2015 Free Admission Days at National Parks

America’s Best Idea—the national parks—is even better when it’s free!

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are nine more reasons to enjoy national parks next year.

Circle the dates on the calendar and plan your trip—America’s 401 national parks will offer free admission on nine days in 2015, including several holidays.

The 2015 entrance fee-free days are:

January 19: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

February 14-16: Presidents Day weekend

April 18 & 19: National Park Week’s opening weekend

August 25: National Park Service’s 99th birthday

September 26: National Public Lands Day

November 11: Veterans Day

“Every day is a great day in a national park, and these entrance fee free days offer an extra incentive to visit one of these amazing places,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“As we prepare to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, we are inviting all Americans to discover the beauty and history that lives in our national parks.”

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A national park may be closer to home than you think. National Park Service sites are located in every state and in many major cities, including New York City which is home to ten national parks. They are places of recreation and inspiration and they are also powerful economic engines for local communities. Throughout the country, visitors to national parks spent $26.5 billion and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013.

Only 133 of our country’s 401 national parks usually charge an entrance fee.

If you’re planning a trip that includes multiple national parks, you might consider the $80 annual pass that provides entrance to all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and many other Federal lands-more than 2,000 in all. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is offered free to all active duty military members and their dependents. Information on these and other pass options is available online.

Fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession, and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Generally, 133 of the 401 National Park Service have entrance fees that range from $3 to $25. While entrance fees will be waived for the fee free days, amenity and user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours will still be in effect.

Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other Federal land management agencies that will offer their own fee-free days in 2015 are:  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service. Please contact each for dates and details.

The National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service also participate in the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass programs. These passes provide access to more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, grasslands, and other federal lands. Four passes are available:

Free annual pass to current military members and their dependents

Free lifetime pass for U.S. citizens with permanent disabilities

$10 lifetime senior pass for U.S. citizens aged 62 and over

$80 annual pass for the general public

Details

National Park Service

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites in America’s 397 national parks.

Website: www.nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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2014 Fee Free Days at National Parks

Circle the dates on the calendar and plan your trip—America’s 401 national parks will offer free admission on nine days in 2014, including several holidays!

The 2014 entrance fee-free days are:

  • January 20: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • February 15-17: Presidents Day weekend
  • April 19-20: National Park Week’s opening weekend
  • August 25: National Park Service’s 98th birthday
  • September 27: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“America’s national parks welcome more than 280 million visitors a year. To say thanks for that support and invite every American to visit these treasures that they own, we are declaring nine days of free admission next year,” said National Park Service Director

Jonathan B. Jarvis. “Whether it’s that once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Yellowstone or taking a daily walk along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., or the moment at Central High School that your child suddenly understands what civil rights are all about, national parks offer places for unforgettable experiences.

“National parks not only protect and preserve the places we most value; they also add enormous economic value to nearby communities and the entire nation. Visitor spending represents a $30 billion annual benefit to the national economy and supports more than 250,000 jobs,” said Jarvis.

“Fee-free days are a great way to both thank those visitors and introduce parks to first-timers who can find a new place to call an old favorite.”

When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park’s namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park’s namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 84 million acres of spectacular scenery, 17,000 miles of trails, 5,000 miles of shoreline, 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures, and 100 million museum items, and an infinite number of authentic American stories to tell, national parks offer something for every taste.

Those in search of superlatives will find them in national parks including the country’s highest point (in Denali National Park) and lowest point (in Death Valley National Park), deepest lake (Crater Lake National Park), longest cave (Mammoth Cave National Park), tallest trees (Redwood National Park), and highest waterfall (Yosemite National Park).

Normally, 133 national parks charge an entrance fee that ranges from $3 to $25. The entrance fee waiver does not cover amenity or user fees for things like camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Other Federal land management agencies that will offer fee-free days in 2014 are: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. Please contact each for details.

The National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service also participate in the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass and Federal Recreational Lands Pass programs.

These passes provide access to more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, grasslands, and other federal lands. Four passes are available:

  • Free annual pass to current military members and their dependents
  • Free lifetime pass for people with permanent disabilities
  • $10 lifetime senior pass for those aged 62 and over
  • $80 annual pass for the general public.
Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites in America’s 397 national parks.

Website: nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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More Free National Park Activities during Fee-Free Weekends

Like the National Park Service, concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts knows some of the best things in life are free.

Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Xanterra has offered 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year, according to a news release.

Be a train spotter. Join the throngs of tourists who wave at passengers aboard Grand Canyon Railway when they arrive and depart the park.

Watch an otter outfox a fox. Part of the fun of wildlife watching in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park and other parks is discovering the personalities of the park’s permanent residents. Yellowstone river otters, for example, are cagey—and cute—and their clever ways ensure a steady population and a fascinating show for travelers lucky enough to spot one. One employee reported watching an otter tease a hungry fox by repeatedly diving into a river and popping up in a different place once the fox moved into position again. You could practically see the smirk on the otter’s face each time his mischievous moves foiled the fox.

Get high. Some hikers have called it one of the best short hikes in a national park. Though only five miles round trip, the hike to Angel’s Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park is a strenuous but breathtakingly beautiful hike. The view from the top of Angel’s Landing is worth the 21 steep switchbacks—called “Walter’s Wiggles”—and the final white-knuckle half mile. This is a hike for experienced trekkers who have no fear of heights.

Go low. At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin in California’s Death Valley National Park is one of the lowest places in the world. The vast salt flats are typically bone-dry but can turn into a ready-made lake after a big rainstorm. Look up at a mountainside sign marking sea level posted well above the Badwater Basin viewpoint.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wish on a star. Stargazing is a simple, free, safe, and rejuvenating activity for the whole family. Because there is already minimal exterior lighting surrounding the lodges in most national parks, guests need only walk a few steps away to observe the night sky in relative quiet. Death Valley National Park in particular is known for its dark skies initiatives. The National Park Service also offers a variety of free stargazing programs in Yellowstone.

Walk in the footsteps of presidents. Six presidents—and Three Stooges—have stayed at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn. It was built for $140,000 in 1904 and is one of the most famous buildings in any national park. A Xanterra historian tells travelers about the inn’s colorful history during free walking tours offered several times a day throughout the summer.

Make a snowball in June. In Oregon’s remote Crater Lake National Park, winter weather appears from October through June, when the very last of the snow melts. Snow in July isn’t uncommon either. Historic Crater Lake Lodge is open mid-May through mid-October, and guests are advised to be prepared for any kind of weather.

Soak. There are two ways to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon—by foot or by mule—and in the warm months both of them can be sweaty experiences. The Bright Angel Creek running alongside Xanterra’s Phantom Ranch on the floor of the Canyon offers a welcome, chilly, and free way to cool off. On any afternoon, you’ll see campers, hikers and mule-riders soaking on rocks and enjoying the cool creek water while staring up at the soaring canyon walls.

Details

Xanterra Parks & Resorts
Xanterra operates lodges, restaurants, gift shops, tours and activities in Yellowstone, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake, Rocky Mountain, and Petrified Forest National Parks and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Xanterra also operates Grand Canyon Railway, which provides daily train trips to the Grand Canyon.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts are committed to the preservation and protection of the environment for many years.

The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through its environmental program, “Ecologix,” Xanterra Parks & Resorts has been recognized repeatedly for environmental leadership in the hospitality industry and is the recipient of many honors, including major awards from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Travel Industry Association of America, American Hotel and Lodging Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Colorado Department of Public Health, State of Arizona, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, and Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

Address: 6312 South Fiddlers Green Circle, Suite 600N, Greenwood Village, Colorado 80111

Phone: (303) 600-3400

Website: xanterra.com

Please Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series on 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year

Part 1: Free National Park Experiences during Fee-Free Weekends

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

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Free National Park Experiences during Fee-Free Weekends

Like the National Park Service, concessioner Xanterra Parks & Resorts knows some of the best things in life are free.

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Xanterra has offered 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year, according to a news release.

The National Park Service is offering five opportunities in 2013 to enjoy national parks without paying an entrance fee. Those dates are January 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; April 22-26, National Park Week; August 25, National Park Service Birthday; September 28, National Public Lands Day; and November 9-11, Veterans Day Weekend.

“Everyone loves a bargain, and national parks are among the bargains around,” said Betsy O’Rourke, vice president of sales and marketing for Xanterra.

“Watching Old Faithful erupt, seeing the sun rise over the Grand Canyon…these are the kinds of experiences that travelers will remember for a lifetime. And you can’t put a price tag on memories.”

“Whether it is an activity, a restaurant meal, gift shop purchase, or hotel room, travelers are seeking value as well as a memorable vacation experience, and our national parks offer both,” said O’Rourke.

Xanterra operates lodges, restaurants, gift shops, tours and activities in Yellowstone, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake, Rocky Mountain, and Petrified Forest National Parks and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Xanterra also operates Grand Canyon Railway, which provides daily train trips to the Grand Canyon.

Late afternoon light enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Late afternoon light enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Xanterra says many visitors plan a variety of free experiences as well as select a few interpretive experiences to round out a vacation.

“It is great to experience a park on your own and in your own way, but a guided tour is one of the best ways to learn about the history, geology and wildlife of any national park,” said O’Rourke.

Here is the list of 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year, provided by Xanterra:

Skate. Yellowstone National Park’s two winter-season lodges—Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel—feature free outdoor ice-skating rinks. Guests can borrow skates at no cost. Yellowstone’s two winter-season lodges opened for the season in mid-December and will close again in early March. Lodges begin reopening for the summer season in early May.

Discover borax. Xanterra’s Borax Museum at the Ranch at Furnace Creek in California’s Death Valley National Park shows how a simple chemical was largely responsible for the fortunes and misfortunes of many a miner, and it was largely responsible for bringing tourism to this California desert. Many ancient mining tools, antique stagecoaches and even a steam locomotive are on display.

Write a letter and post it. Old fashioned writing desks in Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Old Faithful Inn draw a surprising number of inspired guests, who ditch their devices in favor of stationery and post cards, pens, and stamps.

Compare china patterns. The Bright Angel History Room in Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Lodge includes displays of early Fred Harvey Company china patterns. Harvey was the restaurateur who is credited for bringing tourism to the Grand Canyon and throughout the West by offering excellent food at a good value in restaurants at stops along the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad route.

Watch American Indian dancers. An American Indian troupe performs authentic tribal dances outside the historic Hopi House gift shop in the Grand Canyon during the summer season. Schedules are posted in lodges and other buildings throughout the park.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hitch a ride. The National Park Service offers free shuttles throughout Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks. The environmentally friendly vehicles transfer visitors to specific points throughout each park.

Listen to music. Yellowstone guests can experience free live music on summer evenings in the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and the Old Faithful Inn. The string quartet concert on many summer nights in the sunroom of Lake Yellowstone Hotel is so popular that in-the-know visitors arrive early for the seats with the best views of the sun setting over the lake. The pianist in the Mammoth Hotel is happy to accommodate requests—and he knows nearly all of them by heart.

Please Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series on 15 ideas for free national park activities on fee-free weekends and throughout the year

Part 2: More Free National Park Activities during Fee-Free Weekends

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

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Virginia State Parks to Honor Veterans with Special Programs

Gov. McDonnell recently announced that Virginia State Parks will continue the tradition of honoring veterans by waiving parking and admission fees for all visitors on Veterans Day, Sunday, November 11.

Special programs will also be offered in all 35 Virginia State Parks, managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“Veterans Day is an important opportunity to honor the legacy of the one-in-eight Virginians who serve or have served in the armed forces. They deserve our eternal thanks for putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom,” McDonnell said.

“In addition to special programs around the state we are pleased to offer free admission to Virginia’s State Parks for all visitors on November 11, in recognition of the valiant service of our veterans. This is a small gesture of appreciation for the women and men who have given so much to defend our liberty and freedom. I encourage Virginians to visit a state park and discover first-hand our Commonwealth’s beauty and wonders.”

Flag retirement ceremonies will be held at Caledon in King George, Chippokes Plantation in Surry, Douthat in Millboro, Fairy Stone in Stuart, First Landing in Virginia Beach, Grayson Highlands in Mouth of Wilson, Hungry Mother in Marion, James River in Gladstone, Kiptopeke in Cape Charles, New River Trail in Foster Falls, and Natural Tunnel in Duffield.

Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park

Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park in Rice will light 500 luminaries and host guided battlefield walks. The personal accounts of Civil War veterans from the Battle of Staunton River Bridge will be read at Staunton River Battlefield in Randolph. Storytellers will detail military service from the Revolutionary War to the current war against terrorism in a nighttime campfire program at Mason Neck State Park in Lorton.

Sky Meadows State Park

Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane and the Friends of Sky Meadows State Park will  host a 5K walk-a-thon to support the Wounded Warrior Project. There will be prizes for the highest pledge amounts. Music by the Carolina Mountain Band and a guest speaker will round out the activities.

Leesylvania State Park

Visitors to Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge are invited to create a temporary wall of honor by providing a photograph of a friend or family member who served in the military.

Belle Isle State Park & Pocahontas State Park

Belle Isle State Park in Lancaster and Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield will hold workshops to create care packages for patients of McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond.

Westmoreland State Park

Local VFW posts and American Legion chapters will hold a special Veterans Day flag ceremony at Westmoreland State Park in Montross.

Wilderness Road State Park

Re-enactors will honor those who have served, from the Revolutionary War to present day with a passing of historical flags at Wilderness Road State Park in Ewing.

Details

Virginia State Parks

You’ll find plenty of programs, events, and activities at Virginia’s 35 state parks—thousands of campsites, hundreds of cabins, more than 500 miles of trails, and convenient access to Virginia’s major waterways. Beaches, picnic shelters, family lodges, meeting facilities, festivals, concerts, nature programs, cultural happenings… the list goes on and on.

From Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, there’s something for everyone at Virginia State Parks. Whether you’re after a relaxing picnic or a two-week vacation, leave life’s daily pressures behind and reconnect with nature and your family at a nearby state park.

Virginia State Parks are open year-round and, with the changing foliage and special programs, fall is fast becoming a popular time to visit.

Address: 203 Governor Street, Suite 306, Richmond, VA 23219-2094

Phone: (800) 933-PARK (7275)

Website: dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks

Worth Pondering…

On the whole, I find nothing anywhere else…which Virginia need envy.

—Thomas Jefferson

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