How to Visit National Parks for Free in 2024

Explore America's national parks for free on designated days, use an applicable pass, or these money-saving tips.
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Written by Alisha McDarris
Senior couple resting on a mountain hike

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From the towering mountains of North Cascades and underwater ecosystem of Biscayne to the geothermal marvels of Yellowstone and vast dunes of White Sands, the national parks encompass some of the best of what the U.S. has to offer.

However, national park entrance fees can be expensive — the most popular parks charge up to $35 per vehicle. Fortunately, the National Park Service (NPS) offers fee-free days to outdoor lovers throughout the year.

Whether you’re planning a vacation on a budget or just want to save a few bucks, on these dates you can hike, swim or simply enjoy the views without the usual entrance fee. Here are the free national park days in 2024, plus some other tips and tricks to save money the rest of the year.

Visit on Free National Park Days 2024

Though official dates haven’t yet been announced, it’s anticipated there will be five days in 2024 when you can visit all national parks for free. The holidays will remain the same as the free national park days in 2023, though exact dates may differ.

Here are the five dates in 2024 you can enter any U.S. national park without paying a fee:

  • Jan. 15, 2024 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day): To celebrate the birthday of this civil rights hero, parks are free on this holiday.

  • April 20, 2024 (National Park Week): In honor of the first day of National Park Week, entrance fees will be waived at all national parks.

  • Aug. 4, 2024 (Anniversary of Great American Outdoors Act): To celebrate the Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed in 2020, park entrance is free for all on this day.

  • Sept. 28, 2024 (National Public Lands Day): On the fourth Saturday of September, explore (and consider volunteering at) a new park for free in honor of National Public Lands Day.

  • Nov. 11, 2024 (Veterans Day): Whether you’re a veteran, know one or just want to visit the parks, everyone can visit for free on Veterans Day.

Other ways to gain free entrance to national parks

These five days a year aren’t the only way to score free entrance to the national parks. Here are some other ways to gain access for free year-round.

Show your military ID

Whether you’re active military or a veteran, you can get a free annual pass to enter the national parks. A Military Annual Pass is for those currently serving in a branch of the U.S. armed forces and their dependents.

You must present proof of eligibility (e.g. a military ID or other valid form of identification) but you can obtain it in person at a park or online (for a small fee).

Veterans with a valid ID and Gold Star Families (with a valid voucher) can get a free Military Lifetime Pass. Obtain one at a federal recreation site or the United States Geological Survey online store for a minimal processing fee.

Visit with a fourth-grader

One way to gain free access to national parks in 2024 is to go with a fourth-grade student. To obtain the pass, you must have a valid paper voucher from the Every Kid Outdoors website (a digital copy on a phone won’t cut it). When presented at a national park property, it can be exchanged for a free 4th Grade Pass, which will grant the student and their family entry to the parks for the entire school year plus the following summer.

Show proof of permanent disability

Those who can show proof of permanent disability, along with citizenship or residency, can get a free lifetime Access Pass to enter all national recreation areas. You can apply online, in person at a park or by mail for this pass. It also has the added benefit of offering discounts of up to 50% on some park-operated amenities like camping and interpretive services.

Log those volunteer hours

If you’re passionate about volunteering, you may want to consider doing so at participating Interagency Pass Program federal agencies, which include the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Once you rack up 250 volunteer hours (over one or several years), you can pick up a free annual pass.

These national parks are always free

Not all national parks charge entrance fees — many are free year-round.

  • Biscayne National Park.

  • Channel Islands National Park (ferry tickets required).

  • Congaree National Park.

  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

  • Gates of the Arctic National Park.

  • Gateway Arch National Park.

  • Glacier Bay National Park.

  • Great Basin National Park.

  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

  • Hot Springs National Park.

  • Katmai National Park.

  • Kenai Fjords National Park.

  • Kobuk Valley National Park.

  • Lake Clark National Park.

  • Mammoth Cave National Park.

  • New River Gorge National Park.

  • North Cascades National Park.

  • Redwood National Park.

  • Voyageurs National Park.

  • Wind Cave National Park.

  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Note that if you want to see the caves at Great Basin, Mammoth Cave or Wind Cave national parks, you’ll need to pay a fee to join a tour. The same goes for riding the elevator to the top of Gateway Arch.

Other ways to save money on a national park pass

  • Buy an annual pass: If you plan to visit more than two or three national parks in a year that charge an entrance fee, it may be worth it to purchase an annual pass. It costs $80, so if you visit three parks that charge $30 entrance fees, the pass will save you money.

  • Load up the car: Many parks charge an entrance fee “per vehicle,” not per person. That means your entrance fee or annual pass covers everyone in a single vehicle, so consider carpooling to save money. At parks that charge “per person,” four adults are covered by an annual pass, but more than that will be charged the per-person rate. 

  • Go with a senior: If you or someone you know is over the age of 62, a lifetime pass costs $80 or an annual pass costs $20 — an excellent value.

  • Check for timed entry and reservation requirements: Several of the more popular parks require timed entry reservations during parts of the year or to visit specific areas of the park. These often need to be purchased in advance, so check before you go to make sure you won’t be turned away when you arrive.

Visiting the National Parks for free in 2024 recapped

You don’t always have to pay to explore the wonders of America’s national parks. Just plan your visit on one of the national park days with free admission, or visit throughout the year with an applicable pass.

If neither of those options work, there are plenty of other tips you can use to save some cash.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

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