Planning a national park trip? Did you know that there are lots of ways to save money on entrance fees?
The national parks are a bargain any day of the year, and well worth the entrance fee. But if you:
- Are planning a multi-park road trip
- Have elementary-age kids
- Are eligible for a special pass…
Then you NEED to keep reading because it could save you money on your national park vacation.
My family loves visiting national parks! We live in Utah, where we are a day's drive from Zion, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Arches, and other amazing parks. Each park is beautiful and interesting in its own way. We love visiting new parks and revisiting our favorites.
We have used nearly all of these ways to save money on national park fees. It's a great way to make our travel dollars go farther.
Visit on a Fee-Free Day
Entrance fees to all U.S. National Parks will be waived on the following dates in 2023:
- January 16: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- April 22: First Day of National Park Week
- August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 23: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Visit a free or less expensive park
Some national park fees are less expensive than others. Popular parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Zion charge about $35 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. On the other hand, Capitol Reef National Park in Utah costs only $20 per vehicle.
More than 400 parks never charge entrance fees. The most visited national park in the U.S., Great Smoky Mountains National Park, does not charge entrance fees.
Free or less-expensive parks are often less crowded, so that's another reason to choose them.
Related: Tips for Driving Through North Cascades National Park
Consider an annual pass
Do you live near one or more national parks or are you planning to visit several parks in the same year? An annual pass costs $80. It's a good deal if you are planning to visit four or more top-tier parks, such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, or Bryce Canyon.
This pass will get you into more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national monuments, wildlife refuges, historic sites, forests, and Bureau of Land Management sites. However, it will not waive tour fees at places like Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.
Some parks offer limited annual passes for little more than the cost of a one-week pass. Bryce Canyon's annual pass is only $5 more than the basic entrance fee. Arches, Canyonlands, Hovenweep, and Natural Bridges are included on the Southeast Utah Parks Pass for $55. This pass can easily pay for itself in one trip.
Related: Wind Cave vs. Jewel Cave in South Dakota
Every Kid Outdoors
Every Kid Outdoors is an exciting program that allows every 4th Grade student in the U.S. (including home-schooled children who are 10 years old) to get an annual pass for their family. The program starts each September. Find out more at www.everykidoutdoors.gov.
Related: Tips for Your First Trip to Yellowstone National Park
Are you eligible for a special pass?
- U.S. Military – A free annual pass is available to members of the U.S. military and their dependents.
- Senior Pass – For a one-time cost of $80, U.S. citizens and permanent residents over the age of 62 can get a lifetime pass to the parks. Seniors also have the option of purchasing an annual pass for $20.
- Access Pass – This free lifetime pass is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
- Volunteer pass – Anyone who donates 250 service hours to a participating federal agency is eligible for this pass.
For more information about these special passes, visit the National Park Service website.
Related: 5 Tips for Visiting the Grand Canyon North Rim
National Parks can be found throughout the United States and they make a great budget-friendly vacation. Most national parks offer inexpensive camping and picnicking. Many are located near towns that offer comfortable and affordable lodging and dining.
I hope that these tips will help make your next national parks adventure even more affordable.
Wonderful – i LOVE national parks and our wildlife refuges. thanks for the tips!
I’m taking my kids to Zion N.P. in Utah for the first time in April. It’s been over 20 years since I was there and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with my family.
Jenna Francisco (@thismyhappiness)
I always learn so much from your posts. Thanks for the tips!
Someone told me over Twitter yesterday that it’s better to buy annual passes (if your timing allows) at the beginning of the month because you’ll get almost 13 months of use. I have no idea if that’s true but thought I’d throw it out there!
Great tips. We have some of the most amazingly beautiful parks in this country!
I believe that you are correct. The annual pass expires on the last day of the month. So, if you buy on March 1, 2014, the pass will expire on March 31, 2015.
Great tips! Pinned on Pinterest! 🙂
I’m pretty sure you can also borrow free passes from your local library. There are a limited # available so you can’t always get the dates you want! but if you’re flexible on your timing it’s a great way to go.
Great tip! I’ve seen a state parks pass available at the front desk of my local library. It’s definitely worth asking about, wherever you live.
This is an excellent resource. I’m a big supporter of our National Parks. I always encourage people to visit and include the parks in their travel plans. Now I can share this with them, as well!
Please do. Thank you, Francesca!
Bethaney - Flashpacker Family
An annual pass is essential for us! I definitely agree with that and also visiting the lesser known parks. Also, visiting in Winter can save you an entrance fee too. We went to Canyonlands NP in February and they don’t charge a fee in Winter because they close the visitors’ center over the colder months.
Lots of good info here. This a great resource. Thanks!
If we get a week pass to the Grand Canyon can we use it at other national parks ?
I’m sorry, but park admission is not transferrable. When you purchase a 7-day admission for any national park it is for that park only. If you decide to upgrade to an annual pass, you can apply your Grand Canyon fee to that pass during your visit.
I have an Access Pass that I purchased for a disabled family member. Will that be accepted for free admission or a discounted admission?
I believe that pass will be good for free admission for everyone in your private vehicle. That’s how it has worked for for us with the Senior Pass and Every Kid in a Park pass. I haven’t used the Access Pass, so you may want to double check with a ranger or or official park literature if you are not sure that it works the same way.
Angela S Romney
The access pass is great but the access pass holder has to be present with an ID for it to be used.
When it is issued, you have to have documented proof of permanent disability, a valid signed governmemt issued ID and sign the access card.
Thank you for this information!
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Honestly, I don’t mind paying for the park fees. These are our natural treasures and it costs money to maintain them and to keep visitors safe. If you can afford to go to these places, you can surely afford to pay a small fee to get in. I understand that money is tight for some people but if you can, you should always try to pay to get in.
I live in the UK and travel to the US 2-3 times a year, for a couple of weeks at a time. I have a habit of traveling 2000-3000 miles! I love the national parks, especially on the west side of the country. Some amazing scenery such as Bryce, Zion, Yellowstone, Death Valley, etc. I find great value in getting an annual pass. In fact, I consider it so cheap, I feel like I am taking money from the National Parks, so I always buy a cuddly toy in the park store to give them a little extra profit.