Project Nature Blog

Park Visits for Pennies

Living in Washington, we’re lucky to have an abundance of natural areas to visit, including 125 state parks and 15 national park areas. To avoid spending a fortune on entrance fees, take advantage of these programs that encourage families to get outdoors.

Washington State Parks
Visiting Washington State Parks requires a “Discover Pass” for entrance. The most economical option is to purchase an annual pass for $30 if you anticipate visiting parks more than three times each year, as the daily pass is $10. Even better, there are some ways to get into our state parks for free.

Volunteer! IF you work 24 hours or more on approved parks projects, you are eligible for a free Discover Pass. Click here to find out more. 

Free days: The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission designates specific “free days” each year which do not require a Discover Pass for entrance. The following are the remaining 2018 State Parks Free Days:

  • Nov. 23 — Autumn day

2019 State Parks Free Days:

  • Jan. 1 — First Day Hikes; New Year’s Day
  • Jan. 21— Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • March 19 — State Park’s 105th birthday
  • April 20— Spring day
  • April 22 — Earth Day
  • June 1 — National Trails Day
  • June 8 — National Get Outdoors Day (State Parks and Fish & Wildlife free day)
  • June 9 — Fishing Day (State Parks and Fish & Wildlife free day)
  • Aug. 25 — National Park Service 102nd Birthday
  • Sept. 28— National Public Lands Day
  • Nov. 11 — Veterans Day
  • Nov. 29— Autumn day

National Parks
Washington is home to 15 impressive national parks, including a few that might surprise you. An annual America the Beautiful Pass ($80) gets you into all of the National Parks in the U.S. – good for the passholder and his or her passengers in a non-commercial vehicle, or passholder and 3 adults at areas where per-person fees are charged. U.S. military service members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass. National Parks also offer an annual 4th Grade Pass, which allows children to visit national parks for free throughout their 4th grade school year and through the summer between 4th and 5th grade.

If you don’t want to invest in an annual pass, daily entrance to our state’s National Parks is currently $25 for a non-commercial vehicle or $10 per person (without a vehicle – hikers and cyclists). Children under 16 are always free.  Certain National Parks throughout the country also offer “fee-free days” – a great opportunity to check out a park you have not yet explored! Mt. Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Lewis and Clark National Historic Park and Fort Vancouver National Historic Site all participate in fee-free days.

Ski Free (or At Least Get a Deal)

Winter sports like skiing and snowboarding are a great way to stay active throughout the winter, especially with so many ski areas nearby. But the cost of equipment and lift tickets can be prohibitive for many families. To make snow sports a little bit more affordable, take advantage of these deals:

Stevens Pass
At Stevens Pass, thanks to a partnership with Carter Subaru, 5th graders can get a free season pass. Just provide proof of 5th grade enrollment (report card, school ID, teacher note, or certified letter of intent) and email it to or bring it with you to Guest Relations at Stevens Pass.

Mt. Baker
5th graders can ride or ski for free at Mt. Baker as well, which offers a free season pass for 5th graders as long as the child is accompanied by an adult who has purchased a lift ticket or season pass. Families with kids ages 4-6 can participate in the Powder Pups program, which provides half-price lift tickets for up to two adults starting at 11:00am when accompanying a Powder Pup kid.  There is a limit of 10 total Powder Pup Adult tickets per kid per year.

White Pass
At White Pass, they start early by offering a free season pass for 3rd graders who enroll in the 3rd Grade Skier/Snowboarder Safety First class. Season passes for younger kids are affordable at White Pass as well – just $20 for kids age 8 and under.

More discounts

  • Most lesson packages come with gear rentals included. If you are ready to buy, save money on gear by looking for used skis, snowboards, boots and bindings at end-of-season ski swaps.
  • Crystal Mountain offers steep lift ticket and season pass discounts for children under age 10.
  • At Snoqualmie Pass kids enrolled in multi-week ski school get a discounted season lift pass.
  • Leavenworth’s ski hill offers a family season pass good for two adults and their dependents (under age 22) for $415 – a good deal for families that plan to ski together all season!