It’s a day of free admission to the national parks; the next one is scheduled for November

Editor’s Note: This is a recurring article, regularly updated with new information.

If you are within driving distance of a national park, today is a great day to visit. September 24 is one of many days each year that the US National Park Service offers free admission.

It’s a great opportunity for visitors who want to experience some of the country’s most spectacular natural wonders for free. With hundreds of parks across the country and one long list of parks that participate in free admission dayschances are you live close enough to one to make last-minute weekend plans and enjoy the early fall outdoors.

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Saturday’s Free Admission Day is part of the National Public Lands Day celebration, which occurs annually on the fourth Saturday in September. Organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation, hundreds of thousands of volunteers work each year to clean up and restore parks and other outdoor spaces. But a key part of the day for national park enthusiasts is free admission to national parks.

Visiting a national park on one of the National Park Service’s free admission days can save you up to $35 per vehicle in some of the most popular national parks such as Glacier and the Grand Canyon.

Can’t make it to the park today? Mark your calendar: the next Free National Parks Day is set just over a month from now on November 11, Veterans Day.

Remember that some of the most visited parks in the country now require reservations to enter. You can make reservations for the parks here. If you’re visiting Yellowstone National Park, be sure to check which parts of the park are accessible after this summer’s record flooding.

A helpful tip to enhance your experience if you plan to visit one of the free days is to skip visiting beautiful but busy places like Olympic National Park and Acadia National Park in favor of lesser-known parks.

“While there’s no replacement for Yellowstone and Yosemite, there are plenty of national monuments and other national park service units that can give you that great national park experience without the crowds,” says Jason Epperson of the RV Miles website and podcastwhose family visited more than 50 National Park Service sites during five years of full-time life on the road.

Epperson points to National Dinosaur Monument on the Colorado and Utah border, which offers “epic hikes, grand canyons and white-water rafting” in addition to actual dinosaur bones to view, as a good option to ditch the masses

TPG has compiled the list below of less-visited national parks and monuments that are great options to visit, especially when entrance fees are waived (including two favorites that are still free to visit throughout the season). ‘year).

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park. POSNOV/GETTY IMAGES

About 2.5 hours by car from Reno, Nevada, and less than four hours from San Francisco, this northern California national park sees only a fraction of Yosemite’s hordes. Lassen Volcanic National Park is a hydrothermal wonderland where you can see steaming fumaroles, catch rainbow trout, or snorkel in a crystal-clear mountain lake all in one day.

Manzanita Lake is a favorite spot for kayaking and fishing. And Summit Lake Beach is accessible from the park’s main highway.

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park. SKISERGE1/GETTY IMAGES

Pristine forest landscapes await at this South Carolina national park located less than 20 miles southeast of the state capital, Columbia, and about 100 miles from Charleston, if you’re driving from the coast. Admission is always free to Congaree National Park.

The wilderness here is home to one of the largest intact expanses of ancient lowland hardwood forest in the country and is an incredible place to see bald cypress trees, some with girths of over 26 feet. The park is also a globally important bird area with spectacular biodiversity. The tree canopy is so dense in some parts that barred owls can sometimes be heard calling in the middle of the day, so keep your eyes (and ears) tuned.

National Dinosaur Monument

National Dinosaur Monument. TAYLOR REILLY/GETTY IMAGES

Opting to visit a national monument instead of a national park can be a good bet to ditch the guidebook crowds. And Dinosaur National Monument in Jessen, Utah is a place where behemoths once roamed in a particularly scenic setting.

It’s a 3.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City and about 4.5 hours from Denver. As well as seeing prehistoric dinosaur remains encrusted in rocks and petroglyphs, you can raft through lonely canyons along the Green and Yampa rivers in the 210,000-acre park, and hike uncrowded trails where steep cliffs dominate at every turn. For those looking to avoid the river during the winter, there is also the Quarry Visitor Center nearby which is a great daytime activity for any dinosaur-loving kids.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park. COREY RICH/GETTY IMAGES

With three different entrances distributed around the circumference of In South Florida, Everglades National Park – the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States – makes it easy to spread out and escape all the crowds (if not the alligators, of which more than a million live in Florida).

Depending on your preference for sun exposure, you can choose between shaded boat rides from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center near Naples or trolley rides from the Shark Visitor Center Valley, or opt for a walk in the sun along the excellent Anhinga Trail near Homestead.

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park. BRAND NEWMAN/GETTY IMAGES

In southwestern South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is “one of the best places to see bison, elk and prairie dogs without waiting in the traffic jams of Yellowstone,” Epperson said. And this is another national park that never charges entrance fees to visit but remains uncrowded for most of the year.

The park is home to the eponymous Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. It is named after the air pressure system created by the barometric winds at its entrance (yes, you can feel it!). You can only enter the cave on ranger-led tours, but there are also plenty of other outdoor hiking trails to enjoy, if that feels a little too claustrophobic.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park. POSNOV/GETTY IMAGES

Ferries and seaplanes ferry visitors from points in Minnesota and Michigan to this beautiful national park located on an island in Lake Superior. An international biosphere reserve, Isle Royale National Park is home to beavers, moose, gray wolves, mink and many other animals – and most of the time they far outnumber any human visitor.

You can explore via a day hike on a short tour or stay longer to paddle miles of waterways in the park that includes inland lakes, creeks and bays.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park. STEPHEN FRINK/GETTY IMAGES

Here’s another worthwhile seaplane or boat hop where National Parks fees are waived.

Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park makes for one of the most amazing day trips from Key West (the park is about 70 miles west of Duval Street), with some of Florida’s best snorkeling in the 100-square-mile park that’s almost entirely underwater.

The thing to behold in the Dry Tortugas, beyond the park’s pristine white-sand beach strip, is 19th-century Fort Jefferson – a massive coastal park fortress made of millions of bricks that contrast to dazzling effect with the surrounding turquoise waters. from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a good destination to consider now, or for a warm-weather getaway when the National Park Service offers free winter admission days in 2023.

At the end of the line

Wherever you choose to visit the National Park Service portfolio, Epperson says to remember that most people don’t stray more than 100 feet from the edge of the road in national parks. “Even large popular places have plenty of places to get away from it all,” he said.

You can see the full list of participating national parks and monuments that waive entrance fees here.

Additionally, we would like to point out that the park service offers free admission year-round to several groups, including veterans, Gold Star families, and U.S. citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities.

In the meantime, if you’re hoping to take advantage of a future free-entry day at any of the 423 NPS sites nationwide, keep in mind that the 2022 schedule included free-entry days in January, April, August, September and November, so we’ll be sure to update this story when we have the 2023 calendar.

Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor and Sean Cudahy.

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