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How to Get Into National Parks for Free in 2019

how to get into national parks for free in 2019

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir

You may be familiar with seeing John Muir quotes about nature, mountains and wilderness – and for good reason! John Muir was an outdoor lover and an integral part in advocating for the creation of the National Parks Service and protecting our wild lands. The US National Parks Service was created on August 25th, 1916, and new lands have been being added to the system ever since.

Every year, more than 331 million people visit US National Parks from all around the world with that number growing every day. Whether you’re a National Park junkie or you’ve never visited a National Park in your life, 2019 is a great year to start! Here is how you can get into the US National Parks for Free in 2019.

How to Get into US National Parks for Free in 2019: 

Every year the US National Parks have “Entrance Fee-Free Days” – meaning all entrance fees to the parks are waived on these specific dates. This gives us the opportunity to celebrate these beautiful, protected lands for free! Here are the Fee Free Days in 2019:

  • Monday, January 21 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Saturday, April 20th – First Day of National Park Week
  • Sunday, August 25th – National Park Service Anniversary
  • Saturday, September 28th- National Public Lands Day
  • Monday, November 11th – Veterans Day

National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith had this to say about the Entrance Fee-Free Days:

“The entrance fee-free days hosted by the National Park Service are special opportunities to invite visitors, volunteers, and veterans to celebrate some important moments for our parks and opportunities for service in those parks,”

US National Parks Entrance Fee-Free Days 

how to get into National Parks for Free in 2019
Arches National Park

The entrance fee-free days covers all National Park Service lands and guarantees free admission for everyone. This does not cover camping, boating, transportation or tours.

There are limited entrance fee-free days each year, and you will find that the parks become very crowded on these days.

Unless you have a pass, when you go on any regular day you will pay an entrance fee per vehicle or per person. Typical entrance fees at US National Parks stay in the park system, with 80% of fees staying within the park where they were collected. The entrance fees collected by the US National Park Service goes towards maintaining and updating aging infrastructure and creating better visitor experiences in the parks and land units.

How Many National Parks Are There? 

get into national parks for free
Joshua Tree National Park

While there are over 400 National Park Service Units, there are only 61 Units with the designation of National Park.

Other types of National Park Service Units include National Monuments, National Battlefields, National Lakeshores, National Seashores, National Historic Sites, National Preserves and more.

Though the 61 National Parks are world renowned and usually what comes to mind when thinking about the US National Parks, there is much beauty to behold and history to learn at all of the 419+ National Park Service Units! These include stunning landscapes and stories that make up our Nation’s past and are great learning and exploring experiences.

National Parks Passes 

America the Beautiful Pass
Annual Pass image credit: store.usgs.gov

If you can’t make it (or don’t want to) on an Entrance Fee-Free day, no worries! Paying entrance fees at the National Parks can really add up if you plan on visiting more than once per year or with multiple friends and family in tow. There are different types of National Parks Passes with different fee structures:

  • Annual Pass: The Annual Pass is also known as the “America The Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands or Interagency Lands Pass”. It is available for everyone and covers entrance fees into 2000+ recreational areas managed by 5 different Federal Agencies, including the National Parks The Annual Pass cost is $80 per year. The Annual Pass is valid for 12 months from date of purchase and covers entrance fees only.
  • Lifetime Senior Pass: The Lifetime Senior Pass is $80 and obtainable for any US Citizens or permanent residents aged 62 and older. The Senior Pass may include 50% discounts on some amenities such as camping, boating, fishing and more at certain recreational areas.
  • Annual 4th Grade Pass: US Fourth Graders including homeschoolers and free-choice learners 10 years of age can qualify for a free pass that covers the duration of the 4th grade school year through the following summer (September-August). In order to qualify for this special free pass, the child must be a holder of a paper Every Kid in a Park Pass. Click here to learn more about obtaining an Every Kid in a Park Pass.
  • US Military Pass: Current US Military Members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Reserves and National Guard members qualify for the US Military Pass. This pass is free and waives entrance fees to 2000+ recreational areas.
  • Access Pass: The Access Pass is a free pass to the 2000+ Recreational Lands and Places and is available for US Citizens with permanent disabilities.

If you want to learn more about the US National Park Passes, click here to be taken to their website.

National Parks Activities 

Dry Tortugas National Park

With National Parks in almost every geographical region you can think of, the possibilities for activities and exploring you can do are almost limitless. Here are some activities you can do in the US National Parks Service System:

  • Horseback Riding
  • Snorkeling
  • Rock Climbing
  • Hiking (even full-moon group hiking)
  • Rafting
  • Paddling
  • Spelunking (cave exploration)
  • Sandboarding (like snowboarding… on sand!)
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Soak in Hot Springs
  • Camping (including beach camping in some places)
  • Ice climbing
  • Geocaching
  • And more!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the activities you can do in National Parks – but it sure is an eye-opening one.

National Parks Near Me 

Zion National Park

Even if you don’t live nearby to one of the big and popular National Parks, with over 400 National Park Service Units – you are bound to find an adventure near you.

You can choose from National Monuments, National Historic Sites, National Reserves and Preserves, National Battlefields and more – all different types of units overseen by the US National Park Service.

Click here to learn more about our National Parks and to find a National Park Service Unit near you.

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