guides

2023 Fee-Free Days at Washington State AND National Parks

By Diane K. Macaroni KID January 2, 2023

My family loves exploring state and national parks year-round. They can be enjoyed by families of all ages. I can think of no better way to be out in nature and learn new things at the same time!

When is a great time to visit State or National Parks? On one of their entrance fee-free days in 2023, of course. On each of these significant days of celebration or commemoration, parks waive entrance fees.

State Parks 2023 Free Days

  • Jan. 1 — First Day Hikes; New Year’s Day
  • Jan. 16 — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • March 9 -- Billy Frank Junior's Birthday
  • March 19 — State Parks’ 110th Birthday
  • April 22  — Earth Day
  • June 10 — National Get Outdoors Day
  • June 11 — Free Fishing Day
  • June 19 — Juneteenth
  • Sept. 23 — National Public Lands Day
  • Oct. 10 -- World Mental Health Day
  • Nov. 11 — Veterans Day
  • Nov. 25 — Autumn Day

Note that free days apply only to day use (not overnight stays or rented facilities), and a Discover Pass is required on these days to access lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sno-Park permits are still required on free days at designated Sno-Parks during the winter season.


The following are 2023 fee-free days at National Parks:

Come experience the national parks! On five days in 2023, all National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone. Mark your calendar for these entrance fee-free dates in 2023:

The free entrance dates for 2023 are:  


Three tips for visiting parks with your kids:

1. Plan ahead

  • Look at the weather. Many national parks take you way above (or below!) sea level. This makes for drastic weather changes. Make sure you know what the typical weather is for when you are going. You can find weather updates on www.nps.gov.
  • Take a look at the National Park System and WA State Parks websites. You will find general information, directions, maps, and facility information (restrooms, parking, visitor centers, etc) for the locations you plan to visit. 
  • Find out when the visitor center opens and start there. Many parks have a visitor center with a movie and/or an exhibit about the park. My elementary-aged kids can enjoy the landscape more when they understand the history behind it. 

2. Gather information on site before heading out

  • Talk to a ranger. Every national park visitor center has a ranger on staff to answer any questions you may have. With maps and papers in hand, they can point you in the direction of the best hikes and views for your family's needs.
  • Get a paper map. Do not depend on GPS navigation or cell service to guide you through a park. 
  • Ask for a Junior Ranger packet. Every national park has a Junior Ranger program. This is a booklet of assignments kids of all ages can do while visiting a park. It's a great way to keep them engaged and learning while in the park. When completed, kids can turn them into a ranger and get sworn in as an official Junior Ranger. 

3. Take a hike!

There is no better way to get to know a national park than to hike in it. Most parks will have trails ranging from a short overlook to an entire day’s hike. They are rated on difficulty by terrain and elevation gain/loss. As our kids have gotten older, we’ve been able to add in two or three-mile hikes, on top of the many half-mile loops they loved as youngsters. Here's what we bring for a day in the park:

  • Water: No matter what the season, make sure you have water. There are often refill stations throughout a park, but make a note of where they are on a map, especially in the hotter months. We are big fans of hydration packs you can wear on your back.
  • Snacks and/or a meal: If you're going to be moving, you're going to get hungry! Many parks offer picnic areas that offer tables, restrooms, trash receptacles and food storage from animals. You never know what perfect spot you'll find to picnic. 
  • Garbage bag: Whatever you take into the park, plan to take it home with you. While many parks have waste receptacles for garbage, they aren’t all over the place. We often take a small bag with us for trash, just in case we don’t find an appropriate place to leave it in the park. Remember, national parks are set up to protect the landscape and wildlife, not for our entertainment. Be prepared to leave nothing behind.
  • Layers: Whether you are in the mountains, the desert, the forest, or the midwest, national parks often have drastically different temperatures in the morning than midday and even the evening. 
  • Sun protection: You can still get sunburned in the winter on a snow-covered mountain. Sunscreen, sun shirts, sunglasses, and hats will help protect your skin and eyes. 
  • Good shoes: Even level hiking paths can have uneven rocks and fallen trees. Make sure you have shoes with good support for all of your walking needs!
  • Bug spray: You will know when you need it! 
  • Gas: If you’re planning on spending all day in a larger, more remote park, make sure you have a full tank of gas. You do not want to get stranded in the middle of a park. Depending on where you are, there may be no cell service. 


Hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Junior Ranger ceremony, during which kids promise to help take care of the parks. 

Visiting parks is a great way to see our state and nation's natural wonders. With a little planning, and by taking your kids' abilities and interests into account, you can make a trip to a park a trip your kids will always remember.

A version of this story originally appeared in Macaroni KID Family Wellness, a national newsletter as well as Kitsap Macaroni KID.


2023 Fee-Free Days

Fee-free days for 2022 at state parks, national forests, national parks and other public lands have been announced. These are dates where you can park at trailheads or recreation facilities without paying an entry fee or having to display a pass. Consult the list below to find out which public lands are free on which days.

  • A GUIDE TO THE DIFFERENT LAND MANAGERS
  • Public lands in Washington are managed by several different agencies. Check out our guide to public land to learn about the different land managers. 

WTA encourages hikers to purchase the Northwest Forest Pass and Discover Pass. Revenue from these passes helps fund vital services at trailheads, recreational facilities, and parks across the state. Fee-free days, however, are a great way to introduce new people to public lands and trails and provide opportunities for those who cannot afford to purchase a pass.

Not sure what pass you need on the other days of the year? Take a look at our passes and permits resource page

FEDERAL AND STATE FEE-FREE DAYS FOR 2023

January 1 - New Year’s Day
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

January 16 - Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Bureau of Land Management
National Park Service
U.S. Forest Service
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

February 20 - President’s Day
Bureau of Land Management
U.S. Forest Service 

March 9 - Billy Frank Jr.’s Birthday
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

March 19 - Washington State Parks’ Birthday
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

April 22 - Earth Day
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
National Park Service (first day of National Park Week)

June 10 - National Get Outdoors Day
U.S. Forest Service
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

June 11 - Free Fishing Day
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

June 19 - Juneteenth
Bureau of Land Management
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

August 4 - Great American Outdoors Day
Bureau of Land Management
National Park Service

September 23 - National Public Lands Day
Bureau of Land Management
National Park Service
U.S. Forest Service
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

October 10 - World Mental Health Day
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

November 11 - Veterans Day
Bureau of Land Management
National Park Service
U.S. Forest Service
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

November 25 - Autumn Day
Washington State Parks
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife