Come and experience the national parks! On five days in 2023, all National Park Service (NPS) sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone. Mark your calendar for these entrance fee-free dates in 2023:
January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
April 22: First Day of National Park Week
August 4: Great American Outdoors Day
September 23: National Public Lands Day
November 11: Veterans Day
“National parks are really amazing places and we want everyone to experience them,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams. “The entrance fee-free days encourage people to discover the beauty, history, and inspiration awaiting them in more than 400 national parks throughout the country.”
Detailed information about what there is to see and do at each park is available on NPS.gov or the NPS app. People need to know before they go what is open and available especially if interested in overnight accommodations.
In 2021, 297 million people visited national parks and spent $20.5 billion in local communities. This supported 322,600 jobs across the country and had a $42.5 billion benefit to the U.S. economy.
Most national parks are always free to enter. Only about 100 of the 400+ national parks have an entrance fee. For parks with an entrance fee, the cost ranges from $5 to $35 and the money remains in the NPS with 80-100 percent staying in the park where collected. The funds are used to enhance the visitor experience by providing programs and services, habitat restoration, and infrastructure maintenance and repair.
The fee waiver for the fee-free days applies only to NPS entrance fees and does not cover amenity or user fees for camping, boat launches, transportation, special tours, or other activities.
The annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows unlimited access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas including all national parks for the pass holder and companions accompanying them.
There are also free or discounted passes available for currently serving members of the U.S. military and their dependents, military veterans, Gold Star Families, fourth-grade students, disabled citizens, and senior citizens. Other federal land management agencies offering their fee-free days in 2023 are the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
More on national parks
Not sure which park to visit on these five days?
RVing with Rex has posted a series of Ultimate Guides to…
These resources were written for RVers who wish to explore a national park or other location in depth and often highlight cheap and free things to do while traveling in the area. Having a tried-and-true itinerary can assist you in maximizing your time in a NPS site by showcasing the highlights including hiking trails and campgrounds in and near the park.
National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.
You can save a substantial amount of money by finding cheap or free things to do wherever you travel in your RV. And, it’s easier than you think. Several go-to activities and strategies will help you tighten your purse strings.
Every dollar you save is a dollar you can put toward your next road trip. Granted, you still want to enjoy your current trip to the fullest.
But, thankfully, most free activities are worth good money. Here are ways you can find inexpensive or free things to do on your next RV road trip.
1. Head to the local visitor center
Make the visitor center or chamber of commerce your first stop. They’ll be happy to tell you about their city and give you an event schedule and suggest things to do in the area. Concerts, craft shows, farmers’ markets, fairs, and other events are fun, interesting, and often free.
I’m a BIG FAN of visitor centers. They are packed with useful information including brochures and self-guided tour maps. Plus, there is always a helpful docent itching to tell you about their local knowledge and wisdom. If anyone is going to know about the best free and cheap things to do, it’s the visitor center staff.
2. Visit museums
Both the United States and Canada take pride in making history and knowledge available to the public. The U. S. is packed with FREE museums that are operated at the city, county, or federal level.
The Smithsonian Institute is the best example with incredible museums, galleries, and a zoo. While it is surely the grandest, it is by no means the only one.
Most cities and even small towns have a public museum you can enjoy, often for free. Many do ask for a donation but in most cases, you’ll be more than happy to give it.
3. Use reciprocal memberships
If you don’t know what reciprocal memberships are, you’re not alone. Reciprocity programs offer access to many places to visit including historical museums, zoos and aquariums, and science and technology centers.
So what is reciprocity? It’s an exchange of benefits between two locations such as two zoos or two art museums. Except that the program participants are more than just a couple of locations; they typically span hundreds to thousands of locations nationwide and in some international locations.
Five great examples of reciprocal memberships for travelers are:
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)
North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)
American Horticultural Society
Time Travelers (reciprocal membership network for historical museums, sites, and societies throughout the US)
4. National and state parks
National Parks and Monuments offer wonderful visitor centers, free ranger-led tours, and informative talks. You can purchase an annual America the Beautiful pass for $80 which offers entrance access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. This includes National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, National Memorials, National Historic Sites, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and the Bureau of Land Management. You can learn about medicinal plants in the Arizona desert, birds in Florida, and the gold rush in Alaska—all free at National Parks.
State parks are also fun to explore. If you’re going to visit several parks in one state, it might make sense to purchase a state parks pass for that state as that covers entrance fees for all parks in that state.
5. Google “free things to do in…”
Include your destination and the search engine will take care of the rest. You’ll get plenty of lists to explore.
Another great search resource is Tripadvisor. Users rank the best things to do in any place which you can easily skim through.
6. Check for local factory tours
Local business or factory tours provide not only a unique experience but also a great way to connect with a local community. It gives you a real insight into the area and often a glimpse into the local history. Many of these tours are free with the unspoken expectation that you make a purchase. For instance, many local breweries offer a free tour and end it with a sales pitch to buy their brews. Some wineries waive their tasting fee with a purchase.
If not free, most factory tours are reasonably priced. In many cases, you can take the tour for less than $10 each.
7. Free walking tours
Many cities across the U.S. have guided or self-guided walking tours for free or cheap. You can simply google “walking tours in…” and fill in the space with your destination.
There are also a few apps and websites dedicated to walking tours. A popular one for U.S. destinations is GPSMyCity. It has thousands of self-guided walking tours.
Go for hikes on the nature trails of wildlife refuges and BLM land. National Wildlife Refuges are wonderful places to see migrating birds and learn about native animal species. There are often loop drives with stops along the way where you can photograph wildlife from a safe distance. Many state and county parks have great hiking trails too. Visiting alltrails.com can show you all the hiking trails in the area. Not only is hiking usually free but it’s great exercise and a great way to see the area from a different point of view.
9. Flea markets, farmer’s markets, and festivals
Local flea markets, farmer’s markets, and festivals are wonderful ways to check out local produce and crafts. Some farmer’s markets also have entertainment, places to picnic, and a variety of fresh foods to try. In the Northeast, you’ll find Maple Festivals, Apple Festivals, and Lilac Festivals. Or look for the Potato Festival, Rattlesnake Hunts, and Chili Cookoffs in the south and west.
10. Visit the local historical society website
Most cities, big or small, have some kind of historical society. If you visit their website, you’ll often find visitor guides to historical sites in the area. In many cases, you can visit these historical sites for free, with a donation, or a small entry fee.
Simply google your destination with “historical society” and see what pops up in search results.
I hope these tips for finding cheap or free things to do while RVing has helped. I have one more recommendation for you.
These resources were written for RVers who wish to explore a location in depth and often highlight cheap and free things to do while traveling in the area. Having a tried-and-true itinerary can save you from wasting time and throwing money at something, anything to do. Selected guides include: