Explore the National Parks for Free on These Days in 2019

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For five days in 2019, you'll be able to get into any national park in the United States, for free.

The National Park Service (NPS) just announced its no-fee entrance dates for 2019 in a press release, inviting visitors to explore the national parks for five days—for free. The free days include:

  • January 21, 2019 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)
  • April 20, 2019 (the first day of National Park Week)
  • August 25, 2019 (the National Park Service’s birthday)
  • September 28, 2019 (National Public Lands Day)
  • November 11, 2019 (Veterans Day)

On these five days, you’ll be able to enter any of the National Park System’s 418 parks at no cost. The entrance fee waiver doesn’t include other costs like camping fees, boat launch fees, transportation fees or special tour payments. This fee-free program will be especially useful at the 115 parks that typically charge entrance fees, including Denali National Park & Preserve, Grand Canyon National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, among others. (For a full list of the included parks by state, visit the NPS website.) 

The NPS first started offering entrance fee-free days in 2003, according to Kathy Kupper, an NPS public affairs specialist. Originally, the free days only occured on National Public Lands Day and, later, on Veterans Day.

“In 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar introduced additional fee-free days to promote national parks as affordable destinations and help fuel the economy of gateway communities,” or cities and towns located outside and adjacent to national parks, Kupper said in an email, noting that this change occurred during the recession, when many families were looking for budget-friendly travel options.

From 2009 to 2017, the NPS said it offered between 8 and 17 fee-free national park days per year, including one free weekend of every month during the summer. Last year, however, the NPS decided to focus more heavily on other budget concerns, such as eliminating its $12 billion maintenance backlog. Thus, the NPS reduced the number of free entrance days offered each year. Kupper said each fee-free day costs the park system approximately $500,000, depending on the park and time of year. In 2018, the NPS offered four free entrance days; in 2019, the park service will increase the total number of free days to five by including the NPS’s birthday.

“The entrance fee-free days hosted by the National Park Service are special opportunities to invite visitors, volunteers and veterans to celebrate some important moments for our parks and opportunities for service in those parks,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a statement.

“Whether it’s exploring an urban historic site, or hiking rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, fee-free days allow unlimited entrance into more than 85 million acres of national parks, making America’s best idea accessible for all,” said Taldi Harrison, REI’s federal government affairs manager. This is a great opportunity to explore lesser-known parks like Capitol Reef in Utah and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

It’s worth noting that our national parks already offer budget-friendly options for exploration every day: 303 of the parks are always free for visitors. You can also buy the America the Beautiful Pass, which gives you unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas each year for $80. Senior citizens, current military members, families of fourth grade students and disabled citizens are also eligible to receive discounted or free passes to the national parks year-round. 

“Admission to most national parks is free year-round, and offering fee-free entrance days at all 418 [parks] is a great way to encourage access for all,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “Take the opportunity to explore the unique places and stories that mark our shared history and heritage.”

When you're ready to plan your trip, visit REI's Camping Project, which pulls data from the trip planning and reservation service recreation.gov to let you search bookable campgrounds by location and discover nearby activities like hiking, trail-running, backcountry skiing and more.

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