Why should families spend time together in nature?
Spending time in nature is good for everyone! Many of these 12 science-backed reasons to spend more time outdoors are true for me. Have you felt the same effects?
A study at the University of Illinois has found that those same benefits apply when you make a family activity of regularly getting outside. So why not enjoy a beautiful National Park together?
Junior Ranger programs
Another benefit of our National Parks is the comprehensive Junior Ranger program. At each park's Visitor Center, kids can get a booklet to complete the program for that park.
Booklets typically have questions and puzzles related to the exhibits inside the Visitor Center and out in the parks. Kids are asked to complete a number of activities (depending on their age) before bringing it back to the Visitor Center.
At each Park we have visited across the country, there has been a different reward. Most times, the kids receive a Junior Ranger pin for that Park and are “sworn in” as Junior Rangers. Sometimes, they also receive a pencil or sticker.
I find the Junior Ranger booklets helpful to keep the kids busy when you're waiting in line at places like Independence Park. It's also a great way for them to learn about the history, geology and biology of each park.
Aren't all National Parks free?
While many are, about 25% of our country's National Parks do charge an entrance fee. That's why you need to consider buying a national park pass or attending during one of the fee-free entrance days.
Fee-free entrance days:
- January 21: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- April 20-28: National Park Week
- August 25: National Park Service Birthday
- September 28: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
How can I get a free National Park Pass?
National Park Passes are FREE for current U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard as well as Reserve and National Guard members. Just visit a federal recreation area that issues passes and bring the appropriate paperwork. Learn more about the free annual pass for US Military.
People who volunteer 250+ hours also earn a FREE National Park Pass. The hours can be earned in any number of months or years and across all five of the federal recreation areas. Once earned, the pass is good for 12 months, and the number of hours resets back to 0. Learn more about the Volunteer Pass.
If you or someone in your family has a permanent disability, apply for a FREE Access Pass. Visit a federal recreation area that issues passes and bring the appropriate paperwork.
How old is your child? All fourth graders get a FREE Every Kid in a Park Pass, whether they attend school or are home-schooled. Learn more about the Every Kid in a Park program. This saved my family a lot of money when we took a 3-week trip to five National Parks the year my twins were 4th graders.
Which National Parks are free?
The National Park System comprises 418 sites across the United States, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and Guam.
300+ parks are already free, such as all of the Washington DC Memorials. Here are a few more favorites:
- Biscayne National Park (Florida)
- Conagee National Park (South Carolina)
- Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky, Virginia & Tennessee)
- Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tenneessee)
- Herbert Hoover National Historic Site (Iowa)
- Theodore Roosevelt Island
Which National Parks charge a fee?
115 National Park sites regularly charge an entrance fee, typically per vehicle. When you're visiting a large park for multiple days, such as Yellowstone, this can add up! That's why it is worth learning how to get in free at National Parks.
I've rounded up family reviews of many Parks that charge a fee. Obviously, this isn't all of them! They are in alphabetical order to make it easier for you to find the one you're planning for.
- Acadia National Park (Maine)
- Arches National Park (Utah)
- Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland)
- Badlands National Park (South Dakota)
- Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)
- Big Bend National Park (Texas)
- Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (Maryland)
- Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
- Devil's Tower (Wyoming)
- Everglades National Park (Florida)
- Glacier National Park (Montana)
- Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
- Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)
- Joshua Tree National Park (California)
- Lake Powell/Canyonlands National Park (Utah)
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (Montana)
- Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota)
- Mount Rainier (Washington)
- Mount Saint Helens (Washington)
- Muir Woods National Monument (California)
- Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona)
- Olympic National Park (Washington)
- Perry's Victory & International Peace Monument (Indiana)
- Pompey's Pillar and Lewis & Clark Trail (Montana)
- Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
- Saguaro National Park (Arizona)
- Sequoia National Park (California)
- Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
- Skyline Drive (Virginia)
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
- Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana & Wyoming)
- Yosemite National Park (California)
- Zion National Park (Utah)
How do I find a National Park near me?
Use the Find Your Park tool at the National Parks website. When you click on a particular Park, you can find out if it is a park that normally charges an entrance fee or not.