Yellowstone National Park’s Steamboat Geyser | File photo
(CNN) — Yellowstone? Free. Yosemite? Free. Everglades? Free!
Saturday is the start of National Park Week 2022. And in celebration, the National Park Service is offering free entry to all 423 of its sites on April 16.
That includes not only those marquee national parks, but all other types of sites the NPS manages: National battlefields such as Antietam in Maryland; national historic sites such as President Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace in New York; national monuments such as the Native American Effigy Mounds in Iowa; and national seashores such as Cumberland Island in Georgia. (Click here for a full listing of every NPS site, which it calls “units”).
Actually, most NPS sites are free all year. Only 108 charge a fee. And as you’d suspect, it’s the big names that ask you to pay to enter: Places such as Arches in Utah, Crater Lake in Oregon and Shenandoah in Virginia.
But they’re all free this Saturday.
5 free days in 2022
Just in case you missed the free day back in January and can’t make it to an NPS site on Saturday, there are still three remaining dates when entry fees are waived for you planners:
• August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act• September 24: National Public Lands Day• November 11: Veterans Day
One catch: “The entrance fee waiver for fee-free days does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation or special tours,” the NPS says.
If you’re not much of a planner, it might be a good idea to pick up the habit — particularly if you want to see a popular site on a free day.
Of those 420+ sites in the National Park System, the top 25 got more than half of the system’s total number of visits last year. Some parks set all-time records for visitors.
Extra fees, advanced reservations, special passes, lotteries and caps on the number of visitors are all in play in 2022.
If you have a particular site you wish to visit, check its website first.
The rest of National Park Week
While the free-for-all is just one day, the NPS has a whole week of social media themes planned out, one for each day.
For instance, Sunday is “Creativity Day,” and Wednesday is “Opportunities on Workforce” when you can learn about jobs with the NPS and its partners.
Click here for details on each day.
National Park strategies
With competition to enter the Yellowstones and Yosemites of the system so fierce, you might want to come up with a strategy, whether it’s a free day or not.
First is plan early as possible. Many places book up faster than ever.
Also, consider visiting lower-profile or harder-to-reach parks. The NPS is encouraging people to see their other offerings that might be less crowded. Some ideas:
• Congaree National Park (South Carolina): This is the “largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the [Southeast].” You won’t find another national park quite like it.
• Great Basin National Park (Nevada): This features 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, sage-covered foothills and the darkest of dark-night skies.
• Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas): About 110 miles east of El Paso, it features the four tallest peaks in Texas, canyons, desert landscapes and dunes.
• Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska): Stunning views and brown bear sightings are just two of the highlights of this park southwest of Anchorage.
With gasoline prices so high, it makes sense to visit park clusters.
One idea: While you’re visiting Bandalier National Monument in New Mexico, check out the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve. And just 90 minutes or so away is scenic Carson National Forest, run by the USDA’s Forest Service. There’s no fee, and it has lovely driving and hiking vistas.
If you want to find the parks closest to you, click here.
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