Each year the National Park Service offers a free admission day to all 421 National Parks in the United States. The first was Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and the newest was officially added this week, Mills Springs Battlefield National Monument in Kentucky. The National Park system covers over 84 million acres of land in all 50 states and US territories.

Photo: Michael Foth ~ Townsquare Media Billings
Photo: Michael Foth ~ Townsquare Media Billings

Only 62 of the locations contain the words "National Park" in their title, but all 421 monuments, parks, and battlefields are considered part of the National Park system. On Saturday, September 26 you can get free admission to all of them. Many of us are familiar with Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, but did you know there are actually nine areas that are part of the National Park system in Montana? We've listed all of them below if you're interested in hitting the road and checking them out for free on National Public Lands Day.

  1. Glacier National Park. VisitMT.com says, "it's called the Crown Jewel of the Continent for a reason" and if you've ever visited Glacier, you'll agree. The only entrance open this year has been from the west gate.
  2. Yellowstone National Park. Road conditions can change rapidly this time of year. Here are some key dates regarding seasonal road closures HERE.
  3. Nez Perce National Historical Park. This park near Darby, MT encompasses part of the historic Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail that stretches from Oregon to the Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana.
  4. Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area. Most of us have probably spent at least a day or two on scenic Big Horn Lake, which was formed when Yellowtail Dam was completed in the 1960s. Even without a boat, this 70,000+ acre park that straddles the Montana/Wyoming border is worth the drive.
  5.  Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. Located near Deer Lodge, MT, this park was once the headquarters for a 10 million-acre cattle empire. Some of the tours and park amenities are not operating this year because of COVID-19, but if you never have been to Grant-Kohrs, put it on your bucket list.
  6. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. Montana's mountainous parks seem to get the most attention, but Fort Union, located on the border of Montana and North Dakota was a hotspot of activity during the fur trade. Native Americans from seven Northern Plains tribes would come to Fort Union to trade bison and other game furs for guns, trinkets, and other items.
  7. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Southeast of Hardin, near Crow Agency, is the site of Battle of Little Big Horn, where General Custer and his men were badly defeated. It's an easy drive from Billings.
  8. Big Hole National Battlefield. Perhaps you've noticed a theme of battlefields in the list of National Parks in Montana. The Big Hole Battlefield is a memorial of the 90 Nez Perce who lost their lives during the battle. An additional 31 soldiers and volunteers were also killed in the skirmish. Located near Wisdom, MT, this trip is about 300 miles away. Bring a fishing pole.
  9. Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Lewis and Clark covered a large portion of Montana on their quest to the Pacific. Instead of just one "park", the Trail encompasses a number of visitor centers and historic areas in Montana, all of them are no-charge on Free Day. With public locations of the Lewis and Clark Trail dotted across the state, there is likely one you haven't visited yet.

If you can't take advantage of the "free day" on Saturday, don't rule out a visit to these National Parks in Montana on of the other 364 days.

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