With autumn quickly approaching, you might be inclined to take advantage of the year’s last few long, sunny days with a weekend visit to the great outdoors. On Saturday, September 23, you can bask in the open air of any national park for free as part of National Public Lands Day.
According to the National Park Service, the holiday has been held on the fourth Saturday of every September since 1994, and it’s also the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It’s up to you whether you’d like to partake in the service side or simply go for a stroll. Opportunities for volunteering include tree-planting, park cleanups, and more; you can find events near you here.
There are more than 400 areas run by the National Park Service across the U.S., and many of them aren’t “parks” in the traditional sense of the word; the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island, and countless other monuments and historical sites are also run by the NPS. Wondering if there might be one closer than you thought? Explore parks in your area with this interactive map.
National park entrance fees have increased in recent years. Some of the most popular parks, like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Acadia, charge a top fee of $35 per vehicle (which will give you an entrance pass that is valid for several consecutive days). Others—like the Great Smoky Mountains and Cuyahoga Valley—are always free, but the wear and tear of millions of annual visitors requires a lot of money to remedy. The volunteer projects taking place on National Public Lands Day are an easy way to give back and put a dent in the park system’s maintenance backlog.
A version of this story ran in 2019; it has been updated for 2023.