Whether you are a vacation adventurer or a full-time explorer, an annual pass to the U.S. National Parks is an incredible way to experience some of the best areas in the country for a great price.
The appropriately name “America the Beautiful” pass is an annual pass that provides access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites.
With a price tag of only $80 for the standard “America the Beautiful” pass is a great deal. It is made better when comparing entry to most national parks is typically around $35 individually.
Annual “America the Beautiful” passes are valid for 12 months beginning the month that the pass was purchased in. It expires the last day of that month. According to the National Park Service any charges for an entrance fee per vehicle, the “America the Beautiful” pass covers everyone inside. It specially reads, “…at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” If the park charges a per person entrance fee instead, the pass will cover four adults. Children 15 years old and under are able to enter for free. If you sign up for a pass with another person, the two do not have to be married or related.
Just a few uses of this pass will pay for itself.
If you’re heading out on a big road trip or even just a week-long vacation to hit multiple parks at once, such as the “Mighty Five” in Utah, this pass is a money saver.
Annual Interagency passes can be purchased at many federal recreation sites and national parks (find full list here). If you’re a planner and want to get a pass ahead of your trip, you can purchase through the online at NCGS.gov. Keep in mind that this pass won’t be able to be downloaded or printed, but rather it will be mailed to you, so be sure to plan ahead so that it arrives before your trip. Passes can also be purchased by phone at 1-888-275-8747 (ext. 1).
While anyone can purchase the standard “America the Beautiful” pass, there are some versions of the pass that come at either or free or discounted rate, for those who qualify.
If your child is a fourth grader, take advantage of 4th Grade Pass. This pass is available for any fourth grader, including homeschoolers and free-choice learners who are 10 years old. The 4th Grade Pass will allow access for the entire fourth grade school year until the end of the following summer (September – August). You must visit Every Kid Outdoors website to get a paper pass, which you then exchange for a pass at any federal recreation site that requires an entrance or amenity fee.
If you’re a senior, you’re in luck when it comes to the annual pass.
Senior citizens can purchase an annual pass for just $20, but they can also purchase a lifetime pass for $80! Not only that, but there are certain parks and recreation areas that may provide a 50% discount on fees such as camping, boat launches, and more for those with a Senior Pass. These offers are available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are 62 years old or over. You will be asked to provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship.
Those that meet specific requirements can get a military “America the Beautiful” pass free of charge. This includes current U.S. Military members (Army, Navy Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force, Reserve and National Guard members), U.S. Military Veterans, and Gold Star Family Members.
The Access Pass offers a free lifetime pass to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Similar to the senior pass, it may provide a 50% discount on fees at certain parks. There is a $10 processing fee for this pass, but the pass itself is free!
To see qualification requirements, visit www.nps.gov.
Another good pass offered is the Volunteer Pass. This pass is good for a full year from the issue date. It can be obtained by people who have volunteered 250 service hours with federal agencies. If you’re involved in a volunteer program that qualifies, connect with your volunteer coordinator to learn more.
Whether you meet the requirements of one of the special passes offered or buy a standard “America the Beautiful” pass, an annual national parks pass is a cost-effective way to see some of America’s gems. From Acadia National Park in the east to Yosemite National Park in the west, there is so much breathtaking land to explore in the United States and the “America the Beautiful” pass will allow you to see it all.