Doing The National Parks On A Budget

You wake up one morning and decide that you are going to go on a road trip to Utah and visit all the national parks. So you call up a couple buddies and get them to chip in for gas and then head out to go exploring with them. Everything is great and dandy until you realize you have to pay to get into each national park. At this current time: Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands all have a going rate of $30 for admission. The math quickly adds up to be around $150 dollars to do this. This also does not include camping costs as well. You are looking at close to $300 dollars easily to go to and sleep at the national parks.

But what if I told you there was a way to get in for free? And I mean free, without even having to purchase a National Parks Pass. Don’t get me wrong, go out and buy a pass and support your local park. But I am a poor starving, recently graduated college student who has his first internship. I live in housing that is too expensive and I have too many bills. I essentially have cut out almost every single expense beyond the necessary to survive.

Back to getting in for free. Little do most people know, there are closing times at national parks. Online they say parks are always open. And they are. But the moment the windows are shut and the ticket staff leave, parks are free to enter.

Yup you heard me right- National Parks in Utah are free to enter once the staff leaves.

This is based upon the park and what section you are entering. For example, Kolob Canyon closes shop around 6P.M. I photograph almost any evening I want in there without having to pay. The main canyon still remains open and tickets people all the way till 9P.M.

timber creek kolob (1 of 1) beam storm kolob

But who wants to see Zion at 9P.M.? I can give you a good reason.

In order to get your cake and eat it too, you will have to sacrifice something… Sleep. In order to go see your favorite national parks for free during the day you will have to get up early…. like 4 A.M. early.

As mentioned parks close around 9P.M. and don’t reopen till around 6A.M. This means that if you want to get into a national park for free you have to be there around 5A.M. and get into the gates before they officially are open for business. If the park runs off a shuttle system this means you will have to hang out in the parking lots for an hour before you can do anything, but it also means you just saved 30 bucks.

white flower west temple


Part two of the issue is camping. Where are you going to lay your sleepy sleepy head at night? Luckily for you, Utah is comprised mostly of BLM Land. This means that it is open access to public and unless is says no camping, you are free to camp there.

Of course you need to be polite and environmentally friendly to your camp site and practice leave to trace principles.

For example my recent Bryce Canyon trip I camped way the heck out in the middle of nowhere for free. My sunrise image above was taken on the morning of another free camping site outside Zion. (This photo below was taken on another free entrance experience)

Thors hammer side view

My free camping site out by Moab happened to be on someones very large multi acre P+J forest front yard. (sorry I did not know it was yours!) Now looking back I know exactly where I would camp in order to do that adventure for free as well.

See if does not take much, with a bit of determination and spirit, you can explore Utah for free. Work the system to your benefit. Walk a little farther so you don’t have to pay for parking. Visit sections of the park that are free to enter or are so back country they don’t care. Have a bit of adventure and go exploring and see Utah’s parks for free.



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