It’s a day of free entry to national parks; The next is scheduled for November

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Editor’s Note: This is a recurring post that will be updated regularly with new information.

If you are within driving distance of a national park, today is a great day to visit. September 24 is one of several days of the year that the US National Park Service grants free admission.

It’s a prime opportunity for visitors wanting to experience some of the country’s most spectacular natural wonders for free. With hundreds of parks across the country and a long list of parks participating in free days, there’s a good chance you live close enough to one to make last-minute weekend plans and celebrate the start of fall outdoors enjoy.

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The Saturday free entry day is part of the celebrations of National Public Lands Day, which occurs annually on the fourth Saturday of September. Organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation, hundreds of thousands of volunteers work on this day each year to clean up and restore parks and other outdoor spaces. But an important part of the day for national park enthusiasts is free entry to the national parks.

If you visit a national park on one of the National Park Service’s free entry days, you can save up to $35 per vehicle at some of the most popular national parks, such as Glacier and the Grand Canyon.

Can’t make it to a park today? Mark your calendar: The next day of free entry to the national parks is in just over a month, on November 11th, Veterans Day.

Keep in mind that some of the country’s most visited parks now require reservations for entry. You can make reservations for the parks here. If you’re visiting Yellowstone National Park, be sure to check which parts of the park are accessible after this summer’s record flooding.

A helpful tip to enhance your experience when planning a visit on one of the toll-free days is to forego visiting beautiful but busy spots like Olympic National Park and Acadia National Park and instead visit lesser-known parks .

“While there’s no substitute for Yellowstone and Yosemite, there are many national monuments and other national park service units that can give you that great national park experience without the crowds,” says Jason Epperson of the RV Miles website and podcast, whose family has visited more than 50 service points of national parks in five years in which he was on the road full time.

Epperson points to Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado-Utah border, which offers “epic hikes, big canyons, and whitewater rafting” in addition to real dinosaur bones to view, as a good option to shed the crowds

TPG has compiled the following list of less crowded national parks and monuments that are great options to visit, especially if you skip the entrance fees (including two favorites that are free to visit year-round).

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park. POSNOV/GETTY PICTURES

About a 2.5 hour drive from Reno, Nevada and less than four hours from San Francisco, this Northern California national park sees only a fraction of the Yosemite hordes. Lassen Volcanic National Park is a hydrothermal wonderland where you can watch steaming fumaroles, catch a rainbow trout or take a dip in a clear mountain lake over the course of a day.

Manzanita Lake is a popular spot for kayaking and fishing. And the beach at Summit Lake is accessible via the park’s main highway.

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park. SKISERGE1/GETTY PICTURES

Jungle landscapes await in this South Carolina national park, located less than 20 miles southeast of the state capital of Columbia and about 100 miles from Charleston coming from the coast. Admission to Congaree National Park is always free.

The wilderness here is home to one of the country’s largest remaining intact expanses of old-growth lowland hardwood forest and is an amazing place to see bald cypress trees, some exceeding 26 feet in circumference. The park is also a world important bird sanctuary with spectacular biodiversity. The treetops are so dense in places that barred owls can sometimes be heard calling in the middle of the day, so keep your eyes (and ears) sharp.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument. TAYLOR REILLY/GETTY PICTURES

Choosing to visit a national monument instead of a national park can be a good choice to avoid the crowds of tour guides. And Dinosaur National Monument in Jessen, Utah is a place where giants once roamed in a particularly scenic setting.

It is a 3.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City and approximately 4.5 hours from Denver. In addition to rock-encrusted prehistoric dinosaur remains and petroglyphs, the 210,000-acre park lets you raft through secluded canyons along the Green and Yampa Rivers and hike deserted trails with sheer cliffs at every turn. For those who want to avoid the river in winter there is also the Quarry Visitor Center nearby which is a great daytime activity for any kids who love dinosaurs.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park. COREY RICH/GETTY PICTURES

With three distinct entrances dotted around the perimeter of South Florida, Everglades National Park — the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States — makes it easy to spread out and escape crowds (if not the alligators, of which more than a million live in living in Florida). .

Depending on your preference for sun exposure, you can choose from shaded boat rides from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center near Naples, tram rides from the Shark Valley Visitor Center, or opt for a walk in full sun on the excellent Anhinga Trail near Homestead.

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park. MARK NEWMAN/GETTY PICTURES

In the southwestern reaches of South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is “one of the best places to see bison, moose and prairie dogs without waiting in the Yellowstone traffic jams,” Epperson said. And it’s another national park that has no entrance fee to visit, but is uncrowded most of the year.

The park is home to the Wind Cave of the same name, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. It’s named for the air pressure system created by barometric winds at its entrance (yes, you can feel it!). You can only enter the cave during guided tours, but there are plenty of other outdoor hiking trails to enjoy if that sounds a little too claustrophobic.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park. POSNOV/GETTY PICTURES

Ferries and seaplanes take visitors from locations in Minnesota and Michigan to this magnificent national park on an island in Lake Superior. Isle Royale National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve and home to beavers, elk, gray wolves, mink and many more animals – and most days there are far more of them than human visitors.

You can take a day hike on a short visit, or stay longer to paddle miles of waterways within the park, which includes inland lakes, coves, and coves.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park. STEPHEN FRINK/GETTY PICTURES

Here’s another worthy jump by seaplane or boat that waives national park fees.

Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most scenic day trips from Key West (the park is about 70 miles west of Duval Street), with some of Florida’s best snorkeling in the 100-square-mile park, which is almost entirely submerged.

What can be seen up in the Dry Tortugas, beyond the park’s pristine white-sand beach, is the 19th-century Fort Jefferson – a huge coastal fort in the park, made of millions of bricks, which is a dazzling contrast to the surrounding turquoise waters form the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a good destination to consider now or for a warm-weather getaway when the National Park Service offers free entry days in the winter of 2023.

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Wherever you decide to visit within the National Park Service’s portfolio, Epperson recommends remembering that most people in the national parks stay no more than 100 feet from the roadside. “Even big, popular places have a lot of places to retreat to,” he said.

The full list of participating parks and national monuments that waive entrance fees can be found here.

Additionally, we would like to point out that valet parking offers year-round free admission for several groups, including veterans, Gold Star families, and US citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities.

In the meantime, if you’re hoping to take advantage of a free entry day at one of the country’s 423 NPS locations, remember that the 2022 calendar included free entry days in January, April, August, September and November, so we’ll definitely update this story when we get the 2023 schedule.

Additional reporting from Madison Blancaflor and Sean Cudahy.

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