From the geysers of Yellowstone to the sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon, our country’s national parks really put on a show. And, for five days in 2023, admission to these majestic, protected landscapes will be totally free, making it even easier to get out and enjoy them.
The National Park Service recently announced its fee-free days for 2023, which are spaced pretty evenly across the year. Mark your calendars for:
- Jan. 16 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 22 – First Day of National Park Week
- Aug. 4 – Great American Outdoors Day
- Sept. 23 – National Public Lands Day
- Nov. 11 – Veterans Day
On these days, you won’t need to pay an entrance fee or flash your annual pass at the gates — you can simply drive, bike or walk right in and start exploring.
“National parks are really amazing places and we want everyone to experience them,” says Chuck Sams, National Park Service director. “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.”
The free days are part of the park service’s mission to open up access to public lands to everyone and encourage more outdoor recreation. Though the majority of America’s national parks sites are always free to enter, no matter the day, around 100 of them charge an entrance fee that ranges from $5 to $35.
Keep in mind that national parks — especially the most popular ones — tend to get busy on the annual fee-free days, so you’ll want to plan your adventures accordingly. Arriving early or late in the day, heading to off-the-beaten-path areas within the park, camping in the backcountry and carpooling are some of the best ways to avoid the crowds. (And there will likely be crowds: Last year, some 297 million people visited national parks throughout the year!)
If you can’t make the free days work with your schedule, the $80 annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is a good alternative. It’s obviously not free, but if you plan to make a lot of national park visits throughout the year, it can make the per-day price much more affordable than paying the entrance fee each time. The pass offers unlimited trips to more than 2,000 federally managed recreation areas, including all of the national parks, for yourself and anyone you choose to bring along in your vehicle.
Also, if you qualify, you may be able to snag a free or discounted pass. The park service offers perks to all students in the fourth grade, senior citizens, people with disabilities, military veterans, Gold Star families and active members of the U.S. military and their dependents.