Getting into national parks for free or at a discount isn’t a scam or a hack. Between not reading the fine print to certain free park passes eligibility to discounts for special groups, the deals are waiting but not nearly enough people take part in them.
I cherish the memories of my family visiting national parks growing up and I’m blessed we had the means to do so.
Especially now that my parents have passed, I can still see my dad’s big grin every time I look at the Great Smoky Mountains. My mother’s epic budgeting skills resonate when I think of all the picnics she packed in the early morning hours before a long day at Yellowstone.
At More Than Just Parks, we want you to have the opportunity to experience the love we found in nature. That’s why we want to highlight some of the ways to get into parks for free or at a deep discount. Our small team of dedicated employees are all here because someone introduced us to the great outdoors. We want to pay it forward.
Table of Contents: Free National Parks Access
Table of contents
- Free and Discounted National Park Access
- Map of Fee-Free National Parks
- Free National Park STUNNING Films
Free and Discounted National Park Access
America the Beautiful Pass
If you’ve followed our journey for any length of time, you know we push the America the Beautiful pass hard. Why? Because you get access to more than 2,000 public lands for just $80.
The interagency pass includes access to lands through the following agencies.
- National Park Service
- Bureau of Land Management
- Bureau of Reclamation
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
- U.S. Forest Service
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Purchase a pass for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Starting in 2024, just one passholder signature name is allowed. This is a change from two signatures in the 2023 passes.
The pass runs for a full 12 months from the date of purchase. For example, if you buy an annual pass on January 1, 2024, it will be valid through January 31, 2025.
But wait, there’s more!
When you have an annual America the Beautiful pass, the passholder gets access to any park – that much is obvious.
At any public land that normally would charge a per-car fee, the entire carload of people also get in for free. Specifically, here’s some of the fine print on how to maximize the pass.
- The passholder and three adults (16 and older) are covered under an annual pass.
- Children under 16 are never charged for an entrance fee.
- The group must be in a personal vehicle, not a commercial vehicle.
- The group cannot be split between two cars.
Another important note is that if you are visiting a place with a “per-person” fee, only the passholder will be covered under the annual pass.
Any U.S. citizen who is 62 or older qualifies for a discounted Senior Pass. You have two choices for a senior pass. First, you can pay $20 for an annual pass, with all the same access as the America the Beautiful pass. Second, you can pay $80 for a lifetime pass.
The same rules apply to the Senior Pass when it comes to who can get access to the park if they are in the car with the passholder. Again, that’s three adults (plus the passholder) and any kids 15 and younger.
In addition, seniors qualify for discounts at certain locations for things like camping, guided tours, and boat launching. Each site determines the discounts offered, so inquire before you visit the park.
NOTE: You cannot purchase a senior pass as a gift since the passholder’s age must be verified.
Two available options allow military members and their families to get free access to public lands. It’s important to note the difference between the annual and lifetime passes.
Military Annual Pass
To get free national parks access in addition to the other public land agencies, the annual pass applies to all current military members and their dependents.
This applies to those serving in the following groups:
- Air Force
- Space Force
- Coast Guard
- National Guard Members & Reserves
- Military Cadets
Again, a carload of people with up to four adults and children under 16 get into any park or preserved federal land.
Military Lifetime Pass
Another free national parks access program for veterans applies to Gold Star Families and all veterans. Here is the voucher that Gold Star Families need to fill out.
Check your qualifications for a lifetime pass by visiting the USGS Online Store.
The only difference between the two passes is that the annual option is for current military members and the lifetime pass is for veterans or Gold Star Families. However, they are both free. The annual pass will just have to be applied for each year.
NOTE: All “free” passes will come with a processing fee of up to $10.
Fourth Grader Free National Parks Access
Did you know your fourth grader could help you get the entire family into national parks for free? As part of the Every Kid Outdoors program, all children in fourth grade – even homeschooled students – get a free annual pass during their fourth-grade year.
Once you visit the Every Kid Outdoors website, you’ll see the eligible child needs to complete a few simple steps before the pass download is an option.
That pass also includes access for three adults and unlimited children under 16 safely in a passenger vehicle.
Parents, grandparents, and guardians – check this out to answer any questions you have.
A fourth-grade free pass covers a year from September through August. The earlier you purchase the pass, the more access you’ll get for the whole family or some friends.
Access Pass for People with Disabilities
The free lifetime pass for those with disabilities includes discounts for some services, like camping. While the passholder will have to show proof of disability, the requirement doesn’t include only 100% disability.
The key determination for an Access Pass is if the potential passholder has a disability that is permanent AND limits life activities.
No age limit exists for the Access Pass.
Here’s more information about Access Pass processing.
The Access Pass also covers up to four adults and any children 15 and younger.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE COMMITMENT TO ACCESSIBILITY IN THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.
Park Volunteer Free National Park Pass
Anyone with 250 hours of volunteering between the interagency options is eligible for a free annual pass. That also includes the “up to four adults and children” options as all the others.
Hours can be accrued at different agencies. You don’t need 250 hours at one location.
The federal agencies that protect our precious land need volunteers and you can start by looking through options on the Volunteer government website. You could find yourself spending hours on a national seashore beach educating guests about wild horses or working with search and rescue in the depths of Yosemite.
Visit on Fee Free National Park Days
Every year, the National Park Service offers a handful of fee-free days throughout the year. They are usually tied to a federal holiday or on a weekend day. For 2024, the fee-free days are:
- January 15: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 20: National Park Week Kickoff
- June 19: Juneteenth National Independence Day
- August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- September 28: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
The more popular parks like Zion and the Grand Canyon will fill up quickly on these days, so plan to get there early. Start the fee-free day with a priceless sunrise!
Choose One of the Free National Parks
Not all national parks charge an entrance fee. You could choose to visit one of the locations that doesn’t have a fee to begin with.
Full disclosure – some of the locations are in remote Alaska or require a boat to get to, which would cost money to access to park in the most technical sense. Others without an entry fee might charge for guided tours, like in caves.
However, they aren’t all hidden away in the outer reaches or donning a big asterisk. The parks that don’t charge entrance fees are:
- National Park of American Samoa
- Biscayne National Park, Florida
- Channel Islands National Park, California
- Congaree National Park, South Carolina
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
- Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri
- Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
- Great Basin National Park, Nevada
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
- Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
- Katmai National Park, Alaska (HELLO, FAT BEARS!)
- Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
- Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
- Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
- New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
- North Cascades National Park, Washington
- Redwood National Park, California
- Virgin Islands National Park, US Virgin Islands
- Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
- Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
- Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Doing the math, that leaves about 37% of the national parks without entrance fees. You might want to exchange a trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon for a trip to Redwood National Park.
Across the entire National Park System units, just 27% charge an entrance fee. That’s 109 of the 400 locations.
Map of Fee-Free National Parks
Free National Park STUNNING Films
The More Than Just Parks Brothers work with public lands and local tourism agencies to bring you sights from national parks and forests across the country. Have you checked out our films? They’re free to watch and won’t take much time, but you’ll get to savor the experience of a park that might be on your bucket list.
Here’s a playlist of the National Parks series.
And here you can check out the playlist of the national forests we’ve had the honor to visit and spend time learning about the magic of each one.
Pin Free National Parks and Discount Options
Helpful Related Links
2023 Camping Gift Guide: 32 Perfect Camping Gifts They’ll Actually Keep This Year
National Parks Books: 40 Wonderful National Parks Books You’ll Love
Gifts For Hikers: 32 Unique Gifts for Hikers They’ll Be Proud To Use
Best National Parks Ranked: ALL 63 US NATIONAL PARKS RANKED By Experts
Free Downloadable National Parks Map & List: LIST & MAP of National Parks By State (+ Printable Checklist)
Best National Monuments: All 128 US National Monuments Ranked (Best to Worst)
Best National Parks to Visit: 20 Best National Parks to Visit 2023
Largest National Parks: 15 Largest National Parks in the United States (+ Full List)
Most Visited National Parks: Top 10 Most Visited US National Parks
Least Visited National Parks: Top 10 Least Visited National Parks
Best East Coast National Parks: Top 10 Best East Coast National Parks Ranked