In a troubling trend, Americans are spending less of their vacation time than ever before. A whopping 52 percent of American employees end each year with unused vacation days. In 2017, more than 705 million paid days off went unused.

Some employees don’t want to take vacation because they fear repercussions from their employers. Others can’t afford the expense, even if they’ll be paid during their time off.

No matter your reasons for saving up that vacation, it’s time for a change. Keep reading to learn why a trip to a national park might just be the right choice, and how you can get in for free in 2020.

Why National Parks are a Better Choice for Your Next Vacation

The average American family of four spends $4,580 on each vacation they take. Yearly, families spend about $4,800 total on vacation travel. Do the math, and most families are taking one vacation each year.

Of course, most of us wish that we could travel more. Even if you’re lucky enough to be one of those families taking an annual vacation, looking for ways to cut costs and save money while on the go means more savings in the bank. Or perhaps the ability to take another vacation or two.

Visiting a national park is already a great way to save some cash. Unlike theme parks, beachside resorts, or cruises, national parks are brimming with free or inexpensive entertainment. Plus, you can pack a picnic and further cut your spending on dining or a tent to save on lodging costs. Parks like Zion, which offers a shuttle system, can even help you scale back spending on gas.

National Parks and Their Entrance Fees

While they won’t exactly break the bank, many national parks, including all five of Utah’s, charge an admission fee. Ranging from $15 to $35 per carload, the amount you’re spending on these fees wouldn’t buy a second vacation, but could buy lunch, some souvenirs, or maybe a fun activity like renting bikes.

In Utah, entrance fees to the Mighty 5 for a family of 4 will set you back the following:

  • Zion National Park: $35 if entering by car, $20 per person if entering on foot
  • Capitol Reef National Park: $20 if entering by car, $15 if entering on foot
  • Canyonlands National Park: $30 if entering by car, $15 if entering on foot
  • Bryce Canyon National Park: $35 if entering by car, $20 if entering on foot
  • Arches National Park: $30 if entering by car, $15 if entering on foot

Those entrance fees do get you entry into that park for a full 7 days, so you’ll only need to pay once if you’ll be in the area for a week-long vacation. Spending 2, 3, or more days in the park hiking and exploring will certainly save money compared to other vacation options.

If you plan to visit more than 2 of these parks during your vacation, an America the Beautiful Annual Pass will help you save some money. For $80 a year, you can visit as many national parks as you’d like, free of charge. You’ll actually get access to more than 2,000 sites, including those managed by the National Park Service, Federal Bureau of Land Management, and more.

How to Get Into the Mighty 5 For Free

If even that $35 entrance fee to Zion or $80 annual pass is more than you want to spend, you’re in luck.

Every year, the National Park Service hosts several fee-free days. Spread throughout the year, these days coincide with some major holidays and allow anyone to enjoy their favorite parks without worrying about spending money.

In 2020, the National Park Service has announced 5 fee-free days. One has already passed; on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., which fell on January 20 this year, all entrance fees were waived.

If you missed the first free day, you still have four more chances to get into the Mighty 5 free of charge on the following days:

  • The first day of National Park Week, April 18
  • National Park Service’s Birthday, August 25
  • National Public Lands Day, September 26
  • Veterans Day, November 11

Planning Your Mighty 5 Vacation

Keep in mind that other deal-seeking vacationers are also going to be eagerly lining up to enter the parks for free on these days. If you’re dreaming of empty roads and uncrowded trails, you might want to consider saving money in other areas on your trip and visiting the park on a different day instead.

Now that you have your trip planned, check out these tips to learn how to capture the perfect photo memories of your national park adventure!