Planning a trip to a U.S. national park is always exciting, though you first have to decide which park to visit—and then the best time to go. In general, you're more likely to see packed parks during June, July, and August, when kids are on summer vacation and the weather is warmer. But if you wait to plan your trip just as autumn begins this year, you'll be glad you did. Read on to find out why experts say Sept. 24 is an ideal day to explore a national park.
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Weather in September is tough to beat.
When you think of September, Labor Day parties and heading back to school springs to mind. But September also offers some of the best weather, as summer subsides and we ease into the cooler temperatures of the autumn months. For those looking to explore a national park, experts say that September is actually an ideal time.
"September is one of the best months to visit the U.S. national parks," Caleb Pasiuk, co-creator and writer for The Pazook Travel Journal, tells Best Life. "The weather is very comfortable around nearly the entire country. Southern national parks have cooled off from the summer heat, but national parks up north are still warm enough to hike without a lot of layers."
So if you have Acadia National Park in Maine at the top of your list or have always wanted to see Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, you're likely to find this month is perfect for exploring the great outdoors. And if you can plan your trip later in the month, the National Park System (NPS) has an added bonus for you.
Sept. 24 is one of five key dates in 2022.
In addition to fabulous fall weather, there's an added benefit to visiting on Sept. 24: free entrance to every park. The September date is one of five free entrance days in 2022, marking National Public Lands Day, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
You'll get free admission to the park and the opportunity to "visit a new place or an old favorite," the NPS says—especially if you've got a park on your list that charges an entrance fee. Entrance fees aren't exorbitant, but visiting on a free entrance day can save you anywhere from $5 to $20 per person, and $5 to $35 per vehicle. If you're traveling with family, that's a significant savings.
"National Public Lands Day is an excellent time to take advantage of free entrance into national parks," Chris Emery, editor of Ordealist, tells Best Life. "Not only will people save money, it's during a time when they will have fewer crowds to contend with and the potential for great early fall weather."
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The annual event promotes volunteerism.
National Public Lands Day was first established in 1994, held every year on the fourth Saturday in September as "the nation's largest single-day volunteer effort," the NPS website states. This year, the event falls on the 24th, and is led by the National Environmental Education Foundation and additional federal agencies.
"The National Park Service's free entrance day is an awesome initiative to promote the natural beauty of America," Pasiuk says. "The National Park System was initially created to protect special places around the U.S. for future enjoyment. This day is a celebration of that initiative."
At iconic parks and "local urban green spaces" across the country, volunteers join forces to help preserve and restore public lands, according to the NPS. By getting involved, you can take advantage of "an opportunity to tangibly contribute to the natural beauty of the U.S.," Pasiuk explains.
As part of celebrations, the NPS offers free admission to national parks that usually charge admission, as well as opportunities to volunteer at national parks around the country. If you choose to volunteer, certain parks will also provide an additional fee-free day coupon, which you can use for a future visit.
Sept. 24 isn't the only free admission day.
If you can't visit a national park in September, rest assured that you can also visit for free on Nov. 11 in recognition of Veterans Day.
The NPS offers free entrance days every year, but the number of days can change annually, as the NPS offered six days in 2021 and five days in 2022. In addition to National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day, this year, parks were free to visit on Jan. 17, in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday; April 16 for the first day of National Park Week; and Aug. 4 for the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Be advised, however, that the fee waiver doesn't apply to "amenity of user fees," the NPS states, and you'll still be on the hook for camping, boat launches, transportation, and special tours.
If you want to skip the entrance fee altogether, you can also opt to visit national parks that are always free, the NPS says. These include beautiful spots across the country, including Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, Biscayne National Park in Florida, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.