September 21, 2023


For splendid leisure

All the Ways to Get Free Entry to State and National Parks

2 min read
Condé Nast Traveler

Spending time in America’s great outdoors—especially this time of year, as the autumnal colors add a layer of awe to the sights—is a priceless experience. And to extend access to natural and historical spaces, whether they’re state or national parks, many programs allow visitors to visit for free. 

Here’s how to get free entry to both national parks and state parks across the country.

Free entry to state parks 

Eight states offer free access to their parks, including Arkansas (except those with tours), Illinois (some have a $1 beach access fee), Iowa (except Lake Manawa and Waubonsie), Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Those who walk or bike in New Mexico parks are also exempt from admission. A one-year state-park fee hike was started in New Jersey last May.

Many state library systems offer free park passes that can be checked out. For instance, Golden State card holders can check out a California State Library Parks Pass for a certain number of days, allowing free vehicle day-use entry for cars with nine or or less passengers. In Colorado, residents can borrow a pass along with a backpack, which includes a pair of binoculars, park brochure, and guides for spotting wildlife, birds, trees, flowers, and stars.

Connecticut’s No Child Left Inside library pass is available at each town’s main branch and covers park admission and parking; Georgia’s Library Loan Program includes passes and backpacks equipped for hiking, fishing, or picnicking; the Michigan Activity Pass allows you to search by distance and activities before borrowing the pass; and in Minnesota, seven-day passes can be checked out through June 2025 at select libraries.

In some states, the passes are geared toward students during their summer vacation. Florida’s The Real Florida Reader allows day use at most parks for up to eight people in one vehicle through September 12, while Idaho’s Youth Explorer Ticket to Adventure provides vehicle entry for a summer day.

If in doubt, check with your library branch, as some programs run more locally (like Lewiston Public Library in Maine and several New Hampshire and New York libraries) or only at select branches (like in Massachusetts).

Some categories of visitors can also be exempt from fees. Those 62 and older get free entry in Louisiana and Maryland, while in Maine it’s residents 65 and older. In New York, weekday visits are free for residents who are at least 62. Certain classes of active military and veterans can get free admission into parks in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, ​​Minnesota, or even get an annual camping pass in Alaska.

Free entry to national parks

The National Park System also offers a number of free entrance days to all visitors each year to its 423 sites. The last of the 2022 dates is on Friday, November 11, for Veterans Day in honor of many parks’ connections to the U.S. military. 

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