There are 59 areas around the United States that are protected and called National Parks. They feature landscapes from deserts and glaciers to caves and coral reefs.
National Parks are one of the biggest attractions in the United States. The parks were founded to preserve the country’s greatest natural treasures simply as they were.
President Roosevelt expressed when designating the Grand Canyon as a national monument, “Leave it as its is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”
We purchase and use the US National Parks Pass each year. Let us explain why we think it’s a good deal!
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What is the US National Park 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.
What does it 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.
If you’re a US citizen these other passes are also available:
- Senior Pass if you’re over 62
- Military Pass
- 4th Grade Pass
The 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.
You can order passes online or get them at any of these Federal Recreation Areas.
BUY THE PASS AT REI and they will donate 10% of sales to the National Park Foundation.
Does it really save 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.
Why we buy the 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.
John Muir famously said, “Thousands of tire, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
Proximity – Living in Utah, we have a definite advantage being close to so many parks. There are 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.
Our Travel Bucket List includes visiting all 52 National Parks. The National Park Service website provides a list of these parks from A-Z or by State.
Free Entrance Days 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.
The America the Beautiful Pass is 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.
John F. Kennedy said, “National Parks and reserves are an integral aspect of intelligent us of natural resources.”
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