You are here

National Park Service Slashes 2018 Fee-Free Days


The number of days you can get into a national park without paying a fee has been drastically cut in 2018 to just four/NPS

In an eyebrow-raising move, the National Park Service has greatly slashed the number of entrance-free days for 2018, offering the public just four days to enter parks without paying a fee to do so. During the Park Service's centennial year of 2016, there were 16 such days, while this year there were 10 days. 

Missing from the list of free days in 2018 is "Founder's Day," which honors President Woodrow Wilson's signing on August 25, 1916, of the legislation that established the National Park Service.

The four entrance fee-free days for 2018 will be:

  • January 15 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 21 – First Day of National Park Week
  • September 22 – National Public Lands Day
  • November 11 – Veterans Day

Park Service staff said the reduced number of free days was a reflection of an improving economy.

"From 2003 through 2008, the National Park Service had two fee-free days a year," said agency spokesman Jeremy Barnum in an email. "In 2009, because of the economic recession, the number of fee free days was increased to encourage visitation despite the recession. The number was also increased in 2016 to commemorate the National Park Service Centennial.

"Now that the nation is recovering from the recession and the Centennial has passed, the NPS is returning to a lower number of fee-free days," he added. "Fewer fee-free days means additional revenue to improve facilities, address deferred maintenance issues, and enhance the overall park experience for visitors."

Staff at the Center for Western Priorities, an advocacy group, was quick to criticize the drop.

“Not everyone can book a helicopter or charter a boat when they want to visit our national parks," said Advocacy Director Jesse Prentice-Dunn, referring to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's trip in October to Channel Islands National Park. "America’s parks must remain affordable for working families—(Interior) Secretary (Ryan) Zinke seems determined to turn them into a playground for the rich. Instead of pushing massive increases to entrance fees and cutting fee-free days, Ryan Zinke should ensure all Americans have access to our parks and public lands.”

Normally, 118 of the 417 national parks charge an entrance fee. The other 299 national parks do not have entrance fees. The entrance fee waiver for the fee-free days does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

The annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks that charge an entrance fee. There are also free or discounted passes available for senior citizens, current members of the military, families of fourth grade students, and disabled citizens.

Please Support Independent National Park Journalism

Use the links below to make your donation to National Parks Traveler via PayPal, or send your check to National Parks Traveler, P.O. Box 980452, Park City, Utah, 84098. The Traveler is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit media organization. For U.S. residents, 100 percent of your contributions may be eligible for a tax deduction in accordance with applicable law. 


"In 2009, because of the economic recession, the number of fee free days was increased to encourage visitation despite the recession."


The more likely reason was because the administration that came in 2009 (i.e., Mr. Obama) put a high priority on getting moving and outdoors, understanding our natural heritage, getting kids in parks, and more.

Economics isn't the answer to everything, though it seems to be the only thing that motivates this adminstration.

Well, they sure seemed concerned with the economics back then:


Right, Mike.  Let's not blame the NPS for reacting to the new reality show.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide