Summer Fun

'Every Kid Outdoors' Will Give Your Kid Free National Parks Passes For The Whole Family

Who knew there were such perks to being a 4th grader — or being a parent of one?

Tourists walk down a zig zag path at the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, USA...
Peter Unger/The Image Bank Unreleased/Getty Images

If you and your family love National Parks or you’re looking for a way to make a weekend full of lifelong memories this summer, there’s a huge perk that will get you free access to any National Park — really. There is one caveat, though. You need to have a kiddo in the fourth grade.

This summertime perk comes from the government’s Every Kid Outdoors program, which grants families no-fee access to public lands, waters, and National Parks across the country if they have a fourth grader. In the words of the program’s website: “Every Kid Outdoors was created so fourth graders and their families could discover our wildlife, resources, and history for free.” The program was launched in 2015 and has been funded through 2026, under the bipartisan Every Kid Outdoor Act. As USA Today reported this week, though some 120,000 passes were issued during the 2021-2022 season, that’s still a small percentage of the millions of kids and families that are eligible.

Why fourth graders? As the National Park service puts it, 10- and 11-year-old kids are “open to new ideas and likely to connect to nature and our history” — and of course, it will be up to them to care for public lands as the next generation of stewards. It’s great to go see something new — our national parks abound with beauty, both above ground and below — but a trip to a national park is more than just a cool summer vacation. Nature is a powerful medicine for kids, and outdoor and nature play offer kids myriad benefits in their cognitive and emotional development, as previous research covered by Fatherly has found.

And while a visit to the “local” national park (EKO notes that most Americans live within a 2-hour drive of the nearest national park) doesn’t have to include camping, kayaking, intense hikes, or anything of the like, so-called “Type 2” in the outdoors — fun that involves a bit of discomfort and requires a little bit of growth — can help kids develop resiliency and perseverance. Are we making this sound fun yet?

To sign up for the free pass, all you need to do is head to and print out the paper pass to bring to the federal recreation site. And make sure it’s printed, as electronic passes aren’t accepted. (And if you don’t have a fourth grader, don’t worry too much — the National Park Service offers a few free admission days every year.)

The passes will give access to more than just the National Parks. They also include access to any area managed by U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The passes cover entry for the fourth grader and up to three accompanying adults and all other kids under age 16. The passes only cover the fee for entry.

The National Park system contains approximately 85 million acres of rugged beauty and cultural history spread across all 50 states, it can feel overwhelming to choose which park to visit with so many options available. So, check out this definitive National Parks ranking, which highlights the quietest parks, busiest parks, which parks people spend the most time at, and more. Another great resource to check out is our list of the most underrated national parks. (Or at least to see which National Park is closest to you, if you’re just trying to make a day trip out of it.)

For more details, visit Every Kid Outdoors.