Buy a US National Parks Pass: Yes, It’s a Good Deal

We buy a US National Parks Pass each year.

Let us explain why we think the America the Beautiful pass is a good deal, especially if you’re looking at US National Park vacation ideas for your next trip!

Keep reading to find out more about the cost, how it saves money and where you can buy the National Parks Pass.

us national parks pass
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WHAT IS THE US NATIONAL PARKS ANNUAL PASS?

 According to the National Park Service website:

The America the Beautiful pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees, 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 15 and under are free).

It can be confusing to know which sites are National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests and Wildlife Refuges that are covered by the pass. The pass is not accepted at State Parks and privately-owned sites. Research each site to be prepared.

HOW MUCH DOES THE NATIONAL PARKS ANNUAL PASS COST?

The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and is valid for one year from the date of purchase. For the most current information on passes, reference the National Park Service website.

The national park pass allows two signatures so it can be shared, and the two people don’t have to be related. You will need to show photo ID each time you use the pass.

If you’re a US citizen these other passes are also available: 

Free Annual Pass for U.S. Military – Available for current U.S. military members and dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard as well as Reserve and National Guard members. 

Annual 4th Grade Pass – FREE pass available for  U.S. 4th graders including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age. 

Senior Lifetime or Annual Pass – Available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. Applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship. 

Access Pass – FREE pass available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship. 

Volunteer Pass -FREE pass available for volunteers with 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program.  

Thor's Hammer at Bryce Canyon National Park

WHERE CAN I BUY A US NATIONAL PARKS PASS

In person at a federal recreation site: list of federal recreation sites that issue passes

By phone: 888-ASK USGS (1-888-275-8747), extension 3 (Hours of operation are: 8 am to 4 pm Mountain Time) 

Online: Buy from the USGS store

REI online: you can only get the regular annual pass, but there are three reasons for buying your national park pass through REI.

  • REI will donate 10% of sale proceeds to the National Park Foundation
  • You can use REI gift cards to buy the annual America the Beautiful pass
  • The purchase will go toward your REI annual member dividend.

WILL THE NATIONAL PARKS ANNUAL PASS SAVE ME MONEY

There are definite cost-savings using the America the Beautiful Annual Pass if you plan to visit multiple national parks within a year of purchase.

You must ‘do the math’ to determine if the pass will save you money based on the locations you plan to visit for the year.

The pricing structure in the National Parks is variable. Each one charges different rates and there’s a mixture of charging by person or by vehicle. If you plan to visit the most famous and pricey parks, the fees can add up quickly.

But if your plans only include the smaller parks or visiting more National Forests which are often free, it might not be worth it.

You can find details of all US National Parks, including their entry fees, on the National Park Service website.

Teton National Park in the fall

WHY WE BUY THE AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL ANNUAL PASS EACH YEAR

Support a Good Cause – Even if we don’t save money or break even one year, we feel good that our donation is helping the National Park Service.  Public support is a critical component in the management of National Park Service lands. No other federal agency relies as heavily on the generosity and kindness of its visitors, volunteers, and donors. 

Adventure & Photography – The beauty of the parks and forests beckon to those who like to explore, hike and photograph. National parks offer stunning scenery, hiking trails for all levels and opportunities to see wildlife. There is a reason it’s called the AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL pass. 

Proximity – Living in Utah, we have a definite advantage being close to so many parks. There are 5 Utah National Parks within 4 hours which makes it easy to do a weekend trip. Others are only a day’s drive thus eliminating an expensive airline ticket to visit those parks. We can visit the close parks multiple times during the year, and plan a few longer trips to those farther away in the same year. We will have visited various National Parks 6 times this year. That makes buying the annual pass worth it for sure.

Here’s a list of national parks by state and a US National Park list to help you plan a future trip!

NATIONAL PARK FREE ENTRANCE DAYS WILL SAVE YOU MONEY

If you still aren’t convinced that a National Parks pass is for you, take advantage of the National Park Service Free Entrance Days offered each year. 

The fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

The National Park Service provides a list of parks by state that waive their entrance fees on the nationally designated Fee Free Dates. 

Check with each park for operating hours and event schedules. Fee Free Days make national parks accessible to more people. However, focusing a vacation around national parks is always an economical plan, especially with the National Park Pass, versus other travel destinations.

Half Dome at Yosemite

BUY THE AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL PASS: IT’S WORTH IT

  • It only costs $80 – it’s the best adventure deal anywhere!
  • It covers all passengers in a personal vehicle.
  • It is valid for one year from date of purchase.
  • The pass can be shared by two people.
  • It covers entrance fees to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.

If purchasing the pass doesn’t save money in the end, you can feel good knowing you have made a donation to the National Park Service. 

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24 Comments

  1. The national parks pass really isn’t that good of a deal because of the “Concessionaire” clause. 90 percent of the national parks have a concessionaire that will charge you for parking regardless if you have the pass or not. If you didn’t have a pass and we’re paying the regular fees to get in it would include parking so you’re paying to get into the park anyway even after paying for the pass.

  2. We are determined to get this pass and explore all the national parks soon! Your pictures are fantastic, would love to visit ourselves 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love being outdoors. If I lived in the US, I would definitely get this pass. You have so many beautiful national parks and this gives you the freedom to explore them. What a great concept!

  4. $80 for an annual pass is definitely a good deal (even more affordable if you share the cost with others because you share a vehicle)! With all the incredible parks/landscapes the US has to offer, I would definitely buy it every year!

    1. When you compare $80 for a year to see amazing National Parks to a one day pass at an amusement park, you really see the wonderful value!

  5. My husband and I are a sucker of any travel pass every time we’re exploring places. Definitely will get this one to support its cause. Your photos are amazing! 🙂

  6. Thank you for writing this post! I love the National Parks System and anything that encourages people to support it is great. I don’t have a car, so some National Parks are hard for me to get to, but I always go when I can.

  7. My husband is in the US Air Force so we get the Military Pass. It’s such a steal! Sometimes I really don’t think our National Parks are appreciated as much as they should be. Thank you for this great post!

    1. I’m so glad they offer a pass for military families! I agree there are so many parks and places that aren’t being fully explored and experienced.

  8. US Parks Pass is quite incredible! I love the beauty of my country! The only reason I don’t have one is because I’m usually in the parks before there are any people at the gates. I live for dawn patrol and love to hit the park early to avoid the crowds. However, I’ll be traveling to some parks this year during the “slower” times for the park and I intend on purchasing one of these bad boys! It’s a great way to support our wild places.

    1. Funny you mention being on dawn patrol – we arrive in the parks well before sunrise and usually leave well after sunset. I think our last few trips to Arches and Canyonlands we never had to show our pass one time. But we always have one ‘just in case’.

  9. I agree, I’d purchase one just to support the National Parks! It’s been a while since we’ve gone to a National Park, but my 5 year old is more and more interested in them and outdoor activities, so we will have to start up again. I will definitely look into getting a pass!

  10. I got my America the Beautiful pass for the first time last year and it’s been SO GREAT! I didn’t even anticipate using it as much as I did and in the end I saved a ton. In a few parks it even acted like a “Fast Pass” where they saw me holding it at the check in and waved me to the front of the line. I love the National Parks Service and I’m so glad they offer this option.

    1. Thank you. We could spend all our travels exploring and photographing National Parks. They are spectacular – and each one is different.

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