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How to Visit U.S. National Parks for Free in 2023

Published by FareCompare on January 16, 2023

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Nature lovers, rejoice! The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) has returned with its enticing offer of five days a year when the entrance fees are waived at every site under its domain in the country. That includes all 63 national parks and more than 420 destinations in total!

The first opportunity to participate in 2023 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 16th.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. national parks have seen an exponential boost in interest and visitors – some as much as 50%. As a result, once quiet and uncrowded parks have become hotspots seemingly overnight. Long lines, limited spots for timed entries, and traffic jams have caused more than a few headaches over the last couple of years.

It's always smart to do your research ahead of time. Plan to arrive early, confirm if you can secure a timed entry slot – especially on the free days, and take other factors (like weather, school holidays, etc.) into account as you get organized.

Visit this website to check for possible closures before heading out for your trip, or search for the specific site online.

If you missed the first free weekend, here is a list of the upcoming days throughout 2023 to visit U.S. national parks:

When to Visit U.S. National Parks for Free

  • Saturday, April 22: First day of  National Park Week
  • Friday, August 4: Great American Outdoors Day
  • Saturday, September 23:  National Public Lands Day
  • Saturday, November 11:  Veterans Day

"National parks are really amazing places and we want everyone to experience them," said  National Park Service Director Chuck Sams in an NPS news release. "The entrance fee-free days encourage people to discover the beauty, history and inspiration awaiting them in more than 400 national parks throughout the country."

Take note that the entrance fee waiver doesn't cover fees for activities like camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Keep This In Mind!

If you think that you only have four chances all year to visit the parks for free, listen up! The NPS is quick to remind visitors that most national park sites don't have any entrance fees at all. In fact, out of the 423 national park sites, only 108 have admission fees, which range from $5 to $35.

Of course, like anything else, it’s the big names that command the money. Check out the full list of the sites that typically charge a fee.

Certain groups of people can also access free passes or get discounts to U.S. national parks year-round:

  • U.S. military members and their dependents, U.S. veterans, and Gold Star families
  • Fourth grade students
  • Disabled citizens
  • Senior citizens

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