How to Visit a National Park for Free in 2024

Catherine Parker Avatar
photo, trail through a red rock canyon
Pathway to the Queens Throne on the Queens Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, June 19, 2014. Photo credit: Eric Jay Toll

America’s federally-managed parks are a national treasure. The National Park Service charges reasonable entrance fees to the parks. For example, admission is just $35 to Grand Canyon National Park for seven days for a carload of people. Plus, you can bring food to grill and marshmallows to roast for memorable outdoor meals!

Even better than cheap is free.

Each year, America’s national parks offer free admission to fourth graders and members of the military including veterans and Gold Star families. And on select national park free days sprinkled throughout the year, everyone gets in for free. Now, that’s a deal!

With visits to iconic destinations such as Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Golden Gate Bridge, your family can explore the United States’ most distinct spots. Camping at a national park is a bargain too. Many national park campgrounds charge less than $50 a night.

Read More: Complete Yellowstone Guide for Families

National Park Free Days in 2024

For 2024, the free admission days for everyone are:

  • January 15: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 20: First day of National Park Week.
  • 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.
Grand Canyon
Visit the Grand Canyon for epic desert landscapes. Photo credit: Catherine Parker

Types of National Park Passes

If you plan to visit several national parks in one year, consider an annual National Park Pass. I’ve been an America the Beautiful Annual Pass holder for years. Passes offer great value. In fact, sometimes there’s even a special entrance line for pass holders, saving time.

Type Of National Park Pass Eligibility Cost
America the Beautiful Annual Pass All visitors, including international $80
Military Pass Current U.S. military members and their dependents as well as Gold Star Families and Veterans Free
Fourth Grade Pass U.S. 4th graders (including home-schooled and free-choice learner 10-year-olds) Free
Senior Pass U.S. citizens and permanent residents 62 years and older $80 Lifetime/$20 Annual
Access Pass U.S. citizens and permanent residents with a permanent disability Free
Volunteer Pass Visitors volunteering 250 hours a year Free

How to Get Free National Parks Admission for Active Military

A free annual pass is one of the benefits for active military members. To get yours, head to the nearest National Park Service site that sells annual passes. Present your Common Access Card (CAC) or your Military ID (Form 1173).

  • U.S. Army
  • U.S. Navy
  • U.S. Air Force
  • U.S. Marines
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S. Space Force
  • Military Reserves and National  Guard

How to Get Free Admission for Military Veterans

Free admission was extended to military veterans effective Nov. 11, 2022. To get free admission, present one of the following forms of ID for entry to a national park:

  • Department of Defense Identification Card (CAC Card)
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
  • Veteran ID Card
  • Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card

The free admission covers everyone in a single vehicle or the veteran plus three others ages 16 and older if per-person fees are charged. Kids 15 and under always get free admission.

How to Get Free Admission for Gold Star Families

Gold Star Families are the families of an active duty military member who died in the line of duty. This includes war, an international terrorist attack or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the United States Armed Forces.

To get free admission, download, print and sign the Gold Star Family Voucher.

After signing the voucher, display it in your vehicle or present it to a National Park Ranger for free admission. The voucher covers occupants of a single, private non-commercial vehicle OR the voucher-holder and three people ages 16 and up if the park charges per-person admission fees.

The History of the National Park Service 

The U.S. National Parks are an American innovation that the world has adopted. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming became the first national park. And on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service to govern the 35 national parks in the U.S. at the time.

Since then, the National Park Service has grown substantially. It includes 423 national parks, national historical parks, and national monuments. Also, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores.

Some parks feature vast, iconic scenery. For example, Big Bend National Park in West Texas and Olympic National Park in Washington State. Others recognize an area’s historical significance. These include San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the National Parks of New York City. Finally, national park sites document important events, like Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Hiking the Highline Loop Trail to Logan Pass is a popular activity in Glacier National Park.
Hiking the Highline Loop Trail to Logan Pass is a popular activity in Glacier National Park. Photo credit: Keri Baugh

Tips for Visiting National Parks with Kids

When my kids were babies, I promised myself to show them the treasures of their country. So after visiting 41 of the 63 major national parks and close to 100 national park service sites, they’ve explored the jewels of the continent.

What Are National Park Junior Rangers?

Kids from ages 5 to 13 can become National Park Junior Rangers. This means they can explore, learn and protect our national treasures. Over 200 national park sites provide free booklets designed especially for each park (some parks charge $3 for the booklet). And some can be downloaded and completed at home when you can’t visit a national park in person.

How does it work? Kids explore a park site with their families and complete fun activities in the Junior Ranger booklet. Afterwards, kids turn in the booklets, take an oath and get an official Junior Ranger badge or patch.

Tips From SheBuysTravel:

  • National parks are popular destinations during school breaks, holidays and pandemics. So, make reservations as early as possible. Lodging reservations are available 13 months in advance.
  • Parking can be an issue at popular destinations during the middle of the day.
  • Some features have barricades kids can climb over, so watch your children at all times.
  • Keep wild animals wild (and safe) by not feeding them. Even the cute ones that beg.
  • Stay at least 25 feet away from animals and 100 feet from bears.
  • Bring refillable water bottles and food for your national park visit. Food service is limited and kids love picnics.
  • Know your personal limits and the limits of your equipment.
  • If you don’t have kids traveling with you, most parks allow adults to complete the NPS Junior Ranger booklets for the same badge or patch.
Catherine Parker has a passion for travel with only one state left in her quest of seeing all 50. As a former flight attendant, she’s landed in nearly every major North American airport at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting national parks, historic sites and cultural icons. She’s a freelance writer and journalist based out of Central Texas, dividing her time between writing and restoring a 95-year-old house. She shares her life with her three kids, her husband, yardful of cats, a dog and three backyard chickens.
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One response

  1. Thank you for sharing your research. These are four important dates I’m putting on the family calendar right now–free is good.

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