How to Visit US National Parks for Free: A Complete Guide

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Travel & Tourism
Explore the beautiful landscapes and wildlife of the US National Parks without spending a fortune. Learn about free admission days, volunteer opportunities, cost-saving options, and more with this complete guide on how to visit national parks for free.


Background information on the US National Parks The United States National Parks system was established in 1916 with the creation of the National Park Service. Today, there are over 400 national parks, monuments, and recreational areas, covering over 84 million acres of land across the country. These parks provide visitors with the opportunity to experience America's natural beauty, wildlife, and rich cultural heritage.

Overview of the benefits of visiting national parks Visiting national parks can offer numerous benefits for individuals and families. These benefits include:

  1. Improving physical and mental health through outdoor activities and exercise
  2. Educating visitors about the country's history, geography, and ecology
  3. Providing opportunities for relaxation, stress relief, and quality family time
  4. Encouraging environmental conservation and preservation

Importance of having a plan before visiting Visiting a national park can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it is important to have a plan in place to ensure a successful and enjoyable trip. Factors to consider when planning a visit include:

  1. Budget
  2. Travel itinerary
  3. Accommodations
  4. Transportation
  5. Park fees and regulations
  6. Available activities and attractions. By having a plan in place, visitors can ensure that they make the most of their time in the park and have a memorable experience.


Planning Your Trip 

Choosing the right park When choosing the right park to visit, consider your interests and physical abilities. Do you want to go hiking, visit historical sites, or see wildlife? There are a variety of parks that cater to different interests, so be sure to research and choose a park that fits your needs.

Understanding park fees and regulations Each park has different fees and regulations, so it is important to research and understand them before visiting. Some parks have entrance fees, camping fees, and tour fees. It is also important to understand the park's rules, such as restrictions on camping, fishing, or hunting.

Making a budget and travel itinerary To ensure a successful trip, it is important to make a budget and travel itinerary. Include all estimated expenses, such as transportation, food, and park fees. Make a plan for each day, including activities, meals, and rest times. This will help ensure that you make the most of your trip and stay within budget.

Preparing for the trip Preparing for a trip to a national park involves more than just packing a bag. It is important to research and understand the park's weather and environmental conditions. You should also bring appropriate clothing and gear, such as a tent, sleeping bag, and first-aid kit. Additionally, consider obtaining necessary permits, such as camping or fishing licenses, before your trip.

Free Admission Days

Overview of free Admission Days: Free admission days are days when visitors can enter national parks without paying the entrance fee. These days are typically sponsored by the National Park Service or other organizations and are intended to encourage people to visit and enjoy the parks. The number of free admission days varies from year to year and park to park, but they generally occur on weekends or holidays.

How to take advantage of Free Admission Days: To take advantage of free admission days, it is important to plan ahead and research the dates of free admission for the parks you would like to visit. Some parks may have limited free admission, so it's essential to check beforehand and make sure you understand the conditions and restrictions. You should also be prepared for crowded conditions, as many people take advantage of free admission days, and parking and other facilities may be busy.

List of Parks offering Free Admission: Some of the parks that offer free admission include:

  1. Acadia National Park
  2. Arches National Park
  3. Bryce Canyon National Park
  4. Canyonlands National Park
  5. Capitol Reef National Park
  6. Death Valley National Park
  7. Denali National Park and Preserve
  8. Glacier National Park
  9. Grand Canyon National Park
  10. Mount Rainier National Park.

It is important to note that this list is not exhaustive, and the availability of free admission days may change from year to year. It is advisable to check the National Park Service website or call the park directly to confirm free admission days.

Volunteer Opportunities 

Overview of volunteer opportunities

  • National parks offer a variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups who are passionate about preserving and promoting the parks.
  • Some of the volunteer positions include: park guide, trail maintenance, visitor center host, campground host, and wildlife monitoring.
  • The duties and responsibilities of each position vary, but all involve contributing to the maintenance and protection of the park.

Benefits of volunteering

  • Volunteering at national parks offers many benefits, both personal and community-based.
  • By volunteering, you can gain a deeper understanding of the park's history, ecology, and culture.
  • You will also meet new people and form new relationships with other volunteers, park rangers, and visitors.
  • Moreover, volunteering is a great way to give back to the community, help preserve the natural and cultural resources, and make a positive impact on the environment.

How to apply for volunteer positions

  • To become a volunteer at a national park, you will need to visit the park's website and complete an online application.
  • The park will review your application and provide you with a list of volunteer opportunities based on your skills and interests.
  • Some parks may require a background check and/or provide training before assigning you a volunteer position.
  • It's important to remember that volunteer positions may be competitive, so it's best to apply early.

Other Cost-Saving Options 

Discounts for Military, Senior Citizens, and Disabled Persons

  1. Many national parks offer discounts to military personnel, senior citizens, and disabled individuals.
  2. These discounts may include reduced admission fees, campsite fees, or even free admission.
  3. To take advantage of these discounts, individuals must present a valid ID card or proof of eligibility.

Group and Family Packages

  1. National parks often offer group packages for families and large groups.
  2. These packages include discounts on admission fees, camping fees, and other park activities.
  3. Group packages can be a cost-effective option for families and friends traveling together.

Using Public Transportation

  1. Some national parks are located near public transportation systems, such as buses, trains, or shuttles.
  2. Utilizing public transportation can save on the cost of gas and parking fees.
  3. Before planning your trip, research the public transportation options near the park you plan to visit.
  4. Taking advantage of public transportation can also reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to the conservation of the park.



The US National Parks are a treasure trove of natural wonders and breathtaking landscapes that attract millions of visitors each year. While admission fees can add up, there are ways to visit these parks for free, and this guide has covered all the essential information needed to do so. From using an annual pass to taking advantage of free entry days, there are many ways to make the most of the National Parks without breaking the bank. 

Additionally, volunteering or working in the parks is another way to gain free access while giving back to these protected areas. By following the tips and suggestions outlined in this guide, anyone can experience the beauty and majesty of the US National Parks without spending a fortune, making it accessible to everyone to enjoy and cherish these natural wonders for generations to come.

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