Get Out There

Free Alternatives to the Expensive, Crowded Parks

We love visiting national parks. They are beautiful pieces of land set aside for the public to enjoy. Every year, we write a blog telling you to mark your calendar for the days when the parks that charge entrance fees are free. There is one coming up in April.

Some national parks are more popular and more expensive than others. You might think it’s because they offer sights you can’t see anywhere else. But some underrated free parks are very similar to the most popular, most expensive parks.

For instance, people flock to Death Valley to warm up in the winter. They pay $30 to bring their car in or $15 a person on foot. You could go to Mojave National Preserve. It’s scorching hot, beautiful and free. It has everything that is appealing about Death Valley without the price tag.  

If you want to look at Glaciers and see beautiful scenic drives, you might think you must head to Glacier National Park in Montana. But you need to brace yourself for the massive crowd that goes there. The park even put out a how-to guide for coping with how crowded it is. If you don’t want to get caught in the crush but want to see the beautiful views, don’t despair! Head to North Cascades National Park in Washington instead. It’s free but quiet despite having similar scenery and more glaciers than anywhere in the U.S. outside Alaska. Unlike Glacier National Park, which costs $35 to drive into or $20 a person on foot, there is no fee to enter North Cascades.

If you want to head to Yosemite but aren’t sure about the crowds or the reservation system, 2024 might not be the year for you. The pandemic made visiting national parks a must-do vacation. Popular parks went from being well-known destinations to being downright zoos. Yosemite costs $35 to drive into or $20 a person on foot. Instead, head to West Virginia and go to New River Gorge. It’s one of the newest national parks, has beautiful waterfalls, many similar views and a ton of wonderful outdoor activities.

Have you ever wanted to see the giant redwoods? If so, you’ve probably thought of heading to Sequoia. Sequoia National Park is California’s oldest national park. It’s also home to the world’s largest tree. Like Glacier and Yosemite, it costs $35 to drive into or $20 a person on foot. But if you drive north to Redwood National Park, the same beautiful trees are free. One person on our team pointed out an extra benefit of going to Redwood National Parks: it’s where the Star Wars movies filmed the Forest Moon of Endor scenes with the cute Ewoks. Star Wars fans in your family would love to see the spots!

Visiting these parks will help you save money and see some beautiful sights with smaller crowds. You can enjoy some elbow room while out in nature. That way, your trip can be restful and refreshing rather than expensive and stressful!  

Banner image: Dan Meyers via Unsplash

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