Want to Visit State Parks for Free? See If Your Local Library Lends Out Park Passes

McWay Falls at California's Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
McWay Falls at California's Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. / JTBaskinphoto/Moment/Getty Images

California library card holders can freely explore new worlds between the pages of whatever books they find on library shelves. And thanks to a collaboration between the California State Library and California State Parks, they can also freely explore some 200 of the Golden State’s public parks in person.

Basically, you head to your local public library and check out a State Library Parks Pass, just like you’d check out a book. Each pass allows one vehicle to cruise into any participating state park without paying the entrance fee. It’s only good for state parks—not national, local, or private ones—and it won’t exempt you from other costs, like museum tickets or camping fees. But it’s still a great way to gain access to some of California’s natural wonders that might otherwise seem slightly cost-prohibitive. (It’s also a great way to encourage residents to go get a library card.) See a map of libraries and participating parks here.

California libraries are far from the only ones that lend out state park passes, though details vary widely by state. Minnesota offers seven-day passes at libraries located “in a city or county where the median annual household income is $58,000 and/or schools nearby the library have more than 40% of students enrolled in the federal free and reduced lunch program.” Colorado libraries not only lend you a seven-day pass, but also a backpack that contains binoculars, an activities list, and several viewing guides to help you take your birdwatching, stargazing, and other wildlife observations to the next level.

Georgia, Kansas, and Vermont are a few other states with library programs in place. And even in states that haven’t necessarily publicized state-wide programs, individual libraries or library systems still might carry state park passes. The Southeast Steuben County Library in Corning, New York, and Rochester’s Monroe County Library System, for example, both have Empire Passes—the entry ticket to New York state parks—on hand for card holders. In short, it’s worth checking with your local library before heading to a state park near you.

As a wise anthropomorphic aardvark once sang, having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.