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U.S. State Park Systems Pricing Strategies for Revenue Generation

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Research maps are designed and written by Emily Smith, a recent Parks Recreation and Tourism Management MS graduate & Kelly Thompson, Parks, Recreation and Tourism Major.

The way in which U.S. State Park systems generate revenue varies from state to state. To better understand the various strategies utilized, a review of park system websites, news articles, and grey literature was conducted for each of the 50 U.S. State Park systems between January and March 2024. The use of entrance/vehicle/parking fees was a common revenue source across the U.S. State Park systems. The following maps detail the types of strategies utilized by the U.S. State Park systems that charge an entrance/vehicle/parking fee. 

Entrance Fee 

The majority of U.S. State Park systems charge for entrance/vehicle/parking fees with the exception of: Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia. While some of these state park systems have entrance/vehicle/parking, they are not implemented system-wide and apply to select parks.

Out of the 39 U.S. State Park systems that charge for entrance/parking/vehicle, 24 utilize pricing strategies to generate revenue including: 

  • Residence-Based Pricing
  • Specialty License Plate
  • Temporal Pricing
  • Timed Entry Reservations
  • Vehicle License Plate Registration Fees

The following maps visualize the states that utilize the strategies listed above. Note that the states displayed in gray do not administer the referenced strategy system-wide. 

Residence-Based Pricing

Map two visualizes which states utilize differential pricing based on residential status. Residents and nonresidents were commonly defined by vehicle license plates. About a quarter of U.S. State Park systems charge out-of-state residents a higher entrance/parking/vehicle fee than the fee they administer to residents of the given state. 


Specialty License Plate

Map three visualizes which states offer residents a specialty state park license plate. While many states offer specialty license plates, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Minnesota are the only states that offer consumers incentives such as waived admission fees. The annual cost that residents pay for these plates directly supports state parks within their given state. For New Hampshire, House Bill 1620 was passed in 2010 to establish the special vehicle license plate with proceeds used for the operation and maintenance of New Hampshire State Parks.

Temporal Pricing

Map four visualizes the eight states that utilize temporal pricing strategies for park entrance/parking/vehicle fees. Temporal pricing optimizes revenues by charging higher fees during peak times, such as weekends, holidays, and seasons.


Timed Entry Reservations

Texas is the only state that utilizes a timed entry reservation system. For Texas State Parks, some parks have designated entrance times meaning visitors must choose an arrival time when purchasing their day pass (entrance) in advance. While purchasing a day pass is not required, it is encouraged as many parks have capacity limits. The strategy aims to distribute visitor use by decreasing overcrowding and strain on natural resources. If effective, this strategy could benefit park management by saving costs associated with overuse, such as maintenance and repairs. 

Vehicle License Plate Registration Fees

Map five visualizes the six states that implemented an annual entrance pass in the form of a vehicle license plate registration fee. To receive an annual park pass, residents of these states can pay an additional fee during the time of vehicle registration. In Connecticut and Colorado, additional vehicle registration fees are added automatically to their vehicle registrations. Colorado residents have the option to opt out of the additional fee if desired. In Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, and Montana the additional vehicle registration fees are optional meaning residents have to opt in/request to be enrolled in this system. 


Across the country, state park systems enact a variety of pricing strategies to their entrance fees to generate revenue including Residence-Based Pricing, Specialty License Plate, Temporal Pricing, Timed Entry Reservations, Vehicle License Plate Registration Fees. With these additional pricing strategies, state parks across the country increase their revenues and budgets.