We will be open at 9:00 am. Call 020 7590 0610
Hoodoos, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Free Entrance to US National Parks: the Centenary & Other Times to Visit

US National Parks: the Centenary & Other Times to Visit

Article content

3 March 2016 by Patrick Griffin

The vision of 19th century artist, George Catlin, America’s National Parks Service has grown from humble beginnings, starting with just one park. The veritable grandfather of it all – Yellowstone – was once protected from poachers and misuse by the U.S. Army, a trend that continued to the second national park – Mackinac – whose army garrison was charged with supervising and improving the island. Over the years, this role has morphed into the park rangers, today the proud custodians of over 400 sites.

On five days, all National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone:

  • January 20: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 18: First day of National Park Week
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 26: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

With such a range of dates on top of the hundreds of sites to choose from, we’ve compiled a list of the best national parks in the USA and when to visit them.


No park bucket-list could be without this national treasure. With its carpeted valleys framed by granite cliffs, it’s easy to forget that you’re in California, just an afternoon’s drive from the coast. Over 800 miles of hiking trails criss-cross its dramatic landscape, streaked with waterfalls feeding into crystal clear lakes. For the more adventurous, book ahead to summit the majestic Half Dome.

What’s more, Yosemite is at its most beautiful when it’s opened up for 12 days in April. Spring’s melted snow boosts spectacular waterfalls and ranging hikes take visitors past blooming wildflowers and greening leaves. However, it’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with all parts accessible in summer and autumn as well. Check weather forecasts around winter when certain roads and passes are shut and snow chains are often recommended.

yosemite national park
Yosemite National Park

Mesa Verde

For something equally spectacular and a bit different, head to Mesa Verde where the ancient Anasazi people carved impossibly sheer houses out of towering cliffs, over 1,600 years ago. It's unique among the country’s national parks in its anthropological focus with dwellings immaculately preserved and detailed in the excellent Chapin Mesa Museum. Get hands on at Spruce Tree House with wooden ladder climbs bringing you into the settlements themselves.

Although the park is always open, avoid the scorching summers and look to the temperate shoulder seasons. You should also check ahead for the opening dates and hours of the park’s facilities. For instance, the aforementioned archaeological museum is shut each Sunday.

mesa verde national park colorado
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Utah’s Parks

This unassuming western state is home to five of the country’s most impressive parks. Perhaps head to the lush greenery of Zion Canyon, beset on both sides by rising red-and-white cliffs or walk among distinctive, almost alien, dirt-red spires of Bryce Canyon. Then there are the 2,000 naturally formed eponymies of Arches National Park – the densest collection of its kind in the world – and Canyonlands National Park where 1,000-foot high cliffs loom over the Colorado River. You can also hop over the state border into Arizona to visit the fabled Grand Canyon, the largest of its kind the world.

As with Mesa Verde, look between March and May or September and October for thinner crowds and temperate weather. For information on the excellent Zion Shuttle bus click here (opens as PDF), while, if you’re travelling to Bryce Canyon in winter, be sure to take a look at the road conditions. At Arches, the visitor centre is open year round, save Christmas day, while its Canyonlands counterpart is shut through winter. All of the above are entirely open year round save the Grand Canyon whose North Rim is shut for the winter with the more accessible South Rim kept open.

bryce canyon national park, utah
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah


With the collective consciousness focused on grand valleys and imposing mountains, Florida’s swamps, undeservedly, don’t often feature in people’s imagination of America’s national parks. However, dig just beneath the surface and you’ll find that the country’s largest collection of wetlands is a veritable haven for wildlife. Bright greenery is knitted together by intertwining waterways, home to manatee and crocodiles, making for exciting boat cruises.

This being the Sunshine State, you’ll find the park open to the good weather year round. While most facilities are open in the dry winter season – when the park is at its most popular – some close down for the wet summers when things get decidedly humid.

everglades national park florida
Everglades National Park, Florida


Return to where it all began with Yellowstone National Park where only blue-ribbon rivers and thundering waterfalls dare to make a mark on its mountainous landscape, dotted with lakes and covered in pine forests. It’s also a true record-setter, home to half the world’s geysers, America’s largest high-altitude lake and possibly its most diverse collection of wildlife. As you try to spot antelope, bison and elk be sure to stay on the lookout for bears and wolves.

The summer months offer the best weather – it’s warm enough to camp – and bring the most crowds. While park roads between the north and northeast entrance are open twenty-four hours a day, every day, heading further into the park in winter is often tricky with frequent road closures. However, you’ll find that plenty of weather-dependent cross-country skiing and hiking is still accessible.

yellowstone national park
Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Related offers

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Canyon Country & National Parks fly-drive

16-day tailor-made self-drive from £3,690 pp incl. flights

This epic fly-drive brings you right among some of the USA's most spectacular wilderness, from the Wild-West grandeur of Monument Valley to the world-wonder beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone & Rocky Mountains Self-drive Tour

18-day tailor-made self-drive from £3,760 pp incl. flights

Explore Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Rocky Mountains national parks as you combine some of America's most spellbinding scenery with the chance to see native wildlife and explore a rich, pioneering past.

Yosemite National Park, Califiornia

Highlights of Northern California

12-day tailor-made self-drive from £2,575 pp incl. flights

Northern California is a region of immense nature, world-leading wines and culture-packed cities, showcased in such icons as San Francisco, Sonoma and Yosemite National Park. Take in its headline acts on this fly-drive holiday.

Why book with Wexas Travel?

At Wexas, we specialise in bespoke travel experiences. Our itineraries are just samples of what we can arrange, and can be changed depending on your precise needs, finances and ideas by our experienced destination specialists.

Contact one of our consultants on 020 7590 0610 to discuss how we can tailor your holiday.

Learn why Wexas is the leader in creating luxury holidays. What is tailor-made travel?

Expert advice & support

Visit us in our London office

Let our travel specialists curate the perfect holiday:

  • Inspirational ideas based on experience
  • Established for over 50 years
  • Tailor a holiday to your precise requirements
  • Personalised quotes and documentation

Every step of the way

Every step of the way

Our services are with you from start to finish:

  • Dedicated personal consultants
  • Free airport lounges on qualifying bookings
  • Care and guidance pre, post and during holiday
  • Full financial security: ABTA & ATOL protected