The First Fee-Free Day of 2016

Was one of your resolutions this year to get more exercise, get outside more, or connect with nature? If so, you’re in luck! The first of 2016’s federal fee-free days is Monday, January 18. Parks and other public lands managed by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Forest Service that normally charge entrance fees are waiving those fees in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. If there’s a park, national monument, national lakeshore, or preserve that you’ve had your eye on, this is the time to get out there and visit!

Don’t let the cold put a damper on your trip—winter is a great time to get outside on public lands. For fee-charging parks in the National Park Service system, the number of visitors from 2010 to 2015 has been, on average, more than five times lower in the winter season (December through February) than at its peak in July and August. These winter months are your best opportunity to get some one-on-one time with our nation’s natural marvels.

Not sure where to go to make the most of the winter season’s unique effect on the landscape? Try one of these national parks:

  • Grand Canyon National Park is a great place to take advantage of the fee-free day and enjoy one of the country’s most popular destinations at a time when it’s not so crowded. The South Rim is open through the snowy winter months, and features a museum, free educational ranger-led programs, and several options for day hikes, including a wheelchair-accessible path. Keep an eye out for mule deer, elk, and Abert’s and Kaibab tree squirrels, all of which will be wearing their thick winter fur to deal with the chilly temperatures.
  • Death Valley National Park is another exciting destination to explore on your fee-free day. What better time to visit the hottest, driest place on the North American continent than in the middle of winter? Instead of the record 134°F seen in the summer of 1913, the winter months range between the 70’s and the 40’s, making for pleasant conditions to hike, examine the park’s world-renowned geologic formations, visit the visitor centers, take a ranger-guided educational tour, or look for the desert’s hardy flora and fauna.
  • Everglades National Park rounds out our list. This estuarine park experiences its dry season in the winter, lowering the level of standing water in the park and causing local wildlife to congregate around central water locations. Here, visitors can watch alligators, wading birds, and other freshwater wildlife from a safe distance, or hike or canoe through some of the park’s nine distinct ecosystems.

Find more places to visit and outdoor activities to try at