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Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?


Should we have to pay entrance fees to visit our national parks?

Earlier this summer Interior Secretary Ken Salazar designated three weekends as "entrance free" weekends in the National Park System. Anecdotally, the first of those three weekends attracted larger-than-normal turnouts to many parks. Which makes us wonder, do you mind paying entrance fees, or should they be eliminated?

This can be a thorny subject. After all, our tax dollars in theory go to support the national parks, which are held in public trust. But the parks have more needs than the Congress seems willing to pay for, and so we encounter entrance fees.

Some say those fees are no big deal, that 1) they're a minuscule part of a national park visit or 2) we shouldn't mind chipping in a little extra for the parks. But others will point to the taxes we pay and argue that entrance fees are double taxation. Yet another argument is that fees discriminate against lower income earners.

So, tell us what you think. Should the National Park Service do away with entrance fees and put out a donation box for those willing to toss the agency some extra cash?


I became a Lifetime member of the the Great Smoky Mountains Association this year. I'll help the parks anyway I can!

What parks do not have a entrance fee? Hot Springs National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains...

I don't believe Congaree has an entrance fee. At least it didn't a couple years ago.

Kirby's correct. There's no entrance fee at Congaree National Park. There are, of course, loads of other NPS units that don't charge entrance fees. When in doubt, visit the park's website and under Quicklinks, click on "Fees and Reservations." For Congaree, you'll find this single-sentence jewel:

FREE! Congaree National Park does not charge any entrance or tour fees.

For Grand Canyon National Park, you'll find this under Fees & Reservations

$25 per Private Vehicle is the entrance fee to Grand Canyon National Park. The fee for an individual entering by foot, bicycle, motorcycle, or non-commercial group is $12.00 per person. Admission is for seven days and includes entrance to both the North Rim and South Rim. No refunds are given due to inclement weather.

Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit- $25.00. Admits one single, private, non-commercial vehicle and all its passengers. Organized groups are not eligible for the vehicle permit.

Grand Canyon National Park Individual Permit - $12.00/person. Admits one individual when entering by foot, bicycle, motorcycle, or non-commercial group. Individuals 15 years old and younger are admitted free of charge.

I just got back from a tour of several national parks in Atlantic Canada, and the admission was quite expensive. They have daily fees per person, while most parks in the U.S. have weekly fees per car. So for two of us to spend several days in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland cost about C$80. The annual pass would have been only C$10 more, but we weren't going to be back this year, so why bother. The two of us spent only two days in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick and had to shell out C$40 for that. I'm not sure if Canada has an equivalent to the America the Beautiful card. If it did I was an idiot for not looking into it.

That said, I didn't mind paying those fees, and generally don't mind fees in American parks. It usually feels like I'm getting more than my money's worth. As for taxes and that argument, there are so many things done with my tax dollars that I find utterly reprehensible, I don't even think about the fact that I'm "double-paying" to get into parks. I'm just glad our enlightened leaders are still funding things like parks at all and I'll continue to be happy to chip in a few extra bucks beyond that.

I have no problem with entrance fees, especially since you generally see the benefit in improved facilities, great ranger programs and better preservation of nature.

Entrance fees are a needless system. They generate less than 5% of the NPS budget and their use is restricted to certain things. Plus, it has set up a have and have-not park system where parks with entrance fees (less than one-third of them) get more money for maintenance projects than the parks with no fees. Most of the time, the parks that do not collect fees do not do so because they are not permitted to by law, or it is impractical. You can bet that parks like Santa Monica Mountains, Indiana Dunes, and Fire Island would love to collect fees if it were feasible. Most or all the state parks around them do, making the NPS a poor step child to the state parks nearby.

Congress could add 10% to the NPS operations budget and eliminate all the entrance fees. The public would make out, no one would fail to visit a park because of a fee, and the NPS can get out of the entrance fee collection business.

Now, as for whether or not fees are impediments. Why else would the NPS suspend fees if they were not some sort of impediment? Seems as though the creation of these fee-free weekends is a tacit admission that fees are preventing some people from visiting parks so have no fees will get them to come.

I have no issue whatsoever paying to get into our National Parks. National Parks are the most inexpensive vactation there is. Besides, buying a pass for $80 for my family for a year is the best deal around. We usually break even within the first month of the year.

I've had a few visitors complain about the fees and I always look at it this way: It would cost well over $25 to take a family of 4 to a 2 hour movie. For less than that you're able to take your family to a beautiful National Park for a week where they will be able to learn new and exciting things and gain memories that will last a lifetime.

Ranger Holly

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