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A visit the to the U.S. National Parks is a bargain when you realize everyone in your car can enter for one admission fee. Even better are the days when it is free to enter the national parks. America’s national parks are a national treasure. Each year, the parks offer free admission to fourth graders and members of the military including military veterans and Gold Star families. Read on for details about national park free days for families in 2021 plus tips on traveling to national parks.
U.S. National Parks For Free!
A U.S .National Parks vacation can be very affordable. Especially if you picnic and camp. Most U.S. national parks are free year-round. About 116 of the 423 U.S. national parks charge admission ($5 to $35). But on national park free days for families you get free admission. Now, that’s a deal!
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With visits like Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Golden Gate Bridge, your family can explore the United States’ most distinct spots. Then grab the snack bag and it’s a budget-friendly family vacation kids will remember for years. Camping is a bargain too. Most campgrounds are less than $30 a night.
National Park Free Days for Families in 2021
The National Park Service charges reasonable entrance fees to the parks compared to other family vacations. For example, admission is just $35 to Grand Canyon National Park for seven days for a carload of people. Plus, bring food to grill and marshmallows to roast for memorable outdoor meals!
Even better than cheap is free. The National Park Service offers several free admission days sprinkled throughout the year. Generally, free admission days include Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and the first day of National Parks Week in April. In addition, there are a couple of free days in August.
Note: National park free days refer to waived admission fees only. So, they do not include user fees like camping, boat launches, shuttle buses and tour fees.
National Park Free Days for Families in 2021
- Martin Luther King, Jr. – Monday, Jan. 18, 2021
- First Day of National Park Week; Junior Ranger Day – Saturday, April 17, 2021
- One Year Anniversary of American Great Outdoors Act – Wednesday, August 4, 2021
- National Park Service Birthday – Wednesday, August 25, 2021
- National Public Lands Day – Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021
- Veterans Day – Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021
|Martin Luther King, Jr.||Monday, Jan. 18, 2021|
|First Day of National Park Week
Junior Ranger Day
|Saturday, April 17, 2021|
|One Year Anniversary of American Great Outdoors Act||Wednesday, August 4, 2021|
|National Park Service Birthday
|Wednesday, August 25, 2021
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|National Public Lands Day||Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021|
|Veterans Day Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021||Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021|
Types of National Park Passes
If you plan to visit several national parks in one year, consider an annual National Park Pass. I’ve been an America the Beautiful Annual Pass holder for years. Passes offer great value. In fact, sometimes there’s even a special entrance line for pass holder’s car, saving time.
|Type Of National Park Pass||Eligibility||Cost|
|America the Beautiful Annual Pass||All visitors, including international||$80|
|Military Pass||Current U.S. military members and their dependents as well as Gold Star Families and Veterans||Free|
|Fourth and Fifth Grade Pass||U.S. 4th graders (including home-schooled and free-choice learner 10-year-olds)5th Graders for 2021.||Free|
|Senior Pass||U.S. citizens and permanent residents 62 years and older||$80 Lifetime/$20 annual|
|Access Pass||U.S. citizens and permanent residents with a permanent disability||Free|
|Volunteer Pass||Visitors volunteering 250 hours a year||Free|
How to Get Free Admission for Active Military
A free annual pass is one of the benefits for active military members. To get yours, head to the nearest National Park Service site that sells annual passes. Present your Common Access Card (CAC) or your Military ID (Form 1173).
- U.S. Army
- U.S. Navy
- U.S. Air Force
- U.S. Marines
- U.S. Coast Guard
- U.S. Space Force
- Military Reserves and National Guard
How to Get Free Admission for Military Veterans
Free admission was extended to military veterans effective Nov. 11, 2020. To get free admission, present one of the following forms of ID for entry to a national park:
- Department of Defense Identification Card (CAC Card)
- Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
- Veteran ID Card
- Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card
The free admission covers everyone in a single vehicle or the veteran plus three others ages 16 and older if per-person fees are charged. Kids 15 and under always get free admission.
How to Get Free Admission for Gold Star Families
Gold Star Families are the families of an active duty military member who died in the line of duty. This includes war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the United States Armed Forces.
To get free admission, download, print and sign the Gold Star Family Voucher.
After signing the voucher, display it in your vehicle or present it to a National Park Ranger for free admission. The voucher covers occupants of a single, private non-commercial vehicle OR the voucher-holder and three people ages 16 and up if the park charges per-person admission fees.
The History of the National Park Service
The U.S. National Parks are an American innovation that the world has adopted. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming became the first national park. And on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service to govern the 35 national parks in the U.S. at the time.
Since then, the National Park Service has grown substantially. It includes 423 national parks, national historical parks, and national monuments. Also, national recreation areas, national battlefields and national seashores.
Some parks feature vast, iconic scenery. For example, Big Bend National Park in West Texas and Olympic National Park in Washington State. Others recognize an area’s historical significance. These include, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the national parks of New York City. Finally, national park sites document important events, like Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
Tips for Visiting National Parks with Kids
When my kids were babies, I promised myself to show them the treasures of their country. So after visiting 41 of the 63 major national parks and close to 100 national park service sites, they’ve explored the jewels of the continent.
What Are National Park Junior Rangers?
Kids from ages 5 to 13 can become National Park Junior Rangers. This means they can explore, learn and protect our national treasures. Over 200 national park sites provide free booklets designed especially for each park (some parks charge $3 for the booklet). And some can be downloaded and completed at home when you can’t visit a national park in person.
How does it work? Kids explore a park site with their families and complete fun activities in the Junior Ranger booklet. Afterwards, kids turn in the booklets, take an oath and get an official Junior Ranger badge or patch.
Tips From a TravelingMom:
- National parks are popular destinations during school breaks, holidays and pandemics. So, make reservations as early as possible. Lodging reservations are available 13 months in advance.
- Parking can be an issue at popular destinations during the middle of the day.
- Some features have barricades kids can climb over, so watch your children at all times.
- Keep wild animals wild (and safe) by not feeding them. Even the cute ones that beg.
- Stay at least 25 feet away from animals, and 100 feet from bears.
- Bring refillable water bottles and food for your national park visit. Food service is limited and kids love picnics.
- Know your personal limits and the limits of your equipment.
- If you don’t have kids traveling with you, most parks allow adults to complete the NPS Junior Ranger booklets for the same badge or patch.