Here are 16 national parks in the U.S. that are always free to enter (but keep in mind that there might still be other costs, including boat rentals, camping permits, or parking fees).Less
A state road runs through North Cascades National Park, so it’s free to visit. Even if you don’t leave the main road, you’ll still get jaw-dropping views—but take some time to enjoy a hike or two. Visit Diablo Lake with its crystal-clear, electric blue water; see a glacier; and enjoy the rugged alpine beauty.
Redwood National Park is often grouped with the various state parks nearby, but the national park is the only unit in the group offering free admission. Backcountry camping permits to almost every site (except Gold Bluffs Beach) are also free. Just pack in your gear and get ready to spend the night among the peaceful giants in the forests.
While admission to Channel Islands National Park is technically free, you’ll need to pay for a ferry ride to the islands and likely rent kayaks and other gear when you get there (or you can bring your own kayak on the ferry for an additional fee). Santa Cruz is the largest island in the park, offering trails, sea caves, and historical sites, as well as one-of-a-kind views of the California coast.
Ancient bristlecone pines, glacier-capped mountains, incredible stargazing—it’s all free in Great Basin National Park. You can book a tour of the epic Lehman Caves in advance, which will set you back a few dollars, but with so many lakes and hikes to check out here, you don’t need to spend any money to have fun.
Hot Springs National Park is located in an urban setting, and you may need to spend some money on parking fees, but admission to walk around and explore is free. The park’s visitor center, in the historic Fordyce Bath House, gives you get a good idea of what it was like to visit Hot Springs in its heyday. A trip to a privately-run bathhouse isn’t too expensive—around $30 per person—but you can sample the mineral water for free.
Similar to Channel Islands, Voyageurs National Park is free to visit—once you get there. It’s mostly accessible by boat, so bring or rent a kayak or canoe, or charter a ride out to one of the visitor centers. There are options for hiking, but boating among the waterways and islands is also enjoyable. In the winter, you can snowmobile, snowshoe, or ski across the frozen lakes to reach the main body of the park.
Ohio’s only national park, Cuyahoga Valley, is a haven of natural beauty and serenity. The old Ohio and Erie Canal travels through it, and the park’s most famous hike follows the canal’s towpath. There are waterfalls, shady groves of trees, historic farmsteads, and even a scenic train ride through the park. The park is bike-friendly, so bring your bike along (or rent one nearby).
The newest national park in the U.S., New River Gorge, was upgraded from a national river in 2020. Located in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, the park is centered around the dramatic New River Gorge and features countless outdoor recreation opportunities—many of which won’t cost you a dime. Hike or bike one of the park’s scenic trails, admire the views of the New River Gorge Bridge, go whitewater rafting on the New River, or drive the historic Fayette Station Road.
Great Smoky Mountains is consistently the most-visited national park in the country. Entrance to the park is free, but visitors will likely be charged parking fees starting in 2023. Cruise Cades Cove for historic sites and stunning views and tour the mysterious abandoned ghost town of Elkmont while you visit.
A visit to South Carolina’s Congaree National Park is otherworldly. Check out the Boardwalk Trail for views of the unique ecosystem. With swamps and forests, you can canoe around the park as well—sunrise is the best time to spot wildlife.