National park entrance fees go up nearly every year, but the price of admission shouldn’t deter you from visiting. Every year you have five days to visit national parks free of charge, wherever you want to roam.
The Five Days You Can Get into Parks Free
National park vacation costs are still less expensive than a family trip to Disneyland. But between entry fees, camping charges and additional excursions costs, a simple trip to the Grand Canyon could send anyone to the poorhouse. The good news is that if you plan your next national park adventure properly, you can save on the entry fees many parks charge visitors.
According to the U.S. Parks Service, 115 of the 418 parks managed by the National Park Service charge entrance fees. Those fees range anywhere from $5 a day to $35 a week. This allows visitors to come and go from the park as they please, sometimes for up to two weeks in many locations. The entrance fee waiver for the fee-free days does not cover amenity or fees that quickly add up, like camping, boat launches, transportation, or special park activities.
Thankfully, each year, national park visitors’ wallets get a break on five designated “fee holidays.” If you time your visit to arrive on of the free national park days, you can stay for as long as the usual entry fee allows – sometimes up to two weeks in places like Texas’ Big Bend National Park. The cost of a park’s entry fee may not be enough money to fill up your fuel tank, but for many campers, the lure of a “free” visit makes the journey even more appealing.
The U.S. National Park Free Days happen on the same five calendar dates every year. Start planning your national park visits around the following dates:
Monday, January 21 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Saturday, April 20 – First Day of National Park Week/National Junior Ranger Day
Sunday, August 25 – National Park Service Anniversary
Saturday, September 28 – National Public Lands Day
Monday, November 11 – Veterans Day
Once you decide to go, keep in mind that you aren’t the only RVer who loves a good deal at the national parks. You’ll have lots of company with other frugal campers, so prepare for busier attendance. Campgrounds in and around the park are guaranteed to fill up faster than usual on those free days, so make your campsite reservations as far ahead as possible to ensure you have a place to camp. Plan any tours in advance, and create a “Plan B” for alternate activities should your first choices be unavailable.
If your schedule won’t allow you to take advantage of those free national park days, you may be able to get in free using other methods, such as camping with a friend family member who qualifies for a free yearly U.S. National Parks pass. These designated groups of campers include disabled persons, current military members, and young children who qualify for the free annual pass just for fourth grade students.
If you aren’t lucky enough to camp with someone who possesses a free annual pass, you can get in free to parks any day of the year by volunteering your time with the six federal agencies participating in the “Interagency Pass Program.” Log 250 or more volunteer service hours with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and you will receive a free annual entry pass.
Of course if you have the cash and you know several national park visits are coming up this year, it pays to spend $80 annually on the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. By paying ahead, you can enjoy year-round, unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks. Plus you’ll feel good about helping out the parks with your cash. And perhaps the best reason to buy an America the Beautiful Pass is that you won’t have to limit your RV trips around those five free days in the national parks when everyone else plans on doing the same.
About the author: Rene Agredano
Rene Agredano, a Coach-Net member since 2015, is a self-employed full-time RVer who enjoys writing, jewelry design and animal advocacy. Her adventures with a three-legged dog and husband Jim are chronicled at LiveWorkDream.com
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