A trip to one of our nation's incredible national parks may already be on your family travel to-do list for 2017. Whether it is or not, you may want to check out the just released FREE admission days at some of the country's largest parks. Courtesy of the National Park Service, the 10 FREE days all take place on easy-for-planning weekends, school breaks, and national holidays at select parks.
While many parks have free admission every day of the year, more than 100 of them, including some of the most popular destinations, charge $15 per person or more. Those waiving admission for these 10 holidays include some of those iconic, bucket list spots like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia, Zion, Shenandoah, Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park, Harpers Ferry, Everglades National Park, and the Cape Cod Seashore. The freebies also extend to a few historical sites under the National Park Service's purview, like the New York home of celebrated American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and national historic parks like Morristown National Historic Park, the scene of an American Revolutionary War battle.
Mark your calendars as the first FREE admission day is coming up this month, Monday, January 19, Martin Luther King Day; and now, read on to find out the rest of the FREE days, and get a peek at some of the kid-friendly parks that are waiving admission.
Here are the 10 dates in 2017 when national parks that usually charge admission are waiving fees:
- January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
- February 20: Presidents Day
- April 15-16 and 22-23: Weekends of National Park Week
- August 25: National Park Service birthday
- September 30: National Public Lands Day
- November 11-12: Veterans Day weekend
The fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other charges such as reservations, camping, tours, concessions, and fees collected by third parties are not included in the FREE admission unless stated otherwise.
Scan the entire list of participating parks and historic sites by state, or check this list of our favorite national park destinations for family fun below.
From mountains to the water, Acadia has it all. Just don't try this at home. Photo by Shira Kronzon.
Acadia National Park — Maine
Members of my family are big fans of national parks, and Acadia is our favorite. This coastal Maine island park takes over most of Mount Desert Island. Acadia is a perfect place for tide pooling, marine adventures, and easy hikes. Families can enjoy extensive ranger-led programs, hiking up Cadillac Mountain, especially at sunrise —it is the first place to see the sunrise in the United States. I love the carriage roads: There are more than 50 miles of them crisscrossing the park. Built by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., they are perfect for cycling and strolling. The park has only one sit-down restaurant, the Jordan Pond House, serving lunch, dinner, and tea. The restaurant's delicious popovers are served with Maine strawberry jam. There is no lodging here with the exception of tenting, but the bustling town of Bar Harbor is a short drive for meals and lodging, and you can even hop on the Island Explorer bus to travel in, out and around the park should you want to go car-free.
Everglades National Park — Florida
This diverse national treasure is home to scores of migrating birds, crocodiles, manatees and the elusive Florida panther. Visitors can thrill to airboat rides, biking, boating, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, fishing, wildlife spotting and more. At 2,400 square miles, it is the third-largest national park in the continental United States. Visitors take note: The park can be accessed via car at three entry points that are not connected to each other. From the east, enter at Miami or Homestead, Florida; from the west, enter at Everglades City. What’s more, there is no overnight lodging in the park except for the most dedicated campers so consider a stay in the Keys or in Miami. Seafood and local favorites are the choice at many of the nearby restaurants.
Padre Island National Seashore — Texas
These 70 miles of coastline near Corpus Christi protect the dunes, tidal flats and prairies of southeastern Texas. The Padre Island habitat features more than 300 bird species and rare sea turtles. With so little development along the coastline, a visit here really is a trip back in time. Kids can enjoy kayaking, fishing, birding, and a host of ranger-led activities. Hotels and restaurants abound in Corpus Christi and South Padre Island.
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Views from the Grand Canyon leave visitors breathless.
Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona
The Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, is a no-brainer family destination. Five million visitors enjoy the park annually, perhaps because Theodore Roosevelt described the canyon as "one great sight every American should see." Thankfully, there are many different ways to see and explore the Colorado River Gorge: on foot, on a mule, from the air, in a car or from the river itself. Unless you live locally, the Grand Canyon is a multiday trip, and the park offers many amenities, including lodging and eateries, as well as every kind of backcountry adventure imaginable.
Yosemite National Park — California
This special place was one of the country's first parcels protected from development in the 19th century—so you can expect it to be amazing. The enormous park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains boasts granite cliffs, giant sequoia trees, and magnificent waterfalls. Families can enjoy hiking, ranger-led programs, scenic drives and magnificent vistas. Mommy Poppins staffer Jennifer Cook Nice and her family spent a weekend here and detail the best places to hike in the park, other family-friendly activities, and where to stay.
A bison crossing is a familiar site at Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone National Park — Wyoming
Visiting the nation's first national park is a commitment no matter where you live, but still a perfect family vacation destination. One of the country's most popular national parks, thousands of families flock here to see its geothermal features: hot springs, volcanoes, mudpots and hundreds of geysers, including famous Old Faithful. Yellowstone offers every kind of outdoor recreation imaginable, including boating, cycling, skiing, horseback riding, and plenty of animal viewing. The park is a great spot for once-in-a-lifetime large mammal spotting with bison, elk, grizzlies and more. When I visited Yellowstone I was lucky enough to see a herd of giant bison resting on my cabin's back lawn.
National Historic Parks
Adams National Historical Park— Massachusetts
History buffs take note: This large historic park in Quincy, outside Boston, is devoted to the lives of five generations of the Adams family, including the second and sixth presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, respectively. Visitors can tour the saltbox homes where both of the presidents were born; the lavish mansion where John Adams lived; and the presidential library that houses the family's important papers and priceless artifacts. When you are done, walk across the street to the "Church of Presidents," the United First Parish Church, to view the final resting places of the family members. Park grounds are open year round, but the buildings are open spring through fall only.
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Check out Revolutionary War reenactment action at Morristown, New Jersey.
Morristown National Historical Park — New Jersey
See where George Washington and the Continental Army spent that famously hard winter of 1779-1780 during the American Revolutionary War. The Morristown National Historical Park was the first park of its kind to be preserved and consists of four history-packed sites and the Washington Headquarters Museum. The park is a hot spot for outdoor explorations, with miles of hiking, cycling, equestrian and interpretive trails, bird watching and animal spotting. In fact, it is one of our favorite spots in New Jersey to discover the Revolutionary War with our kids.
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site — New York
On Long Island, 20 miles east of Manhattan, families can visit Sagamore Hill, the home of the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. The 23-room estate was his permanent residence as well as the "Summer White House" during his time in office, 1901-1909. Seen only by ticketed tour, the mansion is filled with the president's original furnishings and his famous big game trophies. The 83-acre grounds are equally impressive, and easier to explore since no ticket is required. Beaches, salt marshes, and forests are all on the property. The house was closed for several years, reopening in 2015 after extensive renovations, and demand for tours is high. House tours generally sell out by noon and expect on free admission days that it will be even earlier. Also, there is no food available for purchase in the park so pack a picnic lunch to eat on the glorious grounds in nice weather.
Wright Brothers National Monument — North Carolina
Come and experience the place where two Ohio bicycle makers changed the world forever. Wilbur and Orville Wright were drawn to North Carolina’s Outer Banks by wind, sand, and the possibility of flight. At the visitors center, kids can learn about the brothers’ 1903 flyer and chart the path they took in their first successful attempt. The 70 miles of Cape Hatteras National Seashore begin about 15 minutes south of the memorial. Kids might also enjoy appreciate nearby Fort Raleigh National Historic Site at Roanoke Island, site of the first (and unsuccessful) English settlement in America.
Fort Sumter National Monument — South Carolina
Decades of North vs. South tension climaxed in the first shots of the Civil War being fired at Fort Sumter in 1861. In addition to a wonderful history lesson, kids can thrill to migrating birds, local wildlife, and, of course, the charm of Charleston. Visitors can stay overnight in South Carolina’s queen city and travel to and from Fit Sumter (and downtown Charleston) via trolley.
Top photo: Mother Nature alights at the Grand Prismatic Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Tupulak via Flickr. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the parks.