How to Survive a U.S. National Park 'Free Day'

IQ Editors

Mountain lions, bobcats and bears, oh my! 

A few times a year, all U.S. national parks are free to enter.

The U.S. is home to 417 national parks, spanning 84 million acres in total. Most of them are free 365 days a year. Only 28% of them charge an entrance fee ranging from $3 to $30 per vehicle. Big kahunas like Yellowstone and Yosemite charge the max. 

How to Beat the Crowds

The downside, of course, is some of the more popular parks may get crazy crowded. So, if you plan to take advantage, here are a few tips:

☆  Plan to arrive super early.

☆  If the park has more than 1 entrance, call ahead and ask a park ranger which entrance usually has the least amount of traffic on free days.

☆  If there’s a popular route people take when visiting that particular park, consider going in reverse order; or to less popular sections of the park where you can better commune with nature.

☆  Consider staying overnight in the park for a few nights. Why? Because most of the free-day visitors will head back home by day’s end. So the park will likely be way less crowded the next day and the next. As long as you don’t leave the park after the free day and try to re-enter on a non-free day, you can enjoy a multi-day vacay in a national park for free. However, be sure to reserve in-park lodging, campsites or backcountry permits ahead of time as they usually sell out. 

Mr. & Mrs. Most Popular

Finally, if you’re wondering whether the park you plan to visit is a popular one, these are the 10 most visited national parks in the USA:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina / Tennessee)

  2. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

  3. Zion National Park (Utah)

  4. Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)

  5. Yosemite National Park (California)

  6. Yellowstone National Park (Idaho / Montana / Wyoming)

  7. Acadia National Park (Maine)

  8. Olympic National Park (Washington)

  9. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

  10. Glacier National Park (Montana)

Photo: Angels Landing, Zion National Park | lifetravelandmore