Number of Free-Entry Days in U.S. National Parks Plummet


The U.S. National Parks are some of the most popular destinations for family vacations and outdoor adventures, and for good reason. The parks are spectacularly beautiful, many are easily accessible, and they are often an affordable alternative to other places. But this year, one national park tradition has been dramatically cut in an effort to address budget shortfalls.

For many years, the Park Service offered free admission to all of the national parks at special times throughout the year. For instance, anyone visiting a park on Martin Luther King Day a few weeks back was able to get in for free. In years past there were upwards of 16 fee-free days, allowing even cash-strapped travelers a chance to enjoy the splendor found there. But this year, that number has been slashed to just 4 days in total, with the aforementioned MLK Day already come and gone.

The remaining three free days for 2018 include the following:

  • April 21: First day of National Park Week
  • September 22: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day
If you’re looking to take advantage of this perk, those are the days it will be available. Of biggest note is that only the first day of National Park Week is free. In the past, the entire week, plus a few additional days, saw the entry fees waived. 
The NPS says that the cut-back on the number of free days in the park is the result of the organization needing to address budget issues and aging infrastructure throughout the parks. It has also taken an official stance that the free days were originally put in place to allow visitors to enjoy the parks while the U.S. economy was suffering. Now that things are better, the need for those days has been dramatically reduced too. 
The reduction of the fee-free days also comes with the news that many of the parks will actually see an increase in the cost of the entry fee as well. The price for a vehicle to enter most parks has been $35 for quite a long time, but under Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, that cost will rise to $70. That’s a fairly steep jump, and while the parks remain a bargain overall, the increase could have a long term impact on attendance. 
It is a shame that travelers will have fewer free days to enjoy the parks. Just another sign of the times I suppose. By the way, if you’re planning on visiting, the America the Beautiful Pass is still the best bargain. 
Kraig Becker