How to Choose the Best National Park Passport for Your Adventures
One of the first things we purchased when we started parkchasing was a national park passport book. Produced by Eastern National and found in almost every bookstore in the NPS, our passport book has become one of the most treasured objects in our entire house. If you haven’t purchased a national park passport book yet, you’re in for a treat today.
We’re sharing our complete guide to how to choose the best national park passport for your parkchasing adventures.
We’re also teaming up with eParks and Eastern National to give ParkChaser’s Readers a 15% off discount sitewide when you purchase your National Parks Passport! (continue scrolling for the free code!)
As the busy summer travel season begins to ramp up, we want everyone to have the perfect way to document the parks they visit this year and for years to come.
What is a national park passport book?
We’ve written about the passport books before being the Best $9 to spend in a national park (and we’re holding true to that!) 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, you purchase the passport online or in a NPS bookstore. Then at each NPS unit, you visit, collect the passport cancellation stamp marking your location and the date of your visit. Once you own the Passport, every passport stamp is free at each NPS site. The initial purchase of the book is all you need to create your own national park history.
Why should you collect passport stamps from each park?
For whatever reason, we’ve noticed that in general national park visitors are also natural collectors. Passport stamps are one of the most popular things that we’ve found national park enthusiasts bring home with them from a visit. Here’s why we think that is:
- Passport stamps are free. If you’re a budget traveler or don’t need one more t-shirt in your closet, it makes for a great souvenir.
- Most of the passports are small and easy to fit into your luggage or backpack. It doesn’t take up a ton of room or weight if you’re flying (unlike that giant gift shop tchotchke you thought was a good idea!)
- You never have to remember “When did we go to Glacier?” or “How many times have we been to Yosemite?” Your passport serves as your chronological park chasing record!
- Visit a park during its centennial year? Attend a special NPS event? Often times there are special national park passport stamps issues for commemorative and historical events in the parks. You can have a date record of some of the special things you did during your park visits.
What are the different types of passport books?
We have used the original 6” x 4” national park passport book since beginning our travels in 2010. We now have 3 different passport books because we filled up so many of the 112 pages in the book. It’s the smallest of the different passport books and can typically be found for $9.95 in park book stores.
Pros: It’s small and easy to pack; Durability (we’ve traveled all over with ours and never lost a page!); Contains nifty maps for each region of the country and an easy-to-reference color code that matches the stamp ink; the parks aren’t listed so if something is added/changed/removed from the NPS your passport book isn’t impacted; it makes a great, inexpensive gift for any Park Chaser; There’s always something cool about having the classic edition;
Cons: There are only so many pages in each region so you’re likely going to need more than one passport if you visit all 400+ national parks. It’s also spiral-bound, so pages can’t be added or removed.
Slightly larger than the classic edition at 7½” x 10”, the Collector’s Edition passport is a hardcover, spiral-bound passport book. Like the classic edition, it’s divided out in color-coded regions. However the collector’s edition provides a dedicated space for each national park stamp, meaning the entire book is a checklist for the parks!
Pros: A bit larger so it’s less likely to be misplaced; A dedicated space for each cancellation stamp can make it easier to flip through and count the total number of parks you’ve visited; information and maps about each park.
Cons: The book is spiral bound so no pages can be added or removed. Depending on when your edition is printed, it may not have the correct number of parks (although there is extra space in each region for cancellations).
The most expensive of all the national park passport books, the Explorer Edition is the premium option to collect your cancellation stamps. The pages of this passport book are in held in a weatherproof five-ring binder with a fabric cover and zipper. Each page is also larger, allowing you to include notes, photos, or sketches from each of the parks you visit. The binder opens and closes, meaning that you can expand the Explorer edition to as many parks as you need!
Pros: Weatherproof and durable; binder has a mesh pocket and pen holder to store other souvenirs or maps; it offers the most customization; able to add and remove pages as needed; removable pages can be mailed to collect the cancellation for a park where you missed the stamp.
Cons: It’s larger 9’’ x 8.5’’ and bulkier. At nearly 2 pounds it will add a ton of weight if you plan to pack it in backpacking gear; doesn’t have the maps or color-coded regional system; It’s the most expensive of all the passport books.
If you’ve got a younger park chaser in your family, you may want to consider purchasing their own national park passport. The Junior Ranger Edition is a fully-illustrated park guide that allows kids to collect both the cancellation stamps and a stamp when the complete the Junior Ranger program at a park.
Pros: Perfect for kids; includes a set of park-themed stickers; soft covered and easy to pack; educational information about the most popular parks.
Cons: Likely to fill it up quickly if you’re a serious park chaser; Your kids may wish to collect stamps across their lifetime, while not a big deal to start in the Junior Ranger book, they may not wish to carry it around forever.
While Eastern National now only prints the Junior Ranger edition for kids, you may encounter the Kids Passport Companion in NPS bookstores. Similar to the Classic edition, this small 6″ by 4″ passport book has fewer illustrations and information than the Junior Ranger edition. It’s out of print and becoming more difficult to find, but might be a good fit for that pre-teen park chaser.
Passport To Your National Parks® Companion Guide: Regional Editions
Also available in some locations, the regional passport guides provide specific cancellation information and stamps for some of the most popular regions around the NPS. Most popular is the National Capital region, which details all of the stamps you can collect in Washington D.C.
Pros: Good option if you plan to visit parks in a specific area (like on an extended road trip) all in one trip; small and easy to pack.
Cons: Not available for all regions; not available in all NPS bookstores; you need to purchase a book for each of the regions; no updates if new parks are added or changed.
Make Your Own Passport Book
Many Park Chasers find that they love to collect the cancellation stamps at each location, but also like to collect other things (notes, postcards, photos, etc.) If none of the options seem like the best one for you, why not make your own passport book?
For ideas, check out our National Park Passport Pinterest board.
Where can you buy a passport book?
National park passport books can be purchased online from Eastern National at eParks.com (affiliate link). Use the discount code below and you can save 15% off your eParks.com order! You can also buy passport books at most national park gift shops and bookstores.
Shop America’s National Parks Official Online Store & Save 15% off your eParks.com order.
Use coupon code: 15OFF
How do you use your passport book?
Here are the steps we follow for each national park unit we visit:
- Before you go, research where the stamps can be found for each park unit. This is important since not all ranger stations and visitor centers will have the cancellation stamps.
- When you find the stamp in the park, turn to the next blank page in the park’s corresponding region.
- Check the date on the stamp to make sure it matches.
- Stamp away!
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How do I know where to find cancellation stamps?
Great question. Eastern National publishes a list of current cancellation stamps that can be found in each national park unit. What they don’t include though is the specific location for each stamp.
For that information we use one of the best resources on the web for national park enthusiasts: The National Park Traveler’s Club. We’ve been members of the NPTC for years, specifically because they maintain the largest online resource of cancellation stamp locations (and information about all-things national parks). We highly encourage you to join the club and start tracking your stamps through the site. You can see historical images of stamps and find out the specific location (GPS coordinates and maps!) for each stamp.
Other Things to Collect at a National Park
Ever wonder what other national park enthusiasts collect besides cancellation stamps? Check out these other items you can find at each park you visit:
1. A picture with the entrance sign.
No visit to a national park unit is complete without a photo of the entrance sign. It’s one of the first things to collect at every national park because it’s almost always the first thing you see when you arrive!
Imagine the photo album you’ll have someday to show those grandchildren. Getting these shots may take some creative use of your carhood, or a friendly request from a fellow traveler, but it should be the first thing on your list when you visit.
2. The Unigrid.
Unigrid? What’s a ungrid?
Unigrids are those famous brochures with the black bands and bold white font on the top and bottom. In 1977, Massimo Vignelli designed the Unigrid System for the National Park Service as a way to create a consistent, recognizable system to distribute park information. They are available at ranger stations, visitor’s centers and online for more than 375 of the park units.
When you start your collection, hop over to our Facebook page and share how you store your unigrids with other Park Chasers!
3. A commemorative coin.
In 2010 the United States mint began issuing quarters commemorating the National Park Service.
While there is not a coin to collect for every park, 56 coins in total will be issued during the program, one for each state and territory. Special coin folders for the national park coins are also available. When you visit a site with a currently circulating coin, stop in the bookstore or at the ranger station; staff are frequently willing to trade your quarter in for the commemorative coin.
4. A postcard
Postcards were one of the original things to collect in every national park. Sometimes spending a few dollars for a postcard as a keepsake is all you need to remember your park visit (or even mail it to yourself so it’s waiting when you get back home!)
Park Chasers also recommends sending the national park postcards you collect through Postcrossing.com, an online community that exchanges postcards from all around the world.
5. National Park Patches
Check out our Park Chaser Profile Series on The National Park Patch Lady for her collection of these fun patches that she finds at each park unit she visits!
A special note about this post: Some of the posts links in this post are affiliate links. Park Chasers participates as an eParks and Amazon affiliate. By purchasing items through these links, you provide Park Chasers with financial support to create this content. Thanks for supporting our goal to visit all the national parks!