by Candyce Stapen, USA TODAY 3:25 p.m. January 17, 2014
Some of the best views in the U.S. look even better when they’re free. Take advantage of nine days of complimentary admission to America’s national parks—the first is Jan. 20—so you can savor the spectacular scenery and discover the history of these unique places.
“The entrance fees aren’t that expensive, but the National Park Service wants to eliminate any barrier to enjoying the parks,” says spokesperson Kathy Kupper. Typically, children younger than 16 enter without cost and adult fees range from $3 per person to $25 per vehicle for everyone in the car. The get-in-gratis days eliminate those charges at 133 facilities; the remaining 268 parks and monuments of the 401 in the national system never charge entrance fees.
“Most Americans live within an hour or two of a national park,” says Kupper. “Yosemite is not too far from San Francisco, Olympic National Park is reasonably close to Seattle, Joshua Tree is near Los Angeles and the Everglades are easy to reach from Miami,” says Kupper.
The National Parks Trolley, which debuted Jan.4, makes it even easier to access both the Everglades and Biscayne National parks from the Miami area. The shuttle departs from Homestead’s Losner Park every Saturday and Sunday through April. As part of a partnership between Homestead and the parks (separate from the National Parks free days initiative), trolley riders always receive complimentary transportation and admission to the Everglades and Biscayne National parks.
Along with making access more affordable, another goal of the National Parks free days is to remind people of the dramatic views, history and engaging activities available in the parks. (Although free days waive entrance fees, activity fees may apply).
At Florida’s Everglades National Park, a 1.5 million acre subtropical wilderness, for example, you can paddle through mangrove – lined creeks and look for alligators as well as view manatees, bald eagles and dolphins on a naturalist led boat trip through the 10,000 islands.Admire river- carved canyons, desert vistas and keep an eye out for black bears in Big Bend National Park, Texas; learn about the ancestors of the Puebloan people as you view 700-year-old cliff caves at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, N.M.; and admire the wild horses at Assateague Island National Seashore, Va. and Md.
The free entrance days for the National Parks are:
*Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day
*Feb. 15-17, Presidents Day Weekend
*April 19-20, opening weekend of National Park Week
*Aug. 25, National Park Service Birthday
*Sept. 27, National Public Lands Days
*Nov. 11, Veterans Day