Get Outside (for Free) During National Public Lands Day

Sept. 25 is this year’s celebration of America’s public lands

Bryce Canyon
Brent Clark Photography / Getty Images

Looking to get in some leaf-peeping? Or enjoy an early autumn hike through some of the nation's most gorgeous public lands? The National Park Service has you covered. This Saturday, Sept. 25, is National Public Lands Day—an annual celebration and mass volunteer effort celebrating America's public lands. 

Since 1994, the fourth Saturday in September has been the coordinated day to celebrate the connection between humans and land. According to the National Park Service, it's also developed into the country's largest single-day volunteer event.

But the highlight for most people is that Saturday is one of just six days this year in which all 423 National Park Service-operated sites waive entry fees. That includes all 63 National Parks and the other 45 sites requiring entrance fees.

"This is a great opportunity for people in the area to experience one of the world's largest caves or to just go for a hike," Wind Cave National Park Superintendent Leigh Welling said in a statement from the South Dakota park. "Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Visiting natural areas lowers cortisol and blood pressure and is linked with lowering levels of stress, depression, and anxiety."

The federal government owns about 640 million acres of the U.S.'s 2.27 billion acres—or about 28 percent. Most of that land is managed by the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Some state agencies are also jumping in on the fun. Washington State's publicly owned state lands will also waive entry fees on Sept. 25. State parks in Nevada will also waive entrance fees

Wanting to take your celebration of our public lands a step further? Look for a volunteer opportunity. The National Environment Education Foundation (NEEF) helps coordinate the volunteer efforts and says more than 500 registered volunteer events are taking place this weekend. Some of those events are virtual ones, which NEEF leadership says have greatly expanded after being a necessity last year.

"While virtual events were a necessity for NPLD Site Managers in 2020, we learned they are also an invaluable tool for connecting a wider, more diverse range of people to parks, forests, marine estuaries, and other public lands sites," Meri-Margaret Deoudes, president and CEO of NEEF, said in a prepared statement.

After Saturday, the last remaining fee-free day will be Nov. 11 for Veterans Day. While entry fees will be waived, other fees—for camping, other lodging options, rentals, and activities—will not.