Last week a friend asked us about the different types of national park passes and how to get one. We always get excited when someone asks about a pass, because it means they’re planning a whole lot of #parkchasing in the future!
Today we’re sharing our Ultimate Guide to national park passes. Did you know that they’re all part of the “America the Beautiful Pass” system? It’s okay if you didn’t. We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know to get you and your family into a national park this year:
- What is a national park pass?
- Which national park pass is right for me?
- Where can I get a national park pass?
- How much do the passes cost?
- What fees does a pass cover?
- Which parks require an entrance fee?
- What fees are not covered by national park passes?
- Can I get into a national park without a pass?
- What about entrance-fee free days?
Click the links above, or keep scrolling to find out more about the passes. We have so much to share with you today, so let’s get started!
What is a national park pass?
If you’re new to #parkchasing and the national parks in the United States, you might be wondering: “what exactly are national park passes?” National park passes, also known as “America the Beautiful” passes, cover the entrance fees to national parks and other federal lands.
The pass covers entrance fees to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites around the United States. It includes lands and waters in these agencies: National Park Service, Fisheries and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Bureau of Reclamation.
By paying the larger annual or lifetime fee for an America the Beautiful pass, you can cover the day-use entrance fees for a driver and all the passengers in a personal vehicle.
Which park pass is right for me?
Currently, the National Park Service offers 6 different types of America the Beautiful passes. Read through the descriptions below to determine which park pass is right for you:
This is the most popular National Park and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. It’s available for any resident or non-resident of the United States and good for one calendar year from the month at which you purchase the pass.
Free Annual Pass for
If you are a current member of the United States military or a dependent of a service member, you are eligible for a free annual national parks pass. It’s good for service members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard or Reserve and National Guard. There is not a specific free pass for veterans,
Every Kid in A Park Pass
In 2015, President Barack Obama created the “Every Kid in a Park” program to grant 4th graders in the United States a free national parks pass for themselves and their families. Every year since 2015, the program has allowed thousands of kids the opportunity to see our most protected places.
The pass is free and valid for the 4th grade school year (September to August) for all students including home-schooled and free-choice learners. Another great feature: the park pass is also available for educators to get the passes for themselves and their classrooms!
Senior Annual/Lifetime Pass
If you are age 62 or over and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you are eligible for the Senior Access Pass. For $20 you can receive an Annual Senior Pass, or for a larger $80 fee you can purchase a Lifetime Senior Pass, good for as long as you hold the pass. These passes are incredibly popular and offer some additional discounts on facilities in the parks.
The Access Pass is a special program available for all U.S. citizens or permanent residents who also have documentation of a permanent disability. The pass is free for the lifetime of the pass holder and covers the entrance fees for the individual and up to 3 other adults.
The final national park pass in the program is the free Volunteer Pass. It’s available for anyone that has completed 250 hours of volunteer service with the federal land agencies listed above. The 250 hours do not have to be accumulated in a specific time frame. When you reach 250 hours, the pass is issued by the site supervisor and then valid for the next 12 months.
To find out about ways to volunteer in a national park, check out our post: Ways to Volunteer in a National Park
Where can I get a national park pass?
The easiest way to purchase or obtain your America the Beautiful pass is in person at a federal recreation site. The National Park Service maintains an online list of all parks where you can purchase America the Beautiful Passes in person (there are a lot!). Even if you purchase the pass by phone or online, it will be issued through the mail. Plan enough time for it to arrive or buy in person.
Here are other ways to purchase national park passes:
- Annual Pass: In person, By Phone, Online from USGS
- Military Pass: In person only (with Common Access Card or Military ID)
- Every Kid in A Park Pass: Every Kid in a Park website, In person
- Senior Annual/Lifetime Pass: In person, Online from USGS, By Mail ($10 application fee).
- Access Pass: In person, By Mail ($10 application fee).
- Volunteer Pass: Issued from your volunteer supervisor
How much do the passes cost?
Each pass in the America the Beautiful program is priced differently:
- Annual Pass: $80 per year
- Military Pass: Free
- Every Kid in A Park 4th Grade Pass: Free
- Senior Annual Pass: $20
- Senior Lifetime Pass: $80
- Access Pass: Free
- Volunteer Pass: Free
What fees does a pass cover?
According to the National Park Service website, the annual intra-agency pass covers “standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.” Essentially, the pass covers your admission to the parks.
In addition, the Senior and Access Passes have additional discounts. Those include “a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services.”
The guidelines for what a park service pass covers are subject to change and generally do not cover all fees or permits in the national parks. If you have questions, you can always contact your local park unit for more information.
Which parks require an entrance fee?
The National Park Service regularly updates entrance fee schedules for the various units. As of this post, there are 112 units that charge an entrance fee. There are many more federal lands that also charge fees that are covered by the America the Beautiful pass program.
You can view up-to-date information about entrance fees here: https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/entrance-fee-prices.htm
What fees are not covered by national park passes?
For example, to visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument you must take a ferry. The America the Beautiful pass does not cover the ferry expense.
Note that the NPS website lists the following for Senior and Access passes: may include some discounts for “some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services. It does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.”
Can I get into a national park without a pass?
Yes, but you’ll need to pay the daily fee.
If you do not wish to purchase a national park pass, you can always pay the daily entrance fee when you arrive at the park. These fees typically range from $5-$15 per person or $10-35 per vehicle. If you plan to #parkchase at more than one national park per year or if you plan to visit a park for a full week, it’s often a greater
What about entrance-fee free days?
Also, each year the National Park Service offers several days where entrance fees are waived for all visitors. These happen on special holidays (Veteran’s Day, National Public Lands Day, etc.) and significant days for the national parks (National Parks Week in April). To find see the 2019 fee-free days visit our post: Visit a National Park for Free in 2019.