Carly Manning | 03.31.2019

On Saturday, April 20, all U.S. national parks will waive their entrance fees in celebration and recognition of Earth Day. It’s the perfect excuse to get out and explore the incredible natural beauty this country has to offer. Of course, no fees also usually means more people, so if exploring with the crowds isn’t your thing, here’s a list of some parks in the western states that fly a little more under the radar.

 


Kings Creek Falls in Lassen National Park. Patrick Mueller.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Often overlooked in favor of California’s more famous parks, Lassen Volcanic National Park is the perfect destination for those looking to escape the crowds. Rest assured, fewer crowds certainly doesn’t equal less spectacular. Lassen Volcanic National Park’s landscape has so much to offer, including colorful mountains, geothermal hot spots, conifer forests, and a variety of wildlife. Hit the trails to escape other visitors and explore some of the less visited areas of the park.

 


A shady seat in a California canyon that rivals Yosemite's lauded walls. Aron Bosworth.

Kings Canyon National Park

John Muir said it best when he described King’s Canyon National Park as “a rival to Yosemite.” Sharing a similar landscape to its famous sister, King’s Canyon National Park boasts everything from towering mountain peaks, rich meadows, an abundance of wildlife, and is home to some of the largest trees on earth. It’s also one of deepest canyons in the United States (even deeper than the Grand Canyon), reaching a crazy 8,200 feet in some places.

 


Blue Lake in early fall. Check conditions in the North Cascades before visiting; you may encounter spring snows. Gerry Oar.

North Cascades National Park

Despite being located only 3 hours NE of Seattle, North Cascades National Park remains one of the least visited parks in the country. It’s difficult to understand why with its breathtaking views, rugged mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and impressive glaciers. In fact, North Cascades National Park has over 300 glaciers—that’s more than any national park outside of Alaska!

 


Why not climb the crags on fee-free day? The Monolith is one of many at Pinnacles. Basil Newburn.

Pinnacles National Park

We’ll forgive you if Pinnacles National Park wasn’t previously on your radar. As America’s second youngest national park, it was only established in 2013. Divided into two sections inaccessible from one another, this ancient volcanic landscape offers excellent opportunities for hiking, climbing, caving, and wildlife viewing. It’s a great park for avid birdwatchers, as a home to almost 200 different species including the mighty California Condor.

 


Sunset over East Anacapa Islands and the Channel Islands. Shaun Hunter.

Channel Islands National Park

This national park, made up of five islands, is only accessible by sea and must be explored on foot, by kayak, or boat. That means you’ll need to carry all your own food and gear, and of course, pack out all your trash. This lack of facilities is exactly what makes Channel Islands National Park such a unique and unforgettable experience. Overnight campers, kayakers, and bird and whale watchers will easily be able to find their own little piece of paradise in this park.

 

Before You Go

We want you to love the outdoors as much as we do, and we're here to help! Here are some tips and tricks to enjoy and contribute to a better Earth Day:

  1. Carpool: Grab a group of friends or load up the family and travel in one car to your favorite outdoor destination. Not only will it reduce your carbon emissions, but you'll find parking much quicker. 
  2. Pack a lunch: Many parks have dining options within them; however, the single-use plastics, cost of food, and long lines aren't worth it. Plan ahead, pack a picnic lunch for the whole crew, and spend more time enjoying the park!
  3. Get there early: Maybe even the day before! Late-April is a great time to camp in the Southwest. So make your journey toward your park of choice the day before, camp, wake up early, grab a cup of coffee (don't forget your reusable mug or metal straw), and be first in line! 
  4. Take photos, not nature: The only thing you should be taking out of these special places are photos and your trash!
  5. Make it a habit: Should you love the experience, consider buying an Interagency Annual Pass for $80. It may seem like a lot at first, but visiting a national park three times in 12 months more than pays for it! Sounds like a great deal to me, especially because it applies to all national parks throughout the U.S.

If you can’t make it out for Earth Day, don’t despair—there are still three more fee-free opportunities to visit the national parks in 2019.

  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 28: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Please note that additional fees you may incur for campsites and travel around the parks still apply.

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