Yellowstone. Yosemite. The Grand Canyon. Denali. These are among the most iconic and beloved U.S. locations that might spring to mind when the words “national park” are spoken. However, these heavy hitters represent just a handful of the more than 400 sites that fall under the purview of the National Park Service.

Beyond the iconic national parks, which hold a rightfully prominent spot in the hearts of nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts worldwide, the NPS oversees countless other public “units” — sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island, the Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama, as well as other monuments and historical locations.

With more than 85 million acres managed by NPS, there’s plenty to see, and plenty of places to do that. And one of the best days to take advantage of these outdoor places is National Public Lands Day, which was established in 1994 and falls on the fourth Saturday of every September. This year, it occurs on September 23. The theme for 2023 is “30 Years of Care and Community,” in celebration of the 30th year of National Public Lands Day. 


tobiasjo/ iStock

The day brings together hundreds of thousands of volunteers who are eager to participate in the care, restoration, and preservation of all kinds of public lands. According to the NPS, it’s “traditionally the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort.” 

And what’s not to celebrate? Admission is not only free on this date, but there are breathtaking panoramic views of natural beauty, an incredible array of trails, and activities and adventures to be had in the fresh air. Choose whether you’d like to roll up your sleeves and help preserve the natural beauty by volunteering, or simply visit and take it all in — which may very well inspire you to volunteer next year!

Check out this handy link to locate the closest National Public Lands Day event in your area.

Free Dates Throughout the Year

Along with National Public Lands Day, there are numerous dates throughout the year that anyone can get free entry. Though the days and locations listed below are evergreen (no pun intended), be sure to visit the NPS website prior to your visit to obtain the most current information: 

January 15: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (the actual date will vary annually)

Mid-April: First day of National Park Week (the actual date will vary annually)

August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act

September 23: National Public Lands Day

November 11: Veterans Day

It bears mentioning that there are certain categories of individuals that qualify for free passes any time of the year. These include: active military service members and their dependents; fourth grade students; U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities; and volunteers with 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program. Click here to see the full list and learn more.

Virtual Park Tours

Unable to visit locations in person, or want to explore a park from the comfort of your couch? The NPS offers virtual park tours for those who are unable to visit locations in person. Sites that can be toured virtually include Virgin Islands National Park, Crater Lake National Park, the National Mall and Memorial Parks, Channel Islands National Park, and many more.

Need some guidance in narrowing down which locations to visit? Mental Floss has compiled a list of 51 “must-see” sites across the U.S. Happy exploring!