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Visit US national parks for free in 2020

Updated January 23, 2020 - 8:10 am

If you’re already looking ahead to road trips or family vacations this year, here’s one way to do it on the cheap.

While most of the 417 national parks in the U.S. are free to use anytime, 125 of them charge an entrance fee.

To encourage travelers and campers to visit new places, the National Park Service will waive these fees for five days in 2020:

— Jan. 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

— April 18: The first day of National Park Week

— August 25: National Park Service Birthday

— Sept. 26: National Public Lands Day

— Nov. 11: Veterans Day

Some of the nation’s most popular parks are among those that normally charge a fee, making fee-free days an opportunity to see places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley and Crater Lake.

Not the outdoorsy type? Even some national historic sites, like Vanderbilt Mansion in New York, are included.

If you’re interested, you can find all participating parks by state or search through the full list of national parks, including those that are free anytime, to find one near you (or your next destination).

Note: You may still encounter fees for things like camping, parking, reservations or concessions. The fees waived on fee-free days include entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees.

If you plan on camping, here are a few tips for camping on a budget.

More ways to use national parks for free

If you can’t make it to a national park on one of the fee-free days, you may be able to get free or discounted entrance to national parks year-round some other way.

The National Parks Service offers an $80 annual pass that covers entrance to national parks, lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other sites.

Military members can get the annual pass for free.

Through the national Every Kid in the Park program, fourth-graders can get a free annual pass for their families. Educators can also get involved through this program, obtaining free passes to take students on a national park field trip.

Seniors age 62 and older can buy a lifetime pass for $80 or an annual pass for $20. Senior passes require proper documentation and may be purchased in person at a federal recreation site, online or through the mail.

People with disabilities can get a free pass in person, or through the mail or online with a $10 processing fee.

Both the senior pass and the access pass offer a 50% discount on some amenities like camping, swimming, boat launching and specialized interpretive services.

Volunteer with participating federal agencies for at least 250 hours, and you’ll receive a free volunteer pass that is valid for 12 months.

If you want to learn while you travel, you can apply for an Artist-in-Residence program with the National Park Service and stay at a participating park for free while you work on your next project.

However you do it, consider including national parks or historic sites in your 2020 travel plans. For families — and curious travelers of all ages — it’s a fun, educational and affordable way to spend a vacation.

With more than 400 to choose from, there’s probably one not far from you!

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a former branded content editor at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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