FREE National Parks to Visit (2024)

These national parks are free year-round, and not merely on certain days

The National Parks are some of the best places to visit in the country and one of the best excuses for a nature-filled getaway from the stress of the cities.

Many of the parks do require an entrance fee. On the other hand, there are many National Parks Service (NPS) sites that are free year-round and not merely on certain days.

Please note that at the end of this guide I list the national park free days that you can visit without having to pay. The free days pertain to all US National Parks and designated sites.

National parks are protected for everyone to enjoy, but a visit to one can be expensive. As an example, it’s $35 to bring a car full of people into Grand Canyon National Park, or $20 per individual if you hike in, and that doesn’t account for parking fees, camping costs, or the price of lodging and extra activities. 

However, a handful of national parks don’t charge admission fees at all. Here are 16 national parks in the U.S. that are always free to enter (but keep in mind that there might still be other costs including boat rentals, camping permits, or parking fees).

From Arizona to Virginia, these parks don’t charge admission fees and are always free to enter.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

America’s newest national park is indeed FREE. Not only is it free to enter the park but it is also free to go camping although it is only equipped for primitive camping.

The West Virginia national park spans over 73,808 acres and is located near Beckley.

The gorge is carved out by the New River and is the longest and deepest gorge in the Appalachians and throughout the park you will get to see exposed sandstone and shale alongside large boulders and other areas that are perfect for bouldering.

One of the most popular things to do in New River Gorge National Park is to fish. There is a lot of diversity in the waters there. Another popular thing to do is to go whitewater rafting. The Lower Gorge of the New River is the premier spot and you will find rapids ranging from Class III to Class V there.

As for rock climbing, you will find over 1,400 established climbs and it is one of the most famous places in the United States for rock climbing.

There are also around 50 miles of hiking trails in New River Gorge National Park that range from easy to difficult. Some of them are actually rail to trails and are perfect for biking.

Here are some helpful resources:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

It’s not hard to see why this is America’s most-visited National Park; it’s a quick trip from many major cities in the South and Midwest, the Appalachian foothills are gorgeous, and it’s free. Drive or bike the serene hidden valley of Cades Cove, explore the ghost town of Elkmont, or take in the views from Clingmans Dome during the day and bask in the folksy kitsch of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge at night. Oh, and did I mention that the park is totally, 100 percent free?

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.

If you need ideas, check out:

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park is one of America’s free national parks and it can be explored on foot or by its waterways. Most visitors decide to explore the area either through the South Carolina national park’s nearly 25 miles of hiking paths or 2.4 miles of boardwalk. 

Weston Lake and other trails can be accessed via the boardwalk circle route. Hiking options in the park include short hikes on the Boardwalk Trail or longer backcountry ones.

You are free to choose based on your desire and abilities, of course. The pathway of almost all trails leads up to picturesque lakes, the Congaree River, or views of ancient trees that are part of one of the tallest forests in the US. 

Also, don’t underestimate the thrill of canoeing and kayaking in Congaree.

Here are some articles to help:

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Virginia

History comes to life at this historic park. Plan a national park trip to the scene of the end of the Civil War and experience history with your family.

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

The National Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home—where Lee made his formal surrender—and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County.

Check this out to learn more: Appomattox Court House: Beginning Peace and Reunion

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

Explore the Aztec ruins, enjoy a half-mile walk through an original Pueblo House, and discover how ancient people built their homes in the desert.

Built and occupied over 900 years ago, Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called great houses each with a great kiva—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. Excavation of the West Ruin in the 1900s uncovered thousands of well-preserved artifacts that provide a glimpse into the life of Ancestral Pueblo people connecting people of the past with people and traditions of today.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

The Blue Ridge Parkway borders both the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park offering stunning views of Appalachia.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, noted for its relaxing pace and scenic beauty, also showcases a cross-section of Appalachian mountain culture and history. Stretching 469 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through North Carolina and Virginia, it encompasses some of the oldest pre-historic and early European settlements.

Visitors can trace much of the history of Appalachian culture through overlook signs, visitor center exhibits, restored historic structures, and developed areas, all of which reveal the many communities along the route that make the region so special. Fall leaf peeping is a hugely popular activity along the Parkway, as are hiking and wildlife viewing.

That’s why I wrote these four articles:

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Relive history in Gettysburg, where the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War occurred and where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union Army of the Potomac and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing. To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a Soldiers Cemetery was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line.

Check this out to learn more: Gettysburg National Military Park: A New Birth of Freedom

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly is unique among National Park Service units as it is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land that remains home to the canyon community.

Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, the cultural resources of Canyon de Chelly including distinctive architecture, artifacts, and rock imagery exhibit remarkable preservation integrity that provides outstanding opportunities for study and contemplation.

Here are some articles to help:

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites and features volcanic rock carved by Native American and Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved by native peoples and early Spanish settlers.

Many of the images are recognizable as animals, people, brands, and crosses; others are more complex. Their meaning may have only been understood only by the carver. These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and all who appreciate them.

Check out Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument for more inspiration.

Casa Grande Ruins National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona

Casa Grande Ruins, the nation’s first archeological preserve protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.

For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present-day state of Arizona. When the first Europeans arrived all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals, and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande or Big House, one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America.

You are invited to see the Casa Grande and to hear the story of the ancient ones the Akimel O’otham call the Hohokam, those who are gone.

Check this out to learn more: The Mystique of the Casa Grande Ruins

Boston National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts

Boston National Historical Park tells the story of the events that led to the American Revolution including many sites found along the Freedom Trail.

Many of the historic sites that make up Boston National Historical Park tell the story of what kept the Navy strong. In downtown Boston, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House, and Old North Church bring to life the American ideals of freedom of speech, religion, government, and self-determination.

In Charlestown, visit the Bunker Hill Monument, the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution. Nearby is the Charlestown Navy Yard, one of the nation’s first naval shipyards and home to USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Twenty-seven million years ago a volcanic eruption of immense proportions shook the land around Chiricahua National Monument, a mecca for hikers and birders.

One thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Turkey Creek Caldera eruption eventually laid down two thousand feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. This mixture fused into a rock called rhyolitic tuff and eventually eroded into the spires and unusual rock formations of today.

Read more: The Otherworldly Wonderland of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

Free National Park Days in 2024

Throughout the year, there are days that are free for all national parks, not just the ones on this list. These are the already-designated free national park days for 2024.

January 15 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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

Free National Park Week

In addition to free national park days, there is also National Park Week which celebrates the National Parks with special events all week long. 

In 2024, National Park Week runs from Saturday, April 20, 2024 to Sunday, April 28, 2024.

Additional National Parks Guides

Best National Parks by Month

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

2024 National Park Free Entrance Days: Top 10 States to Visit

NPS has announced its free entrance days for 2024 so here are the states with the highest number of national parks and the highest concentration of national park sites

The National Park Service (NPS) sites which include national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, national historic sites, and other protected areas are incredible public spaces to enjoy and learn about nature. Some national park sites charge entrance fees but NPS has announced six fee-free entrance days in 2024:

  • January 15: Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr
  • April 20: First day of National Park Week
  • June 19: Juneteenth National Independence Day
  • August 4: Great American Outdoors Act anniversary
  • September 28: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

A great way to take full advantage of these free entrance days is to visit multiple national park sites in one day. While that may be difficult or even impossible in many areas there are several states with a high concentration of national park sites.

10 best states for national park sites

The following states are great places to travel to visit national parks at any time of the year whether or not you make it for the free entrance days.

1. Alaska

The Last Frontier has eight national parks and a total of 23 NPS sites including national monuments and other federally preserved areas. While Alaska is the largest state, three of the national parks are fairly close together—you can visit Kenai Fjords, Katmai, and Lake Clark National Parks within one day.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. California

The Golden State has nine national parks, the most of any state. The most popular national park in California is Yosemite but even the park with the smallest number of annual visitors, Pinnacles, is incredible and worth a visit. With a total of 28 national park sites, there is no shortage of beautiful locations to visit.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Utah

The Beehive State has five national parks (The Big Five) and they are much closer together than those found in Alaska and California—in fact, it takes about seven hours to drive from Zion to Canyonlands and stop at the three other national parks in between. However, it’s worth it to slow down and spend more time at each park so consider sticking to one park each day.

Here are some articles to help:

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Arizona

Arizona and Colorado, the next state on the list, both have four national parks. However, Arizona has a higher total of NPS sites at 22 making it a great place to take a national parks road trip. Grand Canyon National Park is the best known in Arizona but Saguaro National Park and the lesser known Petrified Forest National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area also offers incredible vistas and outdoor opportunities.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Colorado

With four national parks and a total of 13 NPS sites, Colorado is another great option for national park enthusiasts. Mesa Verde National Park is remarkable because apart from its national park status it is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it preserves the rich cultural history of many indigenous tribes.

Here are some articles to help:

6. Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands have two national parks and a total of eight national park sites which is especially impressive when you remember that’s within an area of 10,392 square miles per the United States Census Bureau. One of the parks, Haleakalā, is located on the island of Maui which was recently devastated by fires so make sure to avoid the areas closed to tourism.

Mount St. Helens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Washington

The crown of the Pacific Northwest is home to three national parks and a total of 15 NPS sites. Mount Rainier is perhaps the best known of the three but North Cascades and Olympic both protect a huge array of diverse wildlife. Washington is also home to a former plutonium factory that makes up one-third of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Read more:

8. Florida

This state is home to three national parks including Dry Tortugas which can only be reached via plane, ferry, or boat. The other two, Biscayne and Everglades are within about an hour’s distance of each other meaning you can visit both in one day.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Virginia

Although Virginia only has one national park, it is home to a total of 22 NPS sites. Given its area of 42,775 square miles that means there is a fairly high concentration of NPS sites within the state making it an excellent area to explore for national park lovers.

Here’s an article to help you do just that: The Ultimate Guide to Shenandoah National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. New Mexico

Set in the Southwest, New Mexico boasts many breathtaking landscapes that are often overlooked by visitors. Besides all its desolate yet dramatic desert scenery, the state is home to the rearing Rocky Mountains, the roaring Rio Grande, and plenty of colorful canyons, cliffs, and caves. New Mexico has two national parks (Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands), three national historical parks (Chaco Culture, Pecos, Manhattan Project), one national heritage area (Northern Rio Grande)m, and 11 national monuments including four administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

That’s why I wrote these seven articles:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus: Tennessee

Tennessee is home to part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which welcomes the most annual visitors of any national park site in the United States. It also has a total of 13 NPS sites meaning there are a plethora of exploration opportunities.

By the way, I have a series of posts on the Great Smokies:

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Plan Your Visit: Free Entrance Days in the National Parks for 2024

6 days national parks are free to visit in 2024

Every national park in America is free to visit for a few days yearly. That includes bucket-list destinations like the Grand Canyon, Arches, Shenandoah, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, and Zion.

Come and experience the national parks! On six days in 2024, 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 2024:

  • January 15: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 20: First Day of National Park Week
  • June 1: Juneteenth
  • August 4: Great American Outdoors Day
  • September 28: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cost to enter parks with entrance fees ranges from $10 to $35. The funds remain in the National Park Service and 80-100 percent stays in the park where collected. The revenue supports visitor services including enhancing accessibility restoring wildlife habitat providing ranger programs and adding or upgrading restrooms, campgrounds, trails, and other facilities.

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.

If you can’t make it on these particular dates, there are still more than 400 NPS sites including national monuments, national historic sites, national seashores, and national recreations that are always free to visit. Currently, only 109 of the 400-plus NPS sites charge an entrance fee.

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 2024 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.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More on national parks

Not sure which park to visit on these six 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 an NPS site by showcasing the highlights including hiking trails and campgrounds in and near the park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Selected guides include:

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can also read:

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

Plan Your Visit: Free Entrance Days in the National Parks for 2023

National Park Service announces five entrance fee-free days for 2023 that provide free admittance to all national parks for everyone

Every national park in America is free to visit for a few days each year. That includes bucket-list destinations like the Grand Canyon and Zion but also hundreds of other national monuments, national seashoresnational historic sites, and national recreation areas.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“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. 

>> Read Next: America the Beautiful: The National Parks

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.  

>> Read Next: From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

>> Read Next: The 8 Best National Parks for a Weekend Getaway

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Selected guides include:

Worth Pondering…

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.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

National Parks Are Free September 24. Visit these 10 Lesser Known Sites.

In honor of National Public Lands Day on September 24, entrance to all National Park Service sites will be free

September 24 is one of five days in 2022 when the National Park Service (NPS) offers free admission to visitors—and comes just after the start of fall, a colorful season for a road trip. Schools are back in session, the summer tourism rush has waned, and fall colors are happening.

It’s just a wonderful time of year.

While many visitors will use the free day for recreation, National Public Lands Day is the country’s largest single day of volunteering for parks and public lands. There’s something to be said for planting a tree or doing invasive species removal or a cleanup around a river versus just going to enjoy the sites. It makes you a steward of that space.

And don’t forget: Places you can help out go beyond the 63 national parks. There are also federal public lands, national monuments, wildlife refuges, historic sites, seashores, and recreation areas you can visit without admission.

Instead of competing with the crowds at America’s most famous parks, visit lesser-known options. Here are 10 sites to visit across the country.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

The New River is the United State’s newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

Not only is it great for fall foliage but they also have a cool event every year called Bridge Day. Every third Saturday in October (October 15, 2022), Bridge Day brings thousands of spectators to watch BASE jumpers fling themselves off the New River Gorge Bridge. Don’t want to run into those crowds? Skip Bridge Day.

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

People have lived in the canyon for more than 5,000 years making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Cavern National Park, New Mexico

The main attraction of this national park is the show cave—the Carlsbad Cavern (and the Big Room in particular). Unlike most caves around the nation, one does not need a guided tour to explore the cave—visitors can walk on their own through the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. 

Visitors can choose between the steep paved trail making its way down into the cave or the elevator directly down to the Big Room Trail. The 1.25-mile long Natural Entrance Trail is steep (it gains or loses) around 750 feet in elevation. This is equivalent to walking up a 75-story building. It takes about an hour to complete. Once down in the caves, the Big Room Trail is leading to the popular Big Room.

Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’, while Sipapu, the second largest natural bridge in the state, means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive overlooks the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins.

Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monuments

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

Get more tips for visiting Pinnacles National Park

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Texas

Four of the five surviving Spanish colonial missions in and around San Antonio comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The park and its missions offer visitors a look at the oldest unrestored stone church in the country—Mission Concepción; the “Queen of the Missions” known as Mission San José and the largest of the missions fully restored to its original design in the 1930s; the restored acequias (irrigation canals) of Mission San Juan; and Mission Espada, the first mission built in Texas. The city’s group of five Spanish colonial missions — of which San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is included—is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Get more tips for visiting San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s southernmost island and a place where you can truly get away from the modern world. With no bridge to come to Cumberland Island travelers have to use a ferry or private boat to get to this beautiful place which is managed by the national park service. Although Georgia’s Atlantic coastline is only about 100 miles long, the Peach State is home to 30 percent of the barrier islands along the Atlantic Seaboard. And Cumberland is the largest and fairest of them all with the longest expanse of the pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. Truly, this is a bucket list destination.

Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is a park for isolation. This is where the Badlands start cutting into the landscape carving sharp rock faces and hoodoos into the countryside. Both the north and south units offer great hiking, expansive vistas, easily accessible wilderness, abundant wildlife, and not many visitors. This is a wonderful park for hiking due to the elevation (or lack thereof) and abundance of trails.

Get more tips for visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Explore More National Parks on These Fee-Free Days in 2021

Have you planned your camping trips for 2021 yet? Plan your travels around these six fee-free days at the national parks!

With over 400 National Park Service sites, there are plenty of options for your next RV weekend getaway or extended vacation. Take pictures of Zion canyon’s narrows, gaze at Arches’ massive sandstone arches, view exhibits about the desert flora and fauna at a Saguaro visitor’s center, or hike one of the many trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. America’s national parks have much to offer in the way of scenery, activities, and history.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced that all National Park Service sites will have six entrance fee-free days in 2021. The fee-free days are part of the Administration’s commitment to increase access, promote recreational opportunities, improve visitor facilities, and conserve natural and historical treasures in national parks for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people.

Joshua Tree National Park , California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The six fee-free days in 2021 are:

  • January 18: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 17: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4: First anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 25: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Mark your calendars and start planning your camping trip.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Each of the fee-free days celebrates or commemorates a significant event including the establishment earlier this year by President Trump of the Great American Outdoors Act. The legislation marks the single largest investment ever in national parks and will result in enhanced facilities and expanded recreational prospects for all visitors,” said Margaret Everson, Counselor to the Secretary, exercising the delegated authority of the National Park Service Director.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Throughout the country, every national park provides a variety of opportunities to get out in nature, connect with our common heritage, and experience the vast array of benefits that come from spending time outdoors. Hopefully, the fee-free days will encourage everyone to spend some time in their national parks.”

There are more than 400 National Park Service sites nationwide, with at least one in every state. Approximately 100 parks charge an entrance fee with costs ranging from $5 to $35. The other 300-plus national parks do not have entrance fees.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt signed Secretary’s Orders 3386 and 3387 granting veterans, Gold Star Families and fifth-graders free access to all national parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior. Veterans and Gold Star Families will have free access forever while fifth-grade students were granted the reprieve through this academic year as some of last year’s fourth-graders may have been unable to make full use of the Every Kid Outdoors Annual Fourth Grade Pass due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Active duty military and fourth-grade students will continue to have free access with discounted passes also available for seniors. For other visitors who love visiting public lands, the annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is a great option which allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas including all national parks.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, 327 million people visited national parks and spent $21 billion in local communities. This supported 340,500 jobs across the country and had a $41.7 billion impact on the U.S. economy.

Keep track of your visits with a National Parks Passport. Simply stamp your book before departing and continue to add on more throughout the year. Stamps are typically located at the visitor’s center.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada

Other federal land management agencies offering their own fee-free days in 2021 include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im