The USA’s national parks are where you’ll find some of the country’s most incredible adventures — and for five days this year, all of them will be free to enter. The first free day of 2023 will be on Monday, January 16, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day.
There are more than 400 National Park Service (NPS) sites across the US, with representation in each state and territory and the District of Columbia. While the vast majority of these sites are free year-round, many of the most famous national parks in the country — including popular destinations like Yosemite and Joshua Tree — charge an entrance fee. For example, the per-vehicle cost to enter Yosemite is $35 for a seven-day pass, while it's $20 per person (over the age of 16) when entering by foot, bike or horse.
While it's the perfect time to plan an adventure to national parks around the country, there are also many opportunities to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at NPS sites. Visitors can head to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia, to see the home where he was born, or follow in his footsteps on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. Visit the site of his historic "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, then stop by the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.
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There are just five days in the calendar year when the NPS makes its protected lands free for all to enter, so put these dates in your calendar when planning your 2023 adventures.
The National Park Service's 2023 free dates
- January 16 – Martin Luther King Jr Day
- April 22 – First day of National Park Week
- August 4 – Great American Outdoors Day
- September 23 – National Public Lands Day
- November 11 – Veterans Day
Do I need to make a reservation?
Lands controlled by NPS have seen an increase in visitors in recent years, particularly among first-timers, as pandemic-weary hikers, ramblers, and day-trippers hit popular parks in their droves. This led to some issues in overcrowding, trail erosion, trash and vandalism, long queues, and traffic jams across US national parks. In response, many popular parks introduced reservation and timed entry systems to manage crowds.
Yosemite recently announced it would suspend its online reservation system for 2023, while others, like Glacier and Zion, have only suspended their reservation passes for off-season. It’s worth checking the current rules for whatever park you intend to visit to ensure you don’t miss out.
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Since many parks are likely to be busier on fee-free days, why not try some lesser-visited alternatives to take the heat off the most popular national parks?
For more information on national parks around the USA, visit nps.gov.