Somewhere hidden in the bookstores, front desks, and visitor centers of each site in the National Park System lives a small, but well-sought after souvenir. To those that seek them, they are more treasured than any postcard, t-shirt or tchotchke. For just $9.95 they can document a lifetime of traveling and commemorate the wonder that so many of us experience in these protected places. There’s even a club for anyone who collects them.
So what is the best $9 to spend in a National Park? A Passport® to Your National Parks , and your first national park passport stamp.
Started in 1986, the passport program was designed to help travelers document their national park visits and celebrate major milestones in the park system’s history. The premise is simple: First, purchase the passport online or in a NPS bookstore. Then at each NPS site you visit, collect the passport cancellation stamp marking your location and the date of your visit. Once you own the Passport the National Park passport stamp is free at each NPS site. The initial $9 is all you need to create your own national park history.
What You Need to Know about the National Park Passport Stamp Program
- The passport program is not run by the National Park Service but instead operated by Eastern National.
- Passports are small and easy to fit into your luggage and backpack. The pages are durable and while not completely waterproof, the ParkChasers have taken their first passport to 20 different states without a single tear, crinkle or bend.
- While most of the parks participate, it is a voluntary program. An online and up-to-date list of cancellation locations can be found here: eParks Cancellation Station Locations. ParkChasers also has specific information about where to find the stamps.
- Some parks may have more than one stamp, usually correlated with the number of entrances or visitor’s centers in the park. For example, Yellowstone N.P. currently has 13 stamps. This doesn’t include special issue stamps for centennials and other park celebrations. Some travelers collect only one from each park, others attempt to collect all the stamps ever issued for a park. ParkChasers has even encountered passport stamp collectors asking a ranger to dig in a storage closet for a special 75th Anniversary stamp from a few years back!
- Each year eParks also produces a set of 10 colorful stamps (one national stamp, and one from each of the 9 regions in the park service). These fit into specially marked places on the pages of your passport. Some passport stamp collectors also collect these annual stamps dating back to 1986, but they are totally optional.
- Pages in the $9 passport are designed to fit the number of parks of an “average” traveler. If you’re like the ParkChasers and plan for all 409 sites, you may want to upgrade to the Explorer edition. This binder format is expandable, allowing you to add extra pages and commemorative stamps.
- The Kids Passport Companion is a fun addition for any junior ParkChasers that want to keep track of their own stamps. It also includes checklists of Junior Ranger programs and fun facts about the parks.
- The members of the National Park Travelers Club are all about ParkChasing. As a dues-paying member, you are granted full access to crowdsourced information about stamps, eligible for awards after traveling to 100, 200, 300 and 400+ units, and can meet up with other national park enthusiasts.
- To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park System, Eastern National issued a commemorative stamp to each park with “NPS Centennial” around the bottom of the circle. The stamps will only be available in 2016, or if you’re lucky enough to convince a bookstore employee to bring it out for you!
**Note: The links above direct you to purchase the National Parks passport through our Amazon.com affiliate link. Purchasing the passport through Amazon supports the work we do and helps us keep #parkchasing. Thank you for your support.