Why wait for a National Park Fee Free Day when you can visit these five natural beauties for free all year round? The United States is filled with free parks just waiting to be explored. Finding a list can be tough, so we pulled together a few of our favorites to get you and your family out the door exploring America’s best idea.
This park is fee free year round, but there are a few special exhibits inside the park that highlight the history of the area and require an entry fee. Even without these extra spots you can still get plenty out of a visit to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Eighty-five miles of trails across 24,000 acres make this a hiker’s paradise as you take in the sounds of the wildlife around you. Learn about the early settlers and the soldiers who traipsed through this part of the country as they fought for freedom. Pinnacle Point Overlook gives you great views of the mountains and valleys, while a trip into Sand Cave will give your kids something to talk about in carpool on Monday.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is open year round and always has something new to show off with each season. Spring brings a burst of color as the mountain laurels and rhododendrons head into full bloom throughout the park, while June brings out the fireflies in force. Autumn sees a butterfly migration, and winter provides the perfect temperatures for a quiet hike in the crisp cool air. Take a drive around Cades Cove to see what early mountain settlements looked like and how settlers lived from day to day. This route can get crowded so consider hiking up to Greenbrier instead, which will give you access to a river where you can find tons of butterflies in early summer.
Canoe the park’s mangrove coast or let the kids snorkel on the coral reef as you kick back and enjoy the view of Florida’s clear water and warm sun. There are loads of opportunities to learn more about the waters of Biscayne National Park through park ranger programs at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. Kayaking, boating, and scuba diving are a few other ways to get the most out of your visit to this park down in the Florida Keys. Manatees call these waters home and if you are lucky you will see one of these majestic beasts. On the second Sunday of every month (January through May) the park hosts Family Fun Fest, a 3-hour event filled with hands-on activities for kids and their parents.
If you really want to escape the stress of city life, Channel Islands National Park is just for you. There are no shops or rental gear stores to be found. You need to plan ahead to go into this park (picnic anyone?). Public boats run from Ventura, CA out to the islands daily. You could also rent a private boat or plane if you don’t want to go with the masses on the ferry. Once on the island, kick back, relax, go for a hike, take the kids out in your kayak, and even do a little snorkeling. Whale watching around the Channel Islands is fantastic and should definitely be booked in advance if you would like to go on a boat tour.
Just outside of Seattle, northeast of the city, you will find a mountain range open to the public year round. North Cascades National Park, which is north of Mt. Baker and runs up to the Canadian border, has enough trails, wildlife, and activities to keep you busy on multiple trips. Hike the evergreen forests or bike the North Cascades Highway. Horses are welcome on many of the trails if you are looking to get your favorite mount out for a good stretch. Lakes and rivers are stocked with fish, and a great place to teach kids this basic survival skill. Always check NPS.org for trail closures, especially in the winter when avalanches frequently occur and can close roads for several days.
What are some of your favorite National Parks?
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