Mount Rainier National Park
We are a community of adventurers fighting for our right to explore public lands. The Right to Explore gives a voice to travelers, van-lifers, nomads, and vagabonds who see their lands being taken away.
Join the fight against excessive fees, restrictions, reservations, quotas, and toxic travel culture.
What is the Problem?
The current fees and restrictions in national parks are unfair. Over the last 60 years, annual park entry fees have increased from $6 to $70 and campground fees have increased from free to $25+ per night. For many travelers, these costs are restrictive. For car campers and van-lifers, options are even more limited. Fines for overnight parking on public lands can range from $70-$700+, even in the remotest locations. The Right to Explore is a social purpose corporation dedicated to eliminating unjust costs and restoring access to America's wilderness areas.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
What We Do
Americans about their rights on public lands and how they are being taken away.
our community to fight against unfair rules and regulations.
the federal government to have our voices heard by lawmakers.
communities with less access to the outdoors a chance to explore their public lands through fundraisers.
Why is this Important?
We are facing a crisis of outdoor recreation costs. In less than 5 years, we have seen costs increase by 40% in many of our public parks and natural spaces. At this accelerated rate, it won't be long before fewer and fewer Americans can afford to visit our outdoor spaces. Outdoor recreation is becoming a luxury instead of a right. What problems does this cause? With increasing costs comes decreased diversity. A 2011 survey of diversity in National Parks found that "only 1 in 5 visitors was non-white," and "less than 2% of visitors were African Americans." This statistic mirrored a 2000 survey despite a 6% minority growth in the United States over the same 11 year period.
The same 2011 survey noted that "69% of Americans with household incomes of over $150,000 said they visited one or more national parks in the past two years, compared with only 22% of Americans with household incomes of less than $10,000." The National Park Service has conceded that there are significant barriers to entry for diverse groups, yet has only increased these barriers since conducting the survey. It is unfair to leave Americans behind. Every American deserves the right to explore their public lands as much as any other.
What Can be Done?
Each year, the National Parks are estimated to generate upwards of $40 Billion for the U.S. economy. The majority of this economic contribution comes from lodging, restaurants, transportation, and gas in the form of benefits to local communities. Entrance and camping fees make up only 0.5% of the total economy of National Parks- a drop in the bucket on a large scale. The most visited and profitable National Park in the country, due to a public road network of interconnected towns, charges no fees at all. Despite this, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is able to function and profit off the economic stimulation it provides for local towns and businesses. We believe that the rest of the National Park System should follow this same model, used by most developed nations worldwide.
Death Valley National Park
Olympic National Park
The contribution to the nation's economy every year by the National Park system.
The portion of the National Park economy that comes from recreation fees.
Hot Creek Geological Site
Make all 63 National Parks Free
16 of our 63 National Parks are free here in the United States. While each of these parks has its own unique reason why no visitation fees are imposed, they all prove a simple fact: the National Park Service can thrive without the need to charge entrance fees. Each year, the National Parks are estimated to generate upwards of $40 Billion for the U.S. economy. The majority of this economic contribution comes from lodging, restaurants, transportation, and gas in the form of benefits to local communities. Entrance fees make up only 0.5% of the total economy of National Parks- a drop in the bucket on a large scale. The most visited National Park in the country, due to a public road network of interconnected towns, charges no fees at all. Despite this, Great
Smoky Mountains National Park is able to function and profit off of the economic stimulation it provides for local towns and businesses. We believe that the rest of the National Park System should follow this same model, followed by most developed nations worldwide. We believe that it is both unconstitutional and immoral to charge citizens with an additional fee, on top of federal taxes, for the right to explore the public natural spaces that make our country so great.
Make all Federal Camping Free
The National Park Service, National Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management each operate thousands of campgrounds in the United States. The US Forest Service alone operates 4300 campgrounds across 154 National Forests. Nightly fees can vary from $5.00/night to $30.00/night, depending on location, facilities, and popularity. According to the 2018 US Forest Service Budget Overview, only $21 million were collected in campground fees, or hardly 1% of the $1.75 billion Forest Service budget (not counting the $2.5 billion for wildfire management). Evidently, these fees are irrelevant when compared to the budget provided by federal tax dollars. The major downsides to charging overnight fees in campgrounds are lacking diversity in
natural spaces and infringements on individual rights. Because some federal areas charge fees of $30/night, a week of camping can cost hundreds of dollars. For the 3/4 of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, camping is an impossibility. We believe that all federal campgrounds should be free. We believe that the hundreds of free campgrounds on BLM and Wildlife Refuge land prove that the Forest Service and National Park Service can maintain free and plentiful camping.
Allow Overnight Parking and Car Camping
Overnight parking and/or car camping are prohibited in nearly every national park and federal trailhead in the country. The only reason for enforcing this rule is to compel car campers and van-lifers to pay for campsites. Visitor center parking lots, trailheads, and pullouts are public property and it is our constitutional right to use them freely. While there are no federal laws prohibiting overnight parking, each national park and national forest creates its own set of rules to dictate where and when people can park- often arbitrarily. While this greatly discourages travelers from visiting our parks, it can also become a safety hazard to campers who drive around in search of a legal place to camp late into the night. Visitor safety can also be threatened if
hazardous conditions are present on the roads, yet drivers are still at risk of receiving tickets for overnight parking. The for-profit model of our Federal Land System greatly disincentivizes Americans from visiting natural places. Many Americans can not afford hotel or campground costs, and certainly not a fine. At The Right to Explore, we believe that all people have the natural and constitutional right to sleep in their vehicles overnight in public federal spaces. To eliminate the possibility of long-term squatting, a 48-hour rule could be imposed on individual parking spaces in national parks. The current 14 day National Forest camping limit could continue to be applied as well.
Make All Access Permits Free on Federal Land
For many natural wonders in the United States, permits are required to visit. In most national parks, backcountry camping is allowed only by permit. Yellowstone National Park, for example, charges a non-refundable $25 for each permit reservation made online. While we understand the use of a permit system to keep crowds at bay, particularly in smaller areas, charging a non-refundable fee is outrageous. Backcountry camping fees make no sense as there are no facilities the permittee is intending to use. With the fairly minimal amount of permits issued annually, the National Park service gains an immeasurably small financial benefit from paid permits. Special use permits, however, are different. These permits by nature
intend to use the resources of the federal land that they establish the right to. A value-based transaction is necessary if the permittee is intending to manipulate the land. We believe that all access permits on federal land should be free of charge. This includes camping, climbing, day-use, parking, hiking, and driving.
Keep Parks Open 24/7 Every Day of the Year
For the most part, the National Park System is open 24/7 every day of the year. This allows visitors to hike trails for sunrise, enter campsites late at night, look for wildlife, take dark sky photographs, and much more. Many natural spaces come to life at night, and a midnight drive can be very rewarding. National monuments and some national forest sites are more restrictive, unfortunately. Many national monuments have opening and closing times. Unless visitors are paying campers, they are required to leave before closing. In National Forests, there are thousands of day-use only sites where access after dark is prohibited. However certain parks, particularly White Sands National Park, opens at 7AM and closes their gates at 6PM,
requiring any early visitors to pay $50 for 30 minutes early entry. We believe this to be obscene and unfair, and that all federal public parks should remain open 24/7 every day of the year.
No More 'For-Profit' Natural Spaces
The federal government, over the last several decades, has undergone a transition in the way it manages natural spaces. Many parks used to be free and visitors had the right to explore natural wonders. Today, the parks system is viewed as a business. In the most popular parks, revenue and profits are the only objectives. That's why prices have increased to the point of being unmanageable for many. This has, in part, contributed to the diversity decline in natural places. A 'for-profit' model is, by definition, willing to sacrifice certain customers for others who can pay more. We believe that it is wrong to profit off of a taxpayer-funded natural wonder. Visitors to these places are not using any of the resources the land provides, nor are they
manipulating the land in any way. Tourists, visitors, explorers, climbers, photographers, boaters, and much more are just there to admire the beauty. The first step towards inclusion in natural spaces is inclusive costs. It is immoral and unconstitutional to charge Americans with a fee (a negative tax, which burdens less wealthy people the most) just to access these places. At The Right to Explore, we strive to demonetize our natural spaces and bring back the free spirit of adventure we once had.