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What Is National Park Week? And How Can You Get In for Free?

National Park Week at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, red rock formations against snow-covered peaks and blue sky

National Park Week takes place in late April across all U.S. National Parks and other NPS sites. Entry is free on the first day. But this week is about much more than free admission.

Overview

In 2021, National Park Week is celebrated from April 17 (Saturday) until April 25 (Sunday). The National Park Services and the National Park Foundation join forces to spotlight the natural and historic treasures and invite you to explore breathtaking locations. You’re invited to learn about culture, history, nature – and the ways they’re being preserved and how you can help.

There are tons of events, special programs, and digital experiences to participate in – and specially themed days to highlight important aspects and inspire you to get involved.

While we didn’t come up with the slogan that the U.S. National Parks are America’s best idea – we are firm believers. It’s astonishing that these vast and diverse landscapes are both protected and portions made (relatively) easily accessible to most of us.

Naturally, having a dedicated National Park Week with a free entrance day and lots of programs to entice and explore also sounds pretty good.

Elk (wapiti) mother and her young grazing in the National Park.
Elk (wapiti) mother and offspring in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

National Park Week Events

There are lots of events planned at parks and other lands across the USA – including many virtual events you can attend from home, or better from your backyard. Many are linked directly to the themed days listed below.

To find events, you can use the official event search tool by dates, locations, or keywords.

To figure out which of the 400 National Parks are near you, give the Find Your Park tool a try.

National Park Week – Day Themes

  • April 17 (Sat) – ParkRx Day
    This year Park Prescription Day is a fee-free day in US National Parks so everyone can get out and enjoy the health benefits of the great outdoors. To participate in giving yourself a dose of “outdoors as medicine” on this day, you don’t have to go to a National Park – but can just head to your neighborhood outdoor space. You’re invited to share your experience with the hashtags #PowerOfParksForHealth – #BeforeAndAfterParkRx – #ParkRx – #HealthyParksHealthyPeople
    (Of course, we’d always add #HappierPlace, too. But then we also would have called this day Happier Place Day. ๐Ÿ™‚ )
  • April 18 (Sun) – Volunteer Sunday
    Learn more about how you can volunteer in parks and give thanks to those who help our parks run year-round.
    #NPSVolunteer
  • April 19 (Mon) – Military Monday
    Discover the stories of veterans and military members that are preserved in parks across the country.
    #MilitaryMonday
  • April 20 (Tue) – Transformation Tuesday
    NPS has been protecting and preserving lands and historic structures for over 100 years! Explore the ways our parks have changed over the years.
    #TransformationTuesday – #NPSOnTheMove
  • April 21 (Wed) – Wayback Wednesday
    Find a park connected to some of the most inspiring stories in our nationโ€™s multifaceted history. Discover your own family’s connections and stories.
    #WaybackWednesday
  • April 22 (Thu) – Earth Day
    Celebrate Earth Day by reflecting upon the natural wonders of our parks and supporting the work being done to ensure the health and vibrancy of our parks.
    #EarthDay
  • April 23 (Fri) – Friendship Friday
    Join parks and programs as they thank their partners that help preserve and nurture our national parks and lands.
    #FriendshipFriday – #NPSFriends
  • April 24 (Sat) – National Junior Ranger Day
    NPSโ€™s Junior Ranger programs help young park visitors connect with our shared history, heritage, and national parks.
    #JuniorRangerDay
  • April 25 (Sun) – BARK Ranger Day
    Learn the B.A.R.K. Ranger principles for when you bring your dog on a trip to a pet-friendly park and discover the many roles dogs play in parks.
    #BarkRanger

General National Park (Week) hashtags for sharing and discovering photos on social media: #NationalParkWeek #FindYourPark #EncuentraTuParque

How To Get Into National Parks For Free

Some U.S. National Park Service sites are always free to get in, like Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway and its trails.

But for all the parks and other NPS sites that do charge an entry fee, there are 6 days each year that everyone can get in for free.

The 2021 National Park Free Days are:

January 18 – Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 17 – First day of National Park Week

August 4 – One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act

August 25 – National Park Service Birthday

September 25 – National Public Lands Day

November 11 – Veterans Day

And then there’s the outstanding Every Kid Outdoors program, which allows free entry to all National Parks, Forests, Grasslands and much more for 4th graders AND their families for an entire year from September to August. A beautiful way to help children become happier adults by inviting them and their families into the Great Outdoors.

And this year, due to so many 4th graders missing out on this great opportunity last year due to the covid pandemic, all the federal land organizations are offering free access to all the National Parks and much more for 5th graders and their families as well! Families just need to get the voucher. Sweet.

We usually purchase an “America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass” (currently $80) every year, which allows entry to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all National Park Services sites. With this annual pass, entry always appears to be free. And if we don’t get to enjoy many parks and other sites personally (as in a pandemic year), we still know we’re supporting the outstanding National Parks Services system.

Sand sledding, sandboarding and taking photos of it all in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.
Sand sledding, sandboarding and taking photos of it all in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

National Park Week History

While this special week in April around Earth Day (4/22) and John Muir’s birthday (4/21) has been celebrated by the National Parks for much longer, in 2016 in honor of the National Park’s upcoming centennial, President Barrack Obama proclaimed National Park Week officially.

… let us embrace the opportunity to participate in a variety of scientific, artistic, and athletic activities in our National Parks. And together, let us recommit to promoting environmental stewardship and conserving our public lands so all our daughters and sons can experience the grandeur of our outdoor spaces for years to come.

Presidential Proclamation: National Park Week — barrack obama, 2016

National Parks For Everyone

It was shocking to learn that in the past access to national parks was denied to black people – at a time when racial segregation was still rampant across the US with many official restrictions that to us today seem unbelievable. These restrictions and laws have long been abolished. And there are a lot of National Park Services sites the emphasize the history of Black Americans. However, we understand that too many people still don’t feel welcome in the Great Outdoors.

While we don’t (yet?) see evidence that the National Parks are directly addressing these issues for this year’s themes, we do see diversity in the photos they choose – and in inclusionary language. There are many opportunities to focus on topics of inclusion and conversations about racism, ableism, and diversifying.

If you happen to know of any specific events during National Park Week focused on diversifying the outdoors or wrestling with the more challenging aspects of history, please let us know so we can highlight them.

Then there are also the conversations that need to be had about parks once having been tribal land.

Painted Wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado - Happier Place
Painted Wall in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – one of the least visited parks (= least crowded!)

Related Blog Posts

Help Your Kids Become Happier Adults: Take Them Outdoors!

Get Happier in 3 Simple Steps: Take a Break. Go Outside. Have Fun.

Inviting Happiness and Adventure: Yes, letโ€™s!

Happier Place National Park Guides

This Rocks, Naturally: Arches National Park (Utah)

Four Parks In One: Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

(Literally) Awesome: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)

Much More Than Just a National Park: Mesa Verde (Colorado)

See It To Believe It: Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)

Shark Valley: Close Encounters with Wildlife in Everglades National Park (Florida)

Most Popular: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina + Tennessee)

Americaโ€™s Favorite Drive + Longest Linear Park: Blue Ridge Parkway

Wild West Icon: Saguaro National Park (Arizona)

Let’s Inspire Each Other

Have you participated in National Parks Week before? Tell us about your experience. Where will you go and what will you do this year? If you live outside of the USA, do you have a national parks system?

Please leave a comment below โ€“ inspired by these questions or whatever youโ€™d like to shareโ€ฆ


Balanced Rock in Arches National Park, Utah, National Park Week takes place during late April. Learn all you need to know to participate and find out how to get into National Parks for free.

All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal during different National Park Weeks – at Arches National Park (Utah), Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado), Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina side).

6 thoughts on “What Is National Park Week? And How Can You Get In for Free?

  1. This is so awesome and totally enjoyed this wonderful post. We will be taking a road trip to Yellowstone this year and cannot wait! I had no idea they had things like this and heading over to check out more so than you for sharing!

  2. I like to travel. Hopefully, I will be able to do that after the classes are over. These parks are perfect place for me to enjoy.

  3. I wonder if we have something like this in the UK too as it would be nice although we don’t have many national parks.

  4. I didn’t know there was a national park week. I love visiting national parks! Great stress reliever.

  5. It sounds like there are quite a few things scheduled in then. They will be very popular to visit. Looks like the 17th is the day to go to get in free x

  6. I love to enjoy life and travel, but in the meantime I can also save better! Tips not to be missed! I take notes!

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