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 buy a US National Parks Pass each year. Let us explain why we think it’s a good deal if you’re planning a national park vacation.
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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) with a valid Every Kid Outdoors paper pass.
Educators can also be involved! Learn more at the Every Kid Outdoors website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.