The National Park Service (NPS) recently announced that there will be five free-entrance days in America’s national parks in 2020. Those dates include:
- Monday, January 20 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)
- Saturday, April 18 (the first day of National Park Week, as well as National Junior Ranger Day)
- Tuesday, August 25 (National Park Service’s Birthday)
- Saturday, September 26 (National Public Lands Day)
- Wednesday, November 11 (Veterans Day)
There are more than 400 national park units in the U.S., with 110 of them charging between $5 and $35 to visit. But on these five days, you can enter any park at no cost. The waiver doesn’t include camping fees, boat launch fees or transportation fees.
“Across the country, more than 400 national parks preserve significant natural and cultural areas, each one an important piece of our national identity and heritage,” said Acting National Park Service Director David Vela in a press release. “Free entrance days serve as additional motivation for people to get outside and enjoy these places of inspiration and recreation.”
This year, the fee-free entrance day program will also include sites managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This has often been the case during past years, according to Kathy Kupper, public affairs specialist for the NPS, but each agency offers slightly different days.
The USFS and BLM will observe free-entrance days in 2020 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 20; President's Day, February 17; National Get Outdoors Day, June 13; National Public Lands Day, September 26; and Veterans Day, November 11.
Eighty percent of USFS lands are routinely free for visitors, but the remaining 20 percent (including picnic areas, destination visitor centers and developed trailheads) will be free on those five days next year, according to Todd Harbin, assistant national recreation fee program manager for the U.S. Forest Service.
The other participating organizations have yet to announce their free days for 2020, but the days will likely correlate with the ones from years past and will be announced in the coming weeks.
“Fee-free days inspire people to experience the natural beauty, history and heritage we all share,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, the charitable partner of the NPS. “They remind us that across our 419 national parks, there is something for everyone, and all are welcome to explore.”
Free-entrance days have been a tradition of the National Park Service since 2003, with the first days held just twice annually, on National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day. That changed in 2009, when the NPS began offering more days to boost visitation. Between 2009 and 2017, the agency hosted anywhere from eight to 17 fee-free days per year. During the summer of 2017, the park service opened its units for one free weekend every month, also to encourage visitation, according to Kupper.
The program changed again in 2018, though, with the NPS citing a need for additional revenue to improve facilities and address deferred maintenance, which now totals $12 billion. In 2018, the NPS offered four fee entrance days. Last year, the number crept back up to five.
More than 300 of our nation’s parks are free year-round and the 110 parks that do charge fees are among the country’s most popular, including Denali National Park in Alaska, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. (You can see a full list of participating parks here.) If you decide to purchase the $80 America the Beautiful pass, you’ll also be able to skip the payment line at any park, any time. Senior citizens, veterans, families of fourth graders, and citizens with disabilities are also eligible to receive discounted parks passes year round.
When you're ready to plan your trip, visit REI's Camping Project to help you find bookable campsites and pick out epic excursions like hiking, trail-running, and more.