America’s national parks are hosting a weeklong party starting this Saturday, and the best part is that we’ll be the ones getting gifts—in the form of free entrance to over 400 parks. The fee-free day kicks off the annual National Park Week, which this year runs from April 20 to 28 and includes themed days like National Junior Ranger Day, Military and Veterans Recognition Day, Earth Day, and Friendship Friday, where you can check out some of the more than 200 groups that have partnered with the NPS to raise funds to promote research and restoration projects, help rehab historic structures and trails, host special events, and generally help promote and protect the parks.
It typically costs between $10 and $35 per vehicle to enter most parks that require a fee—and those prices are set to increase $5 to $15 in 2020. If you can’t make this weekend’s fee-free day, don’t worry—you’ll have three more opportunities this year: when the NPS celebrates its birthday on August 25, National Public Lands Day on September 28, and Veterans Day on November 11. Or you can always snag an annual America the Beautiful pass for $80, which grants access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks and wildlife refuges, and covers amenity and day-use fees in national forests and on BLM land.
Don’t know which park or parks you should visit? Here’s a list of the participating parks that typically have entrance fees. And for some extra inspiration, we’ve polled the Outside staff on their all-time favorites.
I spent a lot of time growing up near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia’s portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My family would always hike Old Rag mountain on Thanksgiving, and I love all the small historic towns—and their English-style pubs for post-hike beers—you pass before you get on the park’s curvy Skyline Drive. Plus, this stunning, empty countryside is just a couple of hours from Washington, D.C. —Mary Turner, deputy editor
Mesa Verde, Colorado
The first time I ever experienced the high desert of the Colorado Plateau was here. I was in third grade, and I’ve been hooked on its stunning landscape ever since. Mesa Verde definitely isn’t one of the places you go to get away from the crowds, but it’s easy to tune that out while you’re pondering the ruins and looking at Sleeping Ute Mountain or over the San Juan Basin from the mesa top. —Ryan Van Bibber, senior editor
Maine’s island topography may not be all turquoise water and white sand beaches, but the rocky coastline is stunning in its own way. Acadia, on the state’s Mount Desert Island, has everything I love packed into just a few miles: amazing sea kayaking, small but rolling peaks, granite cliffs to rock-hop, and, best of all, seals. Oh, and good craft beer and Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream in Bar Harbor. —Ariella Gintzler, assistant editor
Mount Rainier, Washington
Rainier is definitely my favorite for sentimental reasons. I grew up in sight of the peak, learned to ski ten miles south of it, and hiked through its dense forests and alpine meadows throughout my childhood. The mountain was the first big peak I climbed, and it’s always held an emotional pull for me. It feels like home and the wildest place in the world all at once —Abigail Barronian, assistant editor
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Technically a place can’t be your favorite if you haven’t been there yet, but I’m obsessed with Dry Tortugas. I dream of spending the day snorkeling along Fort Jefferson’s moat wall and camping on Garden Key’s white-sand beach for incredible stargazing. Best of all, the park is accessible mainly by ferry—which serves $4 frozen rum drinks. —Aleta Burchyski, associate managing editor
Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
Tucked into a corner of the stunning San Luis Valley at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Great Sand Dunes is my favorite for two reasons. First, there are few things more fun than sand sledding on a $10 plastic saucer from Walmart (or wherever else you source a cheap ride). And because it’s hours away from any major city, commercial airport, or interstate, it’s one of the less crowded national parks. —Axie Navas, digital editorial director
Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
Don’t worry if you didn’t know that there was a national park in Ohio—much of the country doesn’t either. And we Ohioans like to keep it that way. The park is riddled with beautiful sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, and historic canals, and it’s a perfect place to spend a Saturday with your family. So if you’re a local or just visiting the area, don’t miss this little-known national gem. —Emily Reed, video producer
Sequoia and Kings Canyon, California
Sure, these two neighboring national parks west of Fresno have massive redwoods, but they’re also gateways to the High Sierra, where trees give way to granite monoliths. If you head to the 8.4-mile round-trip Monarch Lakes Trail near Mineral King Valley, you’ll be treated to views of the Great Western Divide and Sawtooth Pass. But be sure to bring a tarp to wrap the undercarriage of your vehicle if you plan on leaving your car at the trailhead—cute but curious marmots have been known to munch on fuel lines, radiator hoses, and more. —Ali Van Houten, editorial fellow