Which National Parks are Free to Visit?

Updated: Feb 20

With the power of all of our members and followers in our incredible community, hopefully, in the future, all 62 National Parks will be free. Unfortunately for now, here are the 16 National Parks proving that it can be done, ordered by size:

1) Wrangell St. Elias National Park

America's largest and most underrated national park, Wrangell St. Elias, is a behemoth of nature. 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the country can be found here, along with 60% of Alaska's glacial ice. What's particularly unique about visiting this park is how accessible parts are. Nabesna Road and McCarthy Road offer access to many trailheads and viewpoints within the park. The park is always open for those willing to brave the cold and the park is always free.

2) Gates of the Arctic National Park

Next on the list is the first of many extremely remote and inaccessible parks, where collecting entrance fees would be impossible. Gates of the Arctic is another one of the most underrated parks in the country, covering 13,000 square miles, an area slightly larger than Belgium, of the arctic tundra. The landscape you'll find here is otherworldly. Even more incredible perhaps is the way wildlife and landscapes interact. Every year, thousands of Caribou migrate south of the Brooks range in what is one of the most spectacular natural events in the world.

3) Lake Clark National Park

A park iconic for its solitude, Lake Clark National Park protects some of the most important rivers and lakes to the Alaskan fish habitat as well as dozens of geologically significant volcanoes that erupt fairly frequently. Only accessible by floatplane, Lake Clark National Park averages only 20 visitors per day, meaning that the chances of spotting elusive wildlife are incredible. During summer, over 200 grizzly bears collect in the salt marshes to eat after hibernation, making this park one of the world's foremost places to see them.

4) Katmai National Park

Speaking of grizzly bears, one of the world's most incredible wildlife events happens here in the early fall. As sockeye salmon migrate upstream, Brooks falls, the park's most famous and visited site, experiences this event early fall. As many as 40 grizzly bears have been spotted catching salmon right out of the air in a single day, and wildlife photographers from across the world come here to see them. The only way to the park is by floatplane, but it's no surprise over 37,000 people make this trip each year.

5) Kobuk Valley National Park

Arguably the most remote National Park in the country, Kobuk Valley sees only 14,000 visitors per year. The park is centered on the largest dune field in arctic North America and is situated right in the path of the largest caribou migrations in the world. The park can only be accessed by small plane, so there's no way to enforce a park fee.

6) Kenai Fjords National Park

One of the more accessible national parks in Alaska, Kenai Fjords is one of the few free parks to have a visitor center and other modern facilities. The Exit Glacier road leads right into the park, allowing visitors to access the main trailheads. The rest of the park consists of towering tidewater glaciers, an abundance of wildlife, and incredible rock formations jutting out of the sea.

7) Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Newfound Gap Road, connecting Cherokee, NC and Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the reason Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free. The $100,000,000 gap in funding is easily erased by the billions in revenue the tourism generates to nearby communities, just like every other park. Great Smoky Mountains proves that the National Park System's popularity is more than enough to sponsor the parks.

8) North Cascades National Park

One of our most underrated national parks, North Cascades is a hiker's paradise. Trails for all levels provide incredible views above the cascades, crossing glaciers and waterfalls just south of the Canadian border. This park is a true gem and definitely worth adding to your travel plans.

9) Channel Islands National Park

California's sixth national park, the channel islands are only accessible by boat. Crucial bird and sea mammal populations nest in the park, and the moderate temperatures allow for year-round populations of seabirds from along the pacific coast. These stunning islands show evidence of human populations for over 30,000 years- a remarkable representation of anthropology in North America.

10) Voyageurs National Park

A wildlife oasis tucked in the international waters of Northern Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park is a paradise for kayakers and boaters alike. Near the city of International Falls, Voyageurs, much like Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, is accessed only by boat. Despite its inaccessibility, Voyageurs National Park hosts nearly 250,000 visitors per year. Timberwolves, moose, black bears, and deer inhabit the park and make rare appearances to explorers paddling the misty waters. Much like other parks on this list, it would be impossible to impose a fee on visitors because there is no "entrance" to the park.

The next 6 National Parks on this list in order are:

11) Biscayne National Park

12) Redwood National Park

13) Great Basin National Park

14) Cuyahoga Valley National Park

15) Congaree National Park

16) Hot Springs National Park

Check out our park guides and other articles for more information about these free National Parks!