2017 free entrance days offer an extra incentive to visit new and favorite United States National Parks, with no admission fees and special events to enjoy. The United States National Park Service establishes several fee-free days each year to encourage the public to visit, and there are 10 designated for 2017. This is fewer than the 2016 list, which was expanded to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, but still offers plenty of time to explore parks locally and throughout the US.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the first of the 2017 free entrance days, and some parks will hold special programs honoring Dr. King with an emphasis on volunteering. 2017 free entrance days offer the perfect incentive to visit National Parks in the Northern Virginia area and save a few dollars in the process.
National Parks in the Northern Virginia Area
Here are a few fun facts that will make you happy to live in or visit the Virginia/Washington DC area:
- There are a lot of National Parks in the area: 21 in Virginia, 16 in Maryland, 6 in West Virginia and 23 in DC!
- Not only are there many parks, there are a huge variety of park experiences to choose from—scenic trails, forests, battlefields, historic sites, monuments, and more.
- Of those 66 parks, 15 normally charge entrance fees that will be waived on 2017 entrance free days.
- The remaining 51 national parks in the area are always free to enter.
Great Falls Park (part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway) normally charges a $10.00 entrance fee per car or motorcycle, $5.00 if you enter on foot, bike or horse, so fee-free days are a great value at Great Falls. If the weather is good, Great Falls has wonderful hiking and is a popular picnic spot. When the weather is rainy or chilly, you can still find a lot to do at the Visitor Center or with a quick visit to the nearby falls overlooks. The Visitor Center features displays and movies about the park’s interesting history, including George Washington’s role in the creation of the Potowmack Canal.
Manassas Battlefield preserves the site of two important Civil War battles, looking much as it did during the time of the conflict. Cold weather activities include visiting the excellent displays at the Visitor Center and visiting battle sites on the 20 mile self-guided driving tour. We enjoyed hiking the 5-mile First Manassas loop trail, and a similar 6-mile trail follows sites of the Battle of Second Manassas. Beginning in 2016, the park stopped charging an entrance fee.
Prince William is a Northern Virginia hidden gem, with 37 miles of beautiful hiking trails and a 9-mile scenic loop drive with dedicated bike lanes. The 15,000 acre park has an interesting history, which you can explore in the Visitor Center and on many of the trails. The normal entrance fee is $7.00 per vehicle ($5 for walkers, bikes, and motorcycles) which will be waived on fee-free days. Fees for camping at one of the historic cabins or open sites are still charged.
Even in the cold of winter, the views along Skyline Drive are spectacular, but the road may be closed during inclement weather, so check the website before you go. Most of the indoor facilities are closed until late March, but the Byrd Visitor Center is open on winter weekends, providing excellent information about the history of the park. The normal $20 entrance fee ($15 motorcycle, $10 walk-up or bike) is waived on all fee-free days.
On the Maryland side of the Potomac, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park offers fun trails to view Great Falls and to hike Mather Gorge. The popular Billy Goat Trail offers breathtaking views along the gorge on a fun but challenging trail full of rock scrambles. The Visitor Center has good displays that explain how the lock system works, and in summer visitors can even ride through the locks on a mule-pulled canal boat. The usual $10 entry fee ($5 walk-up or bike) is waived on fee-free days.
Entrance and usage fees will be waived at National Parks on 10 days in 2017.
- January 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- February 20, Presidents’ Day
- April 15-16 and 22-23, Weekend of National Park Week
- August 25, National Park Service Birthday
- September 30, National Public Lands Day
- November 11-12, Veterans Day weekend
Our National Parks are a treasure, and in the Northern Virginia area we have ready access to some great park experiences. 2017 free entrance days give us one more good reason to get out and explore a park today.
Bonus: Free Admission to Canada’s National Parks in 2017
2017 is the 150th anniversary of the Canadian National Park system. To celebrate, Parks Canada is offering free admission to all national parks, marine conservation areas, and historic sites for the entire year. This is an incredible opportunity to discover new and beautiful parklands to our north.
Crowds will likely be high at Canadian parks in 2017, and some conservationists are worried about potential damage to protected lands. So if you make a trip north, plan your visit carefully and tread lightly wherever you go.