To kick off the start of National Park Week, the National Park Service is waiving entrance fees for all national parks this weekend (April 19-20, 2014). While you’ll still have to pay for campground reservations, this is nonetheless a great deal — especially for California residents who only want to spend the day in their local national park and neither want nor need a seven-day pass. California is blessed with a wide variety of national parks throughout the state, so there’s probably a beautiful national park somewhere near you!
In planning your visit, be aware that the waived entrance fees aren’t exactly a well-kept secret, and that plenty of other people will also be taking advantage of this generous offer. Another consideration is that this weekend also falls during the Spring Break for many California school districts, which will undoubtedly add to the number of people visiting the parks. Here are some tips to help you avoid the crowds:
- Consider visiting a less-crowded park. For example, in Central California, Sequoia/Kings Canyons National Parks attract far smaller crowds than the better-known Yosemite National Park to the north.
- Get there early. If you can enter the park before 9:00 AM, you’ll avoid waiting in line at the entrance station, and it will also be much easier to find a parking spot at any of the scenic attractions along the roads. You’ll also have more time for hiking.
- Hit the trail. For better or worse, most national park visitors rarely wander more than a few hundred yards from their cars. While you’ll rarely experience complete solitude, especially on the more popular trails, you will usually find that the number of people you meet on the trails drops dramatically once you’ve gone a mile or so from the trailhead.
- Seek out the lesser-known, “secret places” in the parks. Even in high-traffic parks like Yosemite, there are plenty of not-so-well-known trails that attract few visitors. Your chances of solitude are much higher in places like these. Just be aware that the less popular trails in the national parks are less popular for a reason — they often lack the dramatic scenery and stunning views that makes the other trails so popular in the first place. At the same time, having fewer people on the trails often means you’ll see more of the local wildlife. Hiking guidebooks (and, of course, the internet) are good sources of information in seeking out the “hidden gems” in the national parks.
California national parks that are fee-free this weekend include the following:
Cabrillo National Monument (Normally $5.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Death Valley National Park (Normally $20.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Joshua Tree National Park (Normally $15.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Lassen Volcanic National Park (Normally $10.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Lava Beds National Monument (Normally $10.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Muir Woods National Monument (Normally $7.00 for adults and free for children 15 years of age and under)
Pinnacles National Park (Normally $5.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks (Normally $20.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (Normally $5.00 per vehicle for one day or $10.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Yosemite National Park (Normally $20.00 per vehicle for seven days)
Parks not listed above, such as Channel Islands National Park, Mojave National Preserve, and Point Reyes National Seashore don’t normally charge an admission fee. The National Park Service website has a complete listing of all 26 National Park Service units in California that includes a handy interactive map to facilitate planning your visit.
If you’re planning to visit a national park outside of California, there’s also a complete listing of participating national parks available.
Finally, there are three more opportunities in 2014 to enjoy free admission to the national parks. Entrance fees will also be waived on the following dates:
- August 25 (the National Park Service’s 98th birthday);
- September 27 (National Public Lands Day); and
- November 11 (Veterans Day).