Grand Teton Mountains reflect in a lake

When Should You Visit a National Park? These 6 Days Are Free

Travelers regularly ponder when to visit a national park. These sacred treasures hold so much history and natural beauty that there is never a bad day to visit. However, free entry always makes everything better. The National Park Service (NPS) will offer six entrance fee-free days in 2024 to celebrate national parks and promote outdoor recreation.

When Are the Free Entrance Days in 2024?

Mountains on the horizon in White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

The United States houses over 400 park sites managed by the NPS. Many parks charge an entrance fee, typically $5 to $35. This year, guests can visit any of these sites without paying an admission fee on the following days:

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 Day

September 28 – National Public Lands Day

November 11 – Veterans Day

Other Ways to Save

Raven at Petrified Forest National Park
Raven at Petrified Forest National Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

If these dates do not work with your schedule, other ways exist to save money. The NPS offers passes and discounts to U.S. military families, military veterans, disabled citizens, senior citizens, and fourth graders. Visit the NPS site for details.

An America the Beautiful annual pass costs $80 but gives you access to all our national parks. Consider a road trip to regions with multiple parks nearby to maximize the yearly pass. Where can you find these areas?

California

Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park. Photo credit: NPS / Rick Cain

Although separate parks, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are so close that the NPS treats them as one giant park. You automatically get access to the other when you pay an entrance fee. Two parks for the price of one is an easy win for travelers. 

Sequoia National Park boasts the world’s most giant tree and the tallest mountain in the continental United States. Kings Canyon has the planet’s second-largest tree by trunk volume, and its natural beauty rivals that of Yosemite National Park. 

South Dakota

Looking out at the Badlands
Badlands National Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Although not a full-fledged national park, Mount Rushmore is a national memorial managed by the NPS. South Dakota’s famous landmark is about an hour from Wind Cave National Park and an hour and a half from Badlands National Park. Travelers can quickly access three iconic park sites. The area comprises many other significant destinations, including Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park.

Wind Cave is renowned for its unique calcite formations called boxwork. The cave contains more boxwork than all other caves combined. Badlands National Park showcases vast mixed-grass prairies and otherworldly layered canyons, buttes, and spires. Guests regularly spot bison, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep in the park.

Wyoming

Old Faithful eruption in Yellowstone
Old Faithful Geyser erupts in Yellowstone National Park. Photo credit: lorcel via Deposit Photos

Yellowstone, America’s first national park, and Grand Teton sit within miles of each other, offering visitors an opportunity to explore two parks with stunning natural beauty, exotic wildlife, and unique geological formations.

Yellowstone proudly boasts hydrothermal features, including the famous Old Faithful Geyser. Visitors from all around the world come to see the geyser faithfully erupt with predictable regularity. Grand Teton is known for its namesake mountains, one of the youngest ranges of the Rocky Mountains. Both parks offer rewarding hikes and scenic drives with the potential of spotting wildlife nearly around every bend.

New Mexico and Texas

El Capitan in Guadalupe Mountains NP
El Capitan in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Although in two different states, Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, is a quick 45-minute drive from Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Travelers can access the parks from the same road, the National Parks Highway.

Carlsbad Caverns features the Big Room, an aptly named cavern 750 feet underground. The Big Room Trail is 1.25 miles, treating guests to breathtaking views of stalactites and stalagmites, some delicate, others massive. Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers rewarding hikes through rocky canyons and rugged mountains. The park’s namesake peak is the highest point in Texas.

Utah

Cathedral Valley, Utah
Cathedral Vally in Capitol Reef National Park. Photo credit: muha04 via Deposit Photos

The state of Utah harbors five beautiful national parks with two adjacent pairs. Only an easy half-hour drive separates Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Bryce Canyon and Zion sit about an hour and a half apart. Between the two pairs, Capitol Reef National Park is approximately 2.5 hours from Bryce Canyon and 3 hours from Canyonlands. Travelers can visit one of the park pairs on a weekend getaway or all five parks during a more extended trip.

Utah presents a unique opportunity as a springboard for national park enthusiasts. Travelers can drive from Canyonlands to Black Canyon of the Gunnison or Mesa Verde in Colorado in approximately 3 hours. Zion National Park is about 3.5 hours from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim or 5 hours from its South Rim.

Other Considerations

Mount Rushmore lit up at night
Mount Rushmore illuminated at night. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Beyond admission fees, consider weather and crowd levels when planning your visit. The NPS maintains a website for each national park where you can find information on hours of operation, weather, current conditions, activities, and guided tours.

Each park sets its hours, which may vary seasonally. Many parks offer more summer activities due to weather and staffing. You may discover fewer areas to explore in winter. Visit the specific park website for current information before your trip.

May through September is a great time to visit most parks, so you have improved odds of decent weather and plenty of activities. Crowd levels in most parks typically peak from June through August.

Free National Park Days 2024

things to do in Joshua Tree - visit Barker Dam
Hiking Barker Dam Nature Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Now is the time to plan your 2024 national park adventure. The NPS recently announced six days to visit any national park site without paying an entrance fee. Your wallet can remain heavy while your heart and mind get enlightened by stunning natural beauty in the great outdoors.

Featured image credit: rmarmion via Deposit Photos  

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Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey

Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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