more people. However, national parks are always economical, with entrance fees that range from $3 to $30.” – NPS.gov
Economical is the keyword here. Even when you do have to pay, the money you spend often directly benefits the park you are visiting! I almost wish NPS promoted a “Pay Your Parks What They’re Worth Day” where people could gain entrance with a donation in any amount that expressed how much value even one single visit adds to their life. Sigh.
Seems logical that sometimes you’d have to pay a small fee to get one of the most memorable experiences of your life.
I’ve witnessed many kids exclaim how “[INSERT PARK NAME] is better than [INSERT THEME PARK NAME]!” And I can guarantee a trip like this costs WAY less than the theme park. How can you put a price on that feeling?
$10 or Less Entrance Fee (Lifetime)
- $10 Senior Pass – lifetime pass for U.S. citizen or permanent residents over 62
$20-$30 Entrance Fees (Daily, but generally good for 7 days & for multiple adults)
- $30 is the most you’d pay for entrance and that’s to get into a park like Yosemite during the busy summer months. At Yosemite, it drops to $25 from November through March. The cool thing is that the $30 pays for your whole car of visitors (up to 15 passengers!) AND it’s good for 7 days.
$40-$50 Entrance Fees (Annual Passes for Individual Parks)
- Some parks offer Annual Passes limited ONLY to their park, like Muir Woods ($40) or Sequoia & Kings Canyon ($50). It’s a great option if you want to focus on a specific park or live nearby.
$80 America the Beautiful Annual Pass (Most Comprehensive Annual)
- An annual interagency pass that works at more than 2,000 recreation areas – read the FAQs for details
Just a note that there are sometimes costs that aren’t obvious to a visitor — even when a park doesn’t have an entrance fee. It might be free to enter, but you’ll have to make reservations and possibly pay a heftier fee to a concessionaire for the transportation to get there (examples include ferries to Alcatraz Island or taking a trip out to the Channel Islands).
Parks are SO economical to visit regardless of if it’s fee-free week or not. And there are less crowds when it’s not during a fee-free week!
Pledge to Visit a Park
And please pledge to bring your kids to a park on #KidstoParksDay. We encourage you to visit www.kidstoparks.org and sign up so that your family can be counted in the national tally (it doesn’t have to be a National Park – and it doesn’t even have to be on the 21st). Prizes will be rewarded. Then, on May 21, families are encouraged to visit a park or recreation area and submit photos of their adventures to Buddy@BuddyBison.org for possible inclusion in NPT’s national map commemorating the day.
We support this cause and National Park Trust every year — and hope you pledge every year, too!
*The NPS.gov website tells you just about EVERYTHING you need to know about fees – so make sure you read the fine print on the official site, as well as checking the Fees & Passes page for each individual park you plan to visit. Please don’t rely on my information if you are planning a trip – just use it as a guide.