The National Park Service has announced its fee-free days for 2023, the first of which is coming up in less than two weeks.
Each year, the NPS waives entrance fees on specific days to celebrate and enjoy the United States’ protected and preserved natural beauty. With 11 of the nation’s greatest parks and monuments located in California, there’s no better time to disconnect, lose some service, and cherish the wild and remote places our state still has to offer.
Whether you’re gazing upwards, awestruck by the shear monstrous size of Yosemite’s granite monoliths, exploring the dark depths of Lava Beds National Monument, or gingerly watching heat simmer off the arid landscape of Joshua Tree, there’s something for everyone, and a date to suit all seasons.
2023 National Park Free Entry Days:
January 16 – Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 22nd – First Day of National Park Week
August 4th – Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Day
September 23rd – National Public Lands Day
November 11th – Veterans Day
The number of fee-free days, alas, has dropped in recent years. In 2017, the NPS offered free entry for a total of 10 days. In 2016, it was 16 days. In 2018, that number dropped to four. The most notable change was that the NPS once let people roam gratis throughout National Park Week—this year it’s just the first day.
National Parks have been enjoying a robust, post-pandemic rebound, approaching record highs. Joshua Tree broke 3,000,000 visitors for the first time ever in 2021 and Pinnacles is barely 50,000 visitors shy of its 2011 all-time high.
California National Parks Celebrating Fee-Free Days:
A full list of all 108 U.S. fee-free sites can be found here.
Often overlooked among such heavy hitters such as Yosemite, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia National Park, are getaways such as Lava Beds National Monument, Muir Woods National Monument, and Pinnacles National Park—each of which offer their own unique activities to indulge in, so long as you don’t mind the trip from L.A.
Lava Beds National Monument
Located in Northeastern California near the Oregon border, Lava Beds offers a wide range of ancient lave tubes to explore and the remnants of the Modoc War of 1872-1873. It’s said that 1000 U.S. troops besieged 50-60 members of the Modoc Tribe causing “one of the most costly wars in U.S. history” and “the only major Native American war fought in California,” according to the NPS.
The monument offers 24 caves to explore out of over 800 in the area, all of which have been formed over the last half-million years due to volcanic activity. A full list of caves ranging from least to most challenging can be found here.
Muir Woods National Monument
North of San Francisco, a stunning old growth of redwoods awaits with six miles of trails and picturesque views of some of the largest lifeforms on earth. Dip into Mt. Tamalpais State Park, which surrounds the monument to make your way down to the ocean via Stinson Beach for a longer hike.
A complete list of hikes can be found here.
Pinnacles National Park
With fewer than 350,000 visitors a year and under two hours from Silicon Valley, Pinnacles offers beautiful views of ancient volcanic rock formations, with lots of hiking opportunities, caves to explore, and incredible birds to observe. Check out the Bear Gulch Cave, home to the Townsend’s big-eared bats or hike the incline of Juniper Canyon Loop to the High Peaks.
Find a complete list of easy and hard hikes here.
For an adventure closer to L.A., head for Joshua Tree National Park in Mojave or drive up north to the Sierras to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park for epic views and giant trees.
Joshua Tree National Park
Barely two hours from downtown L.A., Joshua Tree has seen a significant increase in visitors in recent years. The park, located on the southern edge of the Mojave Desert, offers serene landscapes filled with Joshua trees, teddy-bear cholla cacti, and ocotillos. Keep an eye out for one of the 57 species of mammals that call this rugged landscape home such as coyotes and antelope ground squirrels. If you’re lucky, you might even see a bighorn sheep in the distance.
The park offers a wide variety of activities from actual stargazing (which are too often clouded by L.A.’s light pollution), rock-climbing, hiking, or wildflower viewing—wildflowers blossom in March and April. Check out the Arch Rock Trail for an easy option or summit Warren Peak for beautiful vistas of the park.
A full list of hikes can be found here.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Located in the southern Sierra Nevada range and roughly four hours from downtown L.A., the two parks offer spectacular access to Giant Sequoia groves and the granite wilderness of the Sierras. Make your way to Zumwalt Meadow or Roaring River Falls for a day trip, or load up the pack and head deep into the wilderness to one of the many glacier lakes that pockmark the high country.
A list of day hikes can be found here.
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