18 U.S. National Parks You Can Visit for Free

New River Gorge National Park
© Gestalt Imagery/Shutterstock.com

Written by Rob Hayek

Published: November 7, 2023

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Many people visit national parks throughout the year in the United States. Ultimately, it is exciting for many people to explore nature and seek adventure. But national parks can cost money. Unfortunately, the costs can get high.

Five holidays on the calendar give you free access to national parks, as stated by the National Park Service. Yet, people cannot always go on holiday because they are often busy. People with limited budgets will feel disappointed. Ultimately, there are national parks you can visit for free throughout the year without any restrictions.

We are here to present the 18 national parks you can visit for free throughout the United States and where you can find them. Additionally, we will give a little history about these national parks and share what makes them unique.

18. Biscayne National Park

Florida, USA, Key Biscayne National Park and the beach, aerial view

The blue waters of Biscayne National Park make this one of the best free parks to visit.

©aka_An_Lee/Shutterstock.com

The first park on this list is Biscayne National Park. Ultimately, there is a camping fee if you wish to stay overnight. But there is no entrance fee if you want to visit this park and leave on the same day. Therefore, it is one of the best deals ever when you consider what this park offers.

You can go boating in the crystal blue waters. Additionally, you might want to try kayaking and canoeing. You can also explore the coral reefs, which have so much marine life to offer, such as the nurse shark or the queen angelfish. Also, this park features a heritage trail and an eco-adventure. You can also fish for dinner in this national park if you follow the rules and regulations set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Subsequently, this is one of the best national parks you can visit for free.

17. Gateway National Park: St. Louis, MO

Gateway Park National Park

The arches at Gateway National Park are historic and also free to pass through.

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If you go to St. Louis, you will likely see the Gateway National Park on your path. Amazingly, it is one of the city’s national treasures. The arch is symbolic because it represented the path of the United States when it began expanding west, as many called it “The Gateway to the West.”

Eero Saarinen designed the Gateway Arch, starting in 1962 and finishing in 1965. Spectacularly, it stands 630 feet tall and cost $13 million to construct. About $11 million of the costs were split between the federal government and the city, with the U.S. covering 75 percent and St. Louis accounting for 25 percent. Overall, the park is free if you wish to visit the museum and look around the arches. There is a fee to take the tram ride to the top, as stated by the National Park Service.

16. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Reserve

The beauty at the Gates of the Arctic National Reserve is mesmerizing.

©iStock.com/joshanon

The Gates of the Arctic is a natural wonder that does not have any roads or trails. Instead, you will explore the ecosystem billions have explored for thousands of years.

You will find this national park on the north side of Alaska. Moreover, this is one of the most protected parks in the world. Along the park, you will see arctic valleys, rivers, and lakes. While this national park has a lot of beauty, it can also get cold. Chillingly, it can get as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. So the best bet is to visit in the summertime.

The establishment of this park occurred in 1929. Since then, it has been one of the most popular areas to visit in Alaska. It is still one of the best national parks you can visit for free.

15. Channel Islands National Park in California

Cave in the side of Santa Cruz Island

You can explore a sea cave for free at the Channel Islands National Park.

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When you want to explore one of the best places in California, you should consider the Channel Islands National Park. This park is across five different islands that you can explore. Moreover, it has a free entrance every day of the year.

You have your choice of exploration, as you can visit Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island, San Miguel Island, Santa Barbara Island, or Santa Cruz Island. Significantly, you can engage in hiking, camping, picnicking, boating, kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, and tide pooling. There are also other leisurely activities to do, such as whale watching, sea lion viewing, and bird watching.

14. Glacier Bay National Park Reserve

The beauty of North America | Alaska: Beautiful sunny morning in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska, United States.

There isn’t much natural beauty that is comparable to Glacier Bay National Park Reserve.

©Grey82/Shutterstock.com

If you ever find yourself in Montana, you may want to visit Glacier Bay National Park Reserve. Exceptionally, this park is one of the favorite tourist spots in the summer. Some parts of the park close during the winter for safety reasons.

The park dates back almost 10,000 years, as several Native American tribes inhabited the area. However, the area became a national park in 1910, under a declaration from President Taft. It was officially marked the 10th national park. Subsequently, it is also one of the coolest national parks you can visit for free.

13. Hot Springs National Park

Hot Water Cascade, Hot Springs National Park

Enjoy the heat for free at Hot Springs National Park.

©Bram Reusen/Shutterstock.com

There are so many cool adventures to go on in Arkansas, and nothing is cooler than Hot Springs National Park. Before it became an official national park in 1832, Native Americans used Hot Springs National Park as a refuge to quarry novaculite for their various weapons.

There is no entrance fee. Additionally, you can go on tours without any charge. The one thing you might have to pay for is the America the Beautiful pass or if you wish to camp at the Gulpha Gorge Campground. Ultimately, there are many things to do at the park, including tours and hiking. You might encounter animals such as white-tailed deer. If you go to Arkansas, make sure to include this national park on your list.

12. Congaree National Park

The environment at Congaree National Park is wonderful, especially when exploring the woods.

©iStock.com/kellyvandellen

Congaree National Park is the most massive area of bottomland hardwood forest that is still standing in the southeastern United States. Overall, this beautiful area in South Carolina is worth seeing if you love seeing wildlife and dense forests.

This park is one of the oldest areas in the country. Like other parks, you can hike and camp here without charge. You also will likely see fireflies while visiting this park. Ultimately, it is one of the most historic free national parks you can see for free in the United States.

11. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

You can explore some beautiful waterfalls at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

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Ohio is home to Cuyahoga National Park. Significantly, it is one of the newer national parks, having only become one in 2000. You can visit this park for free and see an area that is still rural and a better place for wildlife.

Birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects inhabit the park. Therefore, prepare yourself to see turtles and snakes. The park also has a Junior Ranger program, which helps youth learn about protecting and preserving parks. Thus, it is a good place for adults and children.

10. Katmai National Park and Preserve

You will see brown bears at Katmai National Park.

©iStock.com/N8tureGrl

We go back to Alaska to see the Katmai National Park. Amazingly, this park has been around since 1918, when the federal government declared it a protected land. But the highlight of this park is the animals you will see.

You will see brown bears and gray wolves on land. Additionally, you will see sea otters and humpback whales in the water. Yes, the park is free to visit. It is an exceptional site and one of the best national parks you can visit for free.

9. Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park

Explore the mystical wonders of Kenai Fjords National Park.

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Kenai Fjords National Park is another heavenly wonder in Alaska. Like Katmai, it is free to enter and explore all your heart desires. But it is also in Alaska, and sometimes, there are closures due to dangerous conditions. Thus, it is important to know when to visit.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act established Kenai Fjords National Park in 1980. Since then, people have come out to explore the wilderness and observe animals such as the black bear. This park is a site to see and one you won’t have to reach into your wallet to pay for.

8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Sign, Great Smoky Mountains, High Angle View

The Appalachian Trail is one of the many highlights of the Great Smoky Mountains.

©iStock.com/ehrlif

The Appalachian Trail extends through 14 states on the East Coast. Also, it is one of the highlights of the Great Smoky Mountains. While the park is free to enter, you must pay for parking to keep your car for an extended amount of time.

When visiting the Great Smoky Mountains, the trail is the best way to see the park’s wonders. Ultimately, you can hike the trail or even camp. There are also areas for picnicking and fishing. Likewise, there are other areas within the park, such as Cades Cove, where you might run into a white-tailed deer or a black bear. The Great Smoky Mountains is one of the most exhilarating free national parks you will see.

7. Kobuk National Park

Kobuk Valley National Park

The view of the Kobuk National Park is breathtaking.

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We head back to Alaska to see Kobuk National Park. Overall, the main appeal of this park is the dunes and the Kobuk River. The park also has a tradition that dates back 9,000 years, as people visit Onion Portage to harvest caribou while swimming in the river.

The federal government established Kobuk National Park in 1980. Since then, it has become a popular spot for anyone visiting Alaska. It is free to enter and explore the region while partaking in numerous activities, such as camping, fishing, and boating.

6. Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a United States National Park located in White Pine County in east-central Nevada, near the Utah border. The park was established in 1986. It is most commonly accessed by way of Nevada State Route 488, which is connected to U.S. Routes 6 and 50 by Nevada State Route 487 via the small town of Baker, the closest settlement to the park.

The Great Basin National Park is filled with wonders for any explorer to see.

© Ken Lund / CC BY-SA 2.0 – Original / License

The Great Basin National Park is one of the places you can see in Nevada when you are more into nature than nightlife. Ultimately, you will find this park on the eastern side of Nevada and close to Utah. One of the best highlights of the Great Basin National Park is the Lehman Cave Tours. Amazingly, these are the largest cave system in the state and have been offering tours since 1885.

Though the government established this park in 1986, people have been visiting the spot for decades. While the park has no entrance fee, it does cost some money to go on the cave tour or camp overnight. Otherwise, this is one of the most breathtaking free national parks you can visit.

5. Lake Clark National Park and Reserve

Float Plane on Crescent Lake in Lake Clark National Park in Alaska

Come out for adventure on Lake Clark National Park and Reserve.

©Wildnerdpix/Shutterstock.com

The first thing you will notice about Lake Clark National Park and Reserve is that you need a plane or a boat to get there. Yes, it is on an isolated island off the coast of Alaska. Aside from the costs of the boat or plane ride, admission to the national park is free. Furthermore, once you get there, you will discover many interesting things about the park, which the federal government established in 1980.

One of the highlights of this national park is the red salmon, otherwise known as the sockeye salmon, that frequent the area. Significantly, this park does an excellent job of monitoring the status of the sockeye salmon to ensure that they are thriving, and it helps the ecosystem continue to grow. In addition to this, there are opportunities to see bears and also hike.

4. Redwood National Park

A couple tourists hiking in Redwood National Park, California

The massive trees at Redwood National Park are some of the appeal of this Northern California hotspot.

©Yaya Ernst/Shutterstock.com

When discussing Northern California, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is the redwoods. Thus, you find yourself in the Redwood National Park, which has some of the tallest trees you will ever see.

The federal government established Redwood National Park in 1968. In the days since, it has become one of the most popular exploratory regions in the state. You also do not need to pay an entrance fee to see some of the greatest wonders on the planet. However, you do have to pay $35 to camp overnight.

Numerous animals live in the area. Ideally, you will find the Northern Spotted Owl in this national park, but only if you can spot them at night. The Redwood National Park is one of the most famous free parks you can see in the United States.

3. North Cascades National Park

Hiker at sunset in North Cascades National Park

The sunsets are beautiful at North Cascades National Park.

©Andrew Bertino/Shutterstock.com

The North Cascades National Park is your ideal spot if you are visiting Washington State. Originally established in 1968, North Cascades National Park has become a beacon for the state and is only three hours away from Seattle. There are no entrance or parking fees. However, you have to pay if you wish to camp overnight.

Ranger programs and guide tours are among the things you can explore. Also, you can go biking, boating, camping, and exploring. You can also ride horses. Overall, this is one of the most awesome free national parks you can visit in America.

2. Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

You can find caves, as well as peaceful hiking trails at Mammoth Caves National Park.

©iStock.com/Kevin Hearn

The government established Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky in 1941. As the name implies, you can explore the longest cave system in the world. The entrance to the park is free, but it costs money to take a tour of the caves or to camp overnight.

You will likely see birds and bats if you are looking for animals. Additionally, you may see the American Bullfrog or the Eastern Copperhead. The hiking trails give you exquisite views of all that nature offers, including trees and plants. Ultimately, this is one of the best free national parks to visit.

1. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia - Highest Bridges in the United States

The New River Gorge National Park also features one of the highest bridges in the country.

©Mitchell Moreland/Shutterstock.com

The top national park on this list is the New River Gorge National Park. You will find this national park on the country roads of West Virginia. The most amazing feature of this national park is the bridge that spans 876 feet above the water. Amazingly, it is the tallest bridge that is east of the Mississippi River.

The federal government established the New River Gorge National Park in 1978. It has become one of the most popular free national parks in the nation. Therefore, this is the ultimate treat and one park you can visit without worrying about paying any entrance or parking fees.

Summary: 18 U.S. National Parks You Can Visit for Free

RankNational Park Name
1.New River Gorge National Park and Reserve
2.Mammoth Cave National Park
3.North Cascades National Park
4.Redwood National Park
5Lake Clark National Park and Reserve
6.Great Basin National Park
7.Kobuk National Park
8.Great Smoky Mountains National Park
9.Kenai Fjords National Park
10.Katmai National Park
11.Cuyahoga Valley National Park
12.Congaree National Park
13.Hot Springs National Park
14.Glacier Bay National Park Reserve
15.Channel Bay National Park Reserve
16.Gates of the Arctic National Park
17.Gateway National Park
18.Biscayne National Park


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About the Author

Rob Hayek is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on animals, sports, places, and events. Rob has been writing and researching about animals, sports, places, and events for over 10 years and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Cal State University Fullerton, which he earned in 2009. A resident of California, Rob enjoys surfing and also owns a sports group which allows people from the local community to come together to play sports recreationally.

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