Virtually and Physically: Here’s How to Visit the U.S. National Parks for free
As a huge fan of nature and creatively educating our kids, we go outside a lot. We always have. It can be difficult to go to a national park that requires a fee – sometimes you just don’t have that extra change! I’d be a fan of all national parks being free of cost, so everyone may attend them, no matter how financially strapped they may be, but unfortunately, some national parks do charge a fee. Here’s how we can get around the fees:
1. check the cost of visiting your park: it may already be free!
In our family’s area – America’s Gulf Coast – we only have to pay for entrance year-round to one park, a national seashore. Other parks are free, or charge only during seasonal months. When there is a fee, it ranges from $5 per person to $8 per vehicle. Check the price of the national park you want to attend. It may already be free!
2. Visit a U.S. National Park on one of the free entrance days
Each year, the National Park Service schedules Free Entrance Days (every day is free for 4th graders! See #4, below). The remaining free entrance days for 2019 are:
- August 25, Sunday : National Park Service Birthday
- September 28, Saturday : National Public Lands Day
- November 11, Monday : Veterans Day
3. Watch the webcams of national Parks
Oh, I know, this is not the same thing. But it’s unlikely that any of us will be able to visit every national park in our child’s homeschool years. We can do the next best thing: visit the park virtually.
See the list of webcams that the National Park Service has up and running. Many of them won’t hold a child’s attention, as they update every 1-15 minutes. But some of the cams are excellent. For example, our homeschool-grad daughter is working at Katmai National Park & Preserve this Summer and they have a bear cam!
The bear cam may not be live when you’re reading this, as the bears and salmon arrive in mid-June or so. But Explore.org has a video of live highlights from last year’s bear cam, for you to view while waiting for the bears and salmon to arrive.
While at Explore.org, you may want to view other webcams.They partner with the National Park Service, but they also have cams from other locations, and many of them are very fun to watch!
4. Be a fourth grader
Two of our readers let us know in the comments (thanks a bunch!) that fourth graders get a free national park pass!
You’ll visit the Every Kid in a Park site, fill out an online diary entry with what you’d like to see and do on your park adventure, then print out a free pass to get into “all national parks, lands, and waters through August 31, 2019.”
Teachers may also download activity guides on federal lands, native peoples, and weather and climate.
Please let us know in the comments if there is a live webcam we should see! Also, let us know if one of your favorite national parks offers free entrance.
this post was updated for 2019. comments were moved from previous years.