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.
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.
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.
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.
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.