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Visiting a national park is one of the best ways to get outside and go exploring. Every national park offers new experiences, breathtaking views, and fascinating educational experiences that are perfect for a solo traveler or the whole family. To keep the national park experience as excellent as it is, many parks across the country charge an entrance fee. While it's never more than a fair price, those fees can add up if you're visiting multiple areas.
Luckily for nature enthusiasts, there are five days each year when national parks are free. These dates are spread across the calendar, so whether you're looking for a summer vacation, a winter getaway, or a spring break destination, you can take advantage of one of these fee-free days.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
The exact date for this holiday changes every year, but it generally falls on a Monday in mid to late January. You probably remember getting the day off from school as a kid and getting a glorious three-day weekend after just a few weeks back from holiday break!
According to David Vela, the current Director of the National Park Service, making the parks free on Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors King's legacy of freedom for all. Vela says that since visiting a park can give you an incredible sense of freedom, it's only right that everyone should get to experience that feeling on this special day. There are also planned service activities, where visitors who want to give back to the park can interact more deeply with the environment.
The First Day of National Park Week
Just like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, National Park Week falls on different dates every year. You'll have to check the National Park Service (NPS) website if you want the most up-to-date information about this calendar year, but generally, this week is celebrated in mid April or around Earth Day.
Although admission is only free on the first day of National Park Week, the next six days each have a unique theme and are worth sticking around for. On Throwback Thursday, you can learn about the history of national parks and how they've changed over the years. Stick around for Friendship Friday and BARK Ranger Day to meet some new friends (both human and canine) to explore the park with.
National Park Service's Birthday (August 25)
Did you know that national parks have only been around for about 100 years? President Woodrow Wilson created the first national park by signing the National Park Service Act on August 25, 1916.
Like any good birthday party, celebrating the National Park Service's birthday is a lot of fun. Not only will you get free admission to any park of your choice, but many parks have special events in honor of their founding. These change every year, but they can include things such as family-friendly service projects, interactive educational experiences, and expert talks. You don't even have to bring a gift!
National Public Lands Day
Always held on the fourth Saturday of September, National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is the nation's largest concentrated service effort. In an effort to promote the benefits of green spaces and green living, the National Park Service offers free admission to all parks.
In addition to visiting a park for free, NPLD offers many other experiences for people who are willing to get their hands dirty. The National Park Service website lists all of the volunteer opportunities available on this important day so you can get as involved with the land as possible. Enjoying these majestic parks is great, but giving back is even more rewarding.
Veteran's Day (November 11)
What better way to pay homage to the men and women who fought for our country than making the beauty of America free for all? Opening the parks on Veteran's Day, which falls on November 11 every year, has a few important purposes. Symbolically, it celebrates our veterans by showing off the beauty that they helped to protect.
There's also a fascinating connection between national parks and military history. At Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, visitors can stand on the battlefield where U.S. soldiers fought during the Mexican-American War in 1846. Take a trip to Appomattox Court House National Park to witness where the Union officially beat the Confederacy in the Civil War. Visiting national parks with military ties can make history come to life, plus you'll learn more than a textbook could ever teach you.