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National parks offer some of the most spectacular scenery and preserve significant histories and cultures of our nation. But paying the entrance fees every time we visit can get expensive.
This is why we suggest purchasing the America the Beautiful interagency annual pass.
But in 2024, the signature line is changing. This is essential information for anyone looking to purchase a pass next year, so let’s dive in and learn more about what’s happening!
About National Park Passes
Some national parks, historic sites, national monuments, and other sites under the management of the National Park Service have an entrance fee. Often, the larger national parks will cost anywhere from $20-30 for a 7-day ticket for a passenger car.
If you plan on visiting three or four national parks in a year, buying an annual pass for $80 is more cost-effective. This pass gets you into all the national parks for free for 12 months from the date of purchase.
The interagency pass also gets you into other lands managed by other federal agencies, which we’ll discuss below.
For example, if you’re heading to Utah to explore the Big Five – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches – you don’t want to pay the entrance fee for every location.
A private vehicle 7-day pass costs $35 at Zion, $35 at Bryce Canyon, $20 at Capitol Reef, $30 at Canyonlands, and $30 at Arches. That’s $150 to visit all five national parks when you could pay $80 for an America the Beautiful annual pass.
What Change Is Coming For Annual National Park Passes?
In the past, an annual park pass had two signatures on the back. When you pulled up to a ranger station at a national park, you would show an ID that matches one of the signatures. Then, you would be allowed to proceed without paying the entrance fee.
The problem the National Park Service encountered was fraud. With two signatures, two families could share one annual pass. Starting January 1, 2024, all interagency passes – like America the Beautiful annual pass or military pass – and park-specific passes will have one signature line for a single pass holder.
Is An Annual National Park Pass Still Worth It?
Yes! An annual national park pass is worth it if you visit more than two national parks in a single 12-month period. As mentioned above, you can save significantly with an annual interagency pass. The change from one signature to another won’t affect many pass holders.
But we could see where this change might be problematic for spouses. If one spouse signs the back of the card, the other spouse cannot take the card and visit a national park. Spouses will always have to travel together.
What Agencies Participate In the Interagency Pass Program?
We also mentioned that multiple agencies participate in the America the Beautiful pass program, not just the National Park Service. Along with the NPS, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers honor these annual and lifetime passes.
Depending on your pass type, you may also receive discounts on camping and other amenities, not just savings on entrance fees.
The Different National Park Passes
So which America the Beautiful pass is right for you? Let’s look at the different options. The America the Beautiful annual pass is available to anyone for $80.
However, the volunteer, senior, military, access, and 4th-grade passes have specific guidelines. Every pass covers the pass holder (whose signature is on the back of the pass) and all occupants in a personal vehicle.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
Anyone can buy the America the Beautiful annual pass on the USGS website or in person at specific locations. This pass is best for American or foreign visitors aged 16 to 62.
Whoever purchases the pass and signs the back must be in the vehicle for the passengers to avoid paying the entrance fee.
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America the Beautiful Volunteer Annual Pass
One benefit of volunteering in the national parks is receiving an America the Beautiful Volunteer annual pass.
A federal lands volunteer who has completed 250 hours of service will receive this pass for free. Its perks are the same as the America the Beautiful annual pass but it’s free.
America the Beautiful Senior Pass
For U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are over age 62, they qualify for the America the Beautiful Senior Pass. There are two options: an annual pass or a lifetime pass.
We recommend purchasing the lifetime senior pass as soon as you turn 62. You’ll never have to buy another annual pass to visit our federal lands again!
The annual senior pass is $20, and the lifetime senior pass is $80. Applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship.
The benefits of the senior pass are the same as the other passes. However, in addition to free entry into federal lands, pass holders of the senior annual or lifetime pass also receive a 50% discount on certain amenities and services like camping, swimming, boat launches, and specialized interpretive services.
America the Beautiful Military Pass
Like the senior pass, the America the Beautiful Miliary pass is also available as an annual or lifetime pass. If you currently serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force, or National Guard, you and your dependents qualify for the America the Beautiful Military annual pass for free.
Gold Star Families and veterans are given an America the Beautiful Military lifetime pass for free.
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America the Beautiful Access Lifetime Pass
If you or an immediate family member has a medically determined permanent disability, you can receive the America the Beautiful Access lifetime pass for free. There is no annual pass option.
This pass is only available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship.
Like the senior pass, the access pass also provides a 50% discount on certain amenities and services like camping, swimming, boat launches, and specialized interpretive services.
America the Beautiful 4th Grade Annual Pass
The last type of America the Beautiful interagency pass is for 4th graders. This pass is valid through the school year and the following summer from September to August. Parents must visit the Every Kid Outdoors website to download and print the 4th-grade pass voucher.
Then, parents take their 4th graders and the voucher to a federal recreation site where annual passes are sold to exchange the voucher for a special 4th-grade pass. As long as the 4th grader is in the vehicle, the entire family gets into federal lands for free with this pass.
Save Money When Visiting Our National Treasures With An Annual Pass
We recommend national park enthusiasts purchase the America the Beautiful Interagency annual pass. If you qualify for a volunteer, senior, military, access, or 4th-grade pass, take advantage of the perks and get those special passes. You’ll save money in the long run.
If you have an annual or lifetime interagency pass, how much money has it saved you?