Keep your distance for free: National Park Services suspends park fees

Mar 23, 2020

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The National Park Service has announced that it would suspend all entrance fees until further notice at parks that remain open.

The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in unprecedented closures and cancelations around the world in an effort to stop the outbreak. In addition to that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is encouraging people to stay home and keep their social distance (at least six feet apart from others), which has understandably led to nationwide cabin fever.

Related: Here’s what to consider if you’re thinking about booking future travel now

However, social distancing doesn’t mean that you’re banned from going outside (but that could happen soon). If possible, you should get some fresh air every day even if it’s just a walk around your backyard. For those lucky enough to live near a national park, no entrance fees is fantastic news and a great excuse to get outside and explore while keeping your social distance. And when we say “live near,” we mean a quick drive that doesn’t require stopping and coming in contact with others.

So if you’re one of the lucky ones, pack a lunch, put on your hiking clothes and get some much needed fresh air and exercise. Note that all park visitor centers, shuttles, lodges and restaurants will be closed.

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Here’s a look at a few of the parks that are still open and free of charge near major cities.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro desert (Photo by ericfoltz/Getty Images)

Saguaro is just 30 minutes outside of Tucson, Arizona. Here you can enjoy views of both the Tucson and Rincon mountains while enjoying giant cacti and other desert plants. The Valley View Overlook trail is one of the easier hikes that visitors recommend.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga National Park
Brandywine Falls (Photo by ShriramPatki/Getty Images)

This park is always free, but we’re including it because it’s only a half-hour drive from southern Cleveland. Cuyahoga is known for its many waterfalls and is home to more than 125 miles of hiking trails. Check out the Brandywine Gorge Trail, where you can enjoy prime views of the 60-foot Brandywine Falls.

Gateway National Recreation Area

This park is just an hour outside of New York City and if you’re a New Yorker (or you live in New Jersey) who happens to have a car, then this is an easy trip. The Sandy Hook hiking trail is a park favorite as it’s stroller and wheelchair friendly due to being paved.

Before you head out

We can’t emphasize this enough — if you are planning to visit a national park, it should be within a reasonable distance for a day trip, which means no stops are required.

You should not do any risky activities that will put you or others in danger. For instance, stick to the easy hikes along designated trails to avoid potential accidents.

All park visitor centers, shuttles, lodges and restaurants will be closed so be sure to pack snacks and water. As always, practice being a responsible traveler by picking up after yourself and respecting the national parks.

Bottom line

If you don’t live near one of these amazing national Parks, fees are also waived annually on Aug. 25 — the NPS’s birthday — in addition to a few other dates. Beyond that, if you plan to visit two or more national parks this year, you may want to purchase an annual pass for $80.

Regardless, we have a feeling that when this is all over, people are going to be craving lots and lots of outdoor adventure. In that case, here’s a look at some of the TPG staffs’ favorite parks for some inspiration.

In the meantime, stay safe and protect yourself and others. We are not encouraging anyone to travel at this time, but social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t get some fresh air. Take some time to walk around your backyard or neighborhood if a national park isn’t nearby.

Further reading on national parks:

Featured photo by ericfoltz/Getty Images.

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