Friday, January 8, 2021

Bargain-priced adventure

Visit national parks for free

Arches National Park in Utah is a geographical delight.

National parks have been called America’s Best Idea for good reason. To encourage people to visit these special places, every year the National Park Service designates days when fees to explore nature and the great outdoors are waived. On six days on 2021, you can visit parks that have a charge (many national park sites do not) for free!

Green is the dominant color in Olympic National Park in Washington.

The next fee-free day is January 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and there’s no better time to enjoy our country’s history and natural beauty.

Additional days for fee-free entrance are April 17, the first day of National Park Week, and August 4, the one-year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Also mark your calendar for August 25, birthday of the National Park Service, September 25, National Public Lands Day, and the final fee-free day on November 11, Veterans Day.

Driving toward Mt. St. Elias, which dominates the landscape
of Wrangell-St.Elias National Park in Alaska.

Fee-free days make parks accessible to more people and provide a great opportunity to visit a new place or return to an old favorite, especially if your favorite park is one that normally charges an entrance fee. It’s good to note that only 108 of 419 National Park Service sites have an entrance fee, ranging from $5 to $35. Eliminating the entrance fee is a significant savings for popular parks including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Olympic, and Acadia National Parks. Or you might discover a new favorite among less-visited national parks like Shenandoah, Sequoia, and Guadalupe.

Take a raft trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

Note that fees such as reservation, camping, commercial tours, concession, and fees collected by third parties are not included in the waiver.

 Special passes

Any fourth grade student, including home-schooled learners who are 10 years old) can get a free annual pass through the Every Kid Outdoors program, Paper passes can be obtained by visiting the Every Kid Outdoors,  and these can be exchanged for the Annual 4thGrade Pass at federal recreation sites that charge Entrance or Day Use Fees.

Active duty military and citizens with a permanent disability can also get free passes.

Rafting and Hiking are popular activities in Big Bend National Park
in Texas, one of the lesser-visited parks.

If you are age 62 or older, the best travel bargain you can find is the lifetime national park senior pass for $80. Alternately, you can purchase an annual senior pass for $20 that is good for one year at all national park sites.. The senior pass allows all persons traveling in your car to also enter parks for free, up to four adults (Children under age 16 are always admitted free).

Many sites also offer discounts on amenities like camping, swimming, boating, tours, or shopping with the senior pass. You can purchase Senior Passes at a national park, online, or through the mail with an added processing fee. Contact If you have a lifetime pass purchased under the previous $10 fee, it is still valid; but if you lose it and have to replace it, you’ll pay the higher fee. 

Waterfall in Yellowstone National Park

For $80 anyone of any age can buy an annual pass that allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas year round. For more information about discounted passes, visit America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

If you love America's national parks as much as I do, you’ll be happy to know that funds from all Senior Passes purchased in a national park go to a National Park Foundation Endowment.

What are you waiting for? Mark your calendar and go explore your national parks for free!

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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