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How to Save Money on National Park Fees in 2020

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In my book, our National Parks are our greatest national treasure. After visiting 15+ of them, you can’t convince me otherwise…but my guess is that you don’t want to do that anyway. You just want to know how to save money on National Park fees in 2020, right?

How to save money on National Park Fees

The opportunity to explore these national treasures is not something we should ever take for granted, my friend. Having the chance to wander through these wonderlands that encompass every climate and landscape you can imagine is just priceless. And yet, there is indeed a price.

Let’s take a quick look at what you can expect to pay at the gate when visiting a National Park this year, and then explore some options to get the best deal possible for yourself and your family if you meet certain criteria.

How to Save Money on National Park Fees in 2020

First of all, I want to be sure you understand that the “normal” fees that you will pay to visit a U.S. National Park are not outrageous by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, the maximum you will pay at any National Park for a 7-day pass for a vehicle full of people is $35 as I write this in January 2020. Yup, that’s right, you won’t have to pay a new fee each day of your visit, which is really awesome in my opinion.

That maximum of $35 applies only to the most well-known and popular parks (Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, etc.). Many of the parks are $20-25 for the same 7-day vehicle pass.

Glacier National Park
The views of Glacier National Park

Just think about all of the things that a family of four cannot do these days for $35 and then compare it to what you get to do in a National Park for that cash:

  • Go out for a nice sit-down dinner? Nope, it’s easily $45-60 these days.
  • Go to a movie? Not a chance. At $10+ per ticket and your firstborn for a small snack, you’ll be over $70 before you know what happened.
  • Go to a sporting event? Maybe a farm league baseball game…but eat before you go. No hotdogs or sodas allowed.
  • Go to a concert? Please! You’ll easily be into the hundreds for a family of four for many artists.
  • Watch TV at home? Well, yes…but I think you’re missing the point of a memorable family activity at this point.

What Can Your Family Experience in a National Park for $35 or Less?

The views of Acadia National Park
The view from a hike in Acadia National Park

Ok, so let’s compare that list of what you can’t do for $35 with what that entrance fee actually buys you in your average National Park:

  • The chance to hike into the pristine wilderness and soak in some nature for as long your heart desires. (Like these amazing Acadia National Park hiking trails.)
  • The chance to catch a glimpse of some of the most breathtaking views you could even imagine. (Trust me, you can’t even imagine some of them.)
  • The thrill of encountering wildlife (at a safe distance) and be amazed at their power, grace and beauty. (Think massive bull elk in Rock Mountain National Park.)
  • The chance to experience some peace and solitude that you desperately crave. (You will probably need to find the right trail to hike to get this experience.)
  • The opportunity to be together, unplugged, undistracted, unhurried (mostly).
  • A few moments of being reminded that there’s more to life than Netflix and Snapchat.
Sun rising on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
The sun rising in Yosemite National Park

Yes, I know there will be other expenses associated with a visit to a National Park (the food is often not cheap, so brace yourself…or bring your own cooler with a meal), but you get the point here.

The value you receive in exchange for that entrance fee makes it some of the best money you will spend this year. Go ahead and try to prove me wrong after you experience a National Park for yourself!

A Few Parks that Charge Per Person, Not Per Vehicle

On a side not, I wanted to let you know that there are four National Parks that charge only by the person and not by the vehicle:

  • Denali National Park (AK)- $15 per person
  • Dry Tortugas National Park (FL) – $15 per person
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park (TX) – $10 per person
  • Isle Royale (MI) – $7 per person
Great Smoky Mountains National park
Smoky Mountains National Park is the only free park

**BONUS TIP: Did you know that there is one remarkable National Park that will blow your mind that you can get into for FREE every day of the year? We didn’t know either until we visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2018. This massive emerald paradise (over 522,000 acres) located in Tennessee and North Carolina cannot be missed…especially at this price.**

So What Was That Thing About How To Save Some Money on National Park Fees?

Right, yes, of course. That’s what we’re here for. That’s important. But I hope it was helpful to cover the info above as well before you get your big trip all planned out.

2020 Dates When You Can Visit National Parks for Free!

First and foremost on saving money, we have to cover the days of the year (5 days in 2020) that you can go to any of the 400+ park sites (including National Parks) for FREE.

  1. Jan 20 – Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. April 18 – First Day of National Park Week
  3. August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
  4. September 26 – National Public Lands Day
  5. November 11 – Veterans Day
Joshua Tree National Park in California
Sunset in Joshua Tree National Park

Don’t waste any time getting your trip of a lifetime planned for one of these dates above. You’ll be glad you did…and so will your bank account.

**Note: You should expect larger crowds on these fee-free days each year, for obvious reasons.**

Planning for Multiple Parks or Multiple Visits at Different Times of the Year? Get An Annual Pass!

In my opinion, the America the Beautiful annual pass options are the best things going for anyone interested in making multiple visits to National Parks throughout the year.

Believe it or not, for less than the cost of three visits to a National Park (at the average price of $30 per visit), you can buy the right to visit any of the National Parks as many times as you choose for an entire year! That’s right, just $80 opens up a world of possibilities to you!

And it’s not just the National Parks that will open their doors to you and welcome you in for no additional charge. There are 419 total parks, historic and cultural sites, as well as monuments, that you will gain access to with the America the Beautiful annual pass.

Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska

But If You Really Want a DISCOUNT Option, Check These Criteria Before You Buy

Maybe you love the idea of having unlimited access to the parks, but that $80 price tag still just feels a bit out of reach. Well, you may be in luck.

The National Park Service offers several free or discounted pass options for individuals that meet certain criteria. See if you, or someone in your family, fits into one of these groups:

  • Senior Citizens: A Senior Pass is available ($20 for Annual pass, $80 for Lifetime pass) for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or older (documentation required)
    • Note: Buying online or by mail adds an additional $10. You can purchase in person at a federal recreation site to avoid this fee.
  • Military: An Annual Pass is available free of charge to all active duty military members (including Reserve and National Guard members) and their dependents.
  • 4th Graders: An Annual Pass is available free of charge to all U.S. 4th grade students (good September-August of 4th grade year). This provides access for all persons in a vehicle.
  • Disabled: A Lifetime Access Pass is available to all U.S. citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities (documentation required).
  • Volunteers: If you have volunteered 250+ hours with a federal agency that participates in the Interagency Pass program, you can obtain an Annual Pass free of charge.

There are plenty of other details that go along with each of these discounted or free pass options. Be sure to read all the details at the USGS website to ensure you qualify and follow all required steps.

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Are You Ready to Pinch Your Pennies for a National Park Visit Soon?

I truly hope that has provided you with some solid foundational information about how to save money on National Park fees in 2020.

Whether you end up getting an Annual Pass for $80, a discounted pass for $20, or a completely free pass altogether, you are sure to make some absolutely priceless memories. I know for sure that many of our favorite memories from our RV travels are firmly attached to National Park experiences.

I hope you start putting together your own highlight reel of National Park memories in 2020!

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