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13 of the Best National Parks to Visit on Free Days

By Mark Lebetkin
1/25/2014 9:17:56 AM

Rejoice, all ye turned away during the government shutdown! The first of nine fee-free days in the national park system is on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 20.

Slideshow: 13 National Parks to Visit on 2014 Free Days

On these days, the 133 national parks that charge entrance fees-out of 401 parks total-will waive them, including the likes of Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Denali and Everglades National Parks.

But beyond these famous four, rangers at 129 additional parks, most lesser known, will be waving vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians through the entry gates with nary an extended palm (although other fees, such as those for camping and boats, still apply). The already-free parks will remain free.

The eight other fee-free days in 2014 include Presidents Day weekend (February 15 through 17), the first weekend of National Park Week (April 19 and 20), the National Park Service's 98th birthday (August 25), National Public Lands Day (September 27) and Veterans Day (November 11), according to an NPS press release.

Now that the calendar is set, we thought we'd take the opportunity to pair these dates with seasonally appropriate mates. Parks in the Desert Southwest and Florida, for example, can be perfectly pleasant during the winter months-although we didn't rule out one overlooked western park with unique winter charm. Likewise, some of the chillier parks feel just right come August, as do northeastern beaches.

Of course, the greatest expense in visiting these natural wonders is getting there. After all, gas and plane tickets aren't cheap. So even if you can't make it to one of our picks on the exact day listed, let this list serve instead as inspiration for your next national park adventure.

Click here to see 13 national parks where the price-and season-is right.

For a full list of participating parks, visit the NPS website.

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Credit: Flickr/satirenoir

April 20-Shenandoah National Park, VA

This protected stretch of the Blue Ridge is only 70 miles west of Washington, D.C., making it the perfect place for urbanized Beltway folk to knock out an Appalachian Trail section hike on a spring day-while skipping the $15/vehicle entrance fee.

Credit: Flickr/jasperdo

August 25-Cape Cod National Seashore, MA

New Englanders can wish the National Park Service a happy 98th birthday while cooling off at the beach along Cape Cod's 40 miles of protected shores. Entrance fees are usually $15 per vehicle and $3 per pedestrian or cyclist.

Credit: Flickr/jdedgenhart

August 25-Crater Lake National Park, OR

Because of its high elevation in the Cascade Range and huge annual snowfall-about 44 feet on average, according to the NPS-it's not uncommon to see patches of snow on the ground into August. This makes for a short, but sweet summer season at the deepest lake in the United States, a collapsed volcanic caldera ringed by cliffs up to 2,000 feet high. From July to September all the roads encircling the lake are open, giving access to hiking, biking, boating, swimming and camping. Normal entrance is $10 per car, $5 per pedestrian or cyclist.

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