Californians love their parks, whether state, city, and national. The good news is that on 16 days of the year, U.S parks that normally charge fees offer free admission. That includes 10 National Parks and Monuments in California (see below).
Who’s free for a walk in the park?
According to The National Park Service, all National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone on those days.
Although most US National Parks wave entrance fees on the Free Days, other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not waved unless stated otherwise.
Savvy Tip: Many U.S. National Parks never charge an entrance fee, ever.
National Parks Fee-Free Days in 2021
January 18, 2021: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 17, 2121: First day of National Park Week
August 4, 2121: One year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
August 25, 2121: National Park Service Birthday
September 25, 2121: National Public Lands Day
November 11, 2121: Veterans Day
California National Parks & Monuments that Participate
Yosemite National Park
High Sierra serenity is real. This one is among the top five most popular National Park in the US. Crazy good views, gorgeous hikes and rock climbing.
This magical 1,200 square miles features a world of waterfalls, deep valleys and grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, the protected habitat of the great gray owl, and more.
Death Valley National Park
In eastern California, located in the lowest (Badwater Basin) hottest, driest, spot on the continent, and less than 100 miles from the highest point in the US (Mt Whitney), this 282 feet below-sea-level basin is a land of extremes.
You’ll see towering snow-touched peaks in the winter, fields of wildflowers during occasional rainy seasons, small fish and wildlife.
Popular day trip: Father Crowley Point, Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Devil’s Golf Course, Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette, Zabriskie Point, and Dante’s View.
Joshua Tree National Park
Another vast desert area filled with cacti and the ubiquitous Joshua Tree, this park is popular with rock climbers for its natural rock formations. (Don’t fall on a prickly pear or cholla cactus, ouch.)
The park features two deserts with differing ecosystems: the high desert (the slightly cooler, wetter Mojave Desert) and the low desert (part of the Sonoran desert on the eastern side). This SoCal park is 140 miles east of Los Angeles, and 175 miles northeast of San Diego.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Located in the northern California, this park’s distinguishing quality is the hydrothermal features: the ominous steaming ground, the roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mud pots, and boiling pools. Rain and snow from the highlands of the park feed the hydrothermal system.
Day trip: I like the Lassen Peak hike (five mile round trip) for its accessible 360 degree view that includes the entire park and on a clear day, Mt Shasta. Many other trails are yours to explore.
Sequoia National Park
All in one place you’ll find the world’s largest trees, gigantic mountains, deep canyons, rugged foothills, deep canyons and caverns, waterfalls and rivers.
Located in the southern Sierra Nevada (adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park), east of the San Joaquin Valley with many trails and forests to keep you occupied. Activities and weather vary by location and elevation, which is anywhere from 1,370 to 14,494 feet.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Whiskeytown Lake is know for its beautiful crystal-clear waters, surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks. Play on the water, or enjoy the four waterfalls, pristine mountain creeks, 70 miles of trails in the 39,000 acres surrounding the lake. Like history? Crush on all the California Gold Rush propaganda.
Muir Woods National Monument
Best place in the world to hug a tree, Muir Woods, in the San Francisco Bay’s Marin County, belongs to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. People go to ogle the old growth Coast Redwood groves.
The tallest Redwood tree of record so far is 379.1 feet tall, the height of a 37 story building.
A stunning hike through the trees is the only thing to do, and there are trails to suit any level. Because it’s so close to the city, Muir Woods can get busy on the weekends. The savvy way to go is early or on a weekday.
Cabrillo National Monument
Beautiful Southern California park in the rocky intertidal zone with terrific tidepools, old and new lighthouses, hiking and walking trails, located on the outer edge of the peninsula with views of San Diego.
Lava Beds National Monument
Called “a land of turmoil both geological and historical” by the NPS, this monument features more than 700 caves, a high desert wilderness, historic battlefields and campsites, and (my fave) Petroglyph Point, one of the Native American rock art sites.
The cave tours are also amazing. Located in the remote northeast corner of the state.
Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles National Park’s rare talus caves are a sight to see, and the peaks and prairies also pass muster. The unique landscape is populated by Peregrine falcons, Golden eagles, and the beloved California condor, with oak woodlands, canyon bottoms, and towering rock spires to keep you busy.
Pinnacles National Park is located in Central California, about 80 miles southeast of San Jose and five miles east of Soledad.
FYI: If you visit national parks often, check out the annual pass. The pass gets you into all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and more than 2,000 Federal lands.
Seniors can get a $10 lifetime pass, and the pass is offered free to all active duty military members and their dependents. Find out more about the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass on this nps.gov page.