Free. It's everyone's favorite “F” word—and the perfect way to start 2021 is to visit one of the National Park Service’s more than 400 locations, for free. That’s right. For six days this year, the parks, monuments, and memorials are free.
While the vast majority of the parks are usually free year-round, 108 require an entrance fee. But for six glorious days, that price is waved, and one day is coming up pretty soon.
The National Park Service fee-free days for 2021 include:
- Jan. 18 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- April 17 – National Park Week
- Aug. 4 – Great American Outdoors Act anniversary
- Aug. 25 – National Park Service Birthday
- Sept. 25 – National Public Lands Day
- Nov. 11 – Veterans Day
The first free day is less than two weeks away, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, with the next opportunity not until April 17 on the first day of National Park Week, the celebration of the nation’s most beautiful places and spaces. Late summer and fall see most of the no-fee days, with Aug. 25 and Sept. 25 as the National Park Service’s Birthday and National Public Lands Day, respectively.
This year marks the 105th birthday of the NPS, and in addition to waived fees, there will be tons of virtual events. And National Public Lands Day, held on the fourth Saturday in September, is considered the country’s largest single-day volunteer event.
“Fee-free days are a great way to discover our national parks for the first time,” Pedro Ramos, Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks Superintendent, said in a statement.
The free day means bypassing the $30 per vehicle fees of the Everglades or Shenandoah in Virginia or the $20 it’ll cost you to visit the home of FDR or Natural Bridges, Utah’s first national monument. Though visiting a national park might seem like a free right, the fees charged regularly go towards park maintenance, repairs, and redesigns, and 20 percent goes towards the parks that don’t actually charge fees.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a socially distanced visit to a national park might not be a bad idea. Each site has a COVID-19 response alert with updates on location closures as well as any mask-wearing mandates.
In 2019, U.S. national parks attracted more than 300 million visitors, the third-highest record, so it’s safe to say others might have the same idea to visit these destinations, especially on the free days. But while Yosemite and Yellowstone might see more crowds, it’s also possible to visit the least-visited national parks. Or head to West Virginia’s New River Gorge, the country’s latest national park.
For a full list of the fee-free parks and monuments, you can check out the National Park Service site that lists participating locations by state.
NPS.gov. "NPS Birthday - NPS Celebrates!" Retrieved Jan 6, 2021.