Sometimes you need a little motivation to plan that trip you always wanted to take. Fortunately, every year the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) sprinkles some incentive across the calendar by setting a few free entrance days for all the sites the agency manages. The goal is to make the national park system available to everyone, no matter their economic circumstances.
About a quarter of the country's 400 or so national parks, monuments, historical sites, seashores, forests, and other areas normally charge entrance fees. But for 5 days in 2023, those parks will charge nothing at all for admission.
Back in 2016, we got a whopping 16 free days in honor of the NPS centenary. But the number dropped significantly in subsequent years, until settling around five—the number of free days in 2023 (as in 2022).
Five is better than nothing, and at least none of the free days fall in the middle of the week, making it easier to include one of the gimme days as part of a weekend or long weekend trip.
For many travelers, knowing a free entrance day is coming is all the prompting they need to finally take that road trip to visit one of America's most talked-about nature preserves or historical sites.
The NPS free entrance days in 2023 are:
January 16 (Monday): Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
April 22 (Saturday): First day of National Park Week
August 4 (Friday): Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
September 23 (Saturday): National Public Lands Day
November 11 (Saturday): Veterans Day
Mark your calendars, but make note of this as well: Although the NPS has the power to suspend the fees it collects, the agency cannot force vendors and concessionaires to suspend theirs. So once you have been granted that free entrance, you still might have to pay for things like camping, boat launches, transportation, parking, and tours. Of course, if you don't do any of those things, your adventure won't cost you a cent.
If you can't make one of the dates when the gates are wide open, consider buying an America the Beautiful annual pass. For a charge of $80, you'll get entry to everything in the NPS system for the entire year. If you're age 62 or older, that $80 covers the rest of your life.
There are also passes available for military service members and their dependents, for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities, for people who work in the parks as volunteers, and (in a gambit designed to expose schoolchildren to their national heritage) for U.S. fourth graders.
To search for national parks by state and territory, visit NPS.gov/FindaPark.
And for help planning your trip, check out some of these Frommer's guides, available in print and e-book versions:
• Frommer's Yosemite & Neighboring Parks
• Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks
• Frommer’s EasyGuide to Moab, Arches & Canyonlands National Parks
• Frommer’s EasyGuide to Bryce Canyon National Park
• Frommer’s EasyGuide to the Grand Canyon & Northern Arizona