You’re Wasting Money If You Don’t Have a National Parks Pass

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America the beautiful pass shown in front of redwoods national park

America’s national parks are among the country’s greatest treasures. From the swamps of the Everglades to the deserts of Big Bend or the mountains of Yellowstone, these preserved spaces protect some of the nation’s most breathtaking landscapes and cultural sites.

These days, visiting them is cheaper and more accessible than ever, thanks to the popular National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. Let’s explore what this valuable deal means for your travel plans. 

What Is the U.S. Parks Pass?

The annual National Parks Pass is officially known as The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

However, you may hear it referred to as the U.S. Park Pass, the America the Beautiful Pass, the National Park Annual Pass, and others.

The pass provides access to national parks and other National Park Service properties to pass holders and those visiting with them. 

What Does the America the Beautiful Pass Cover?

In short, the America the Beautiful Pass grants free admission to a vast number of National Park Service sites across the country to pass holders and their guests. According to the National Park Service, this includes three adults plus the pass holder at parks that charge per person. 

Kids under 16 are always free, so they don’t count toward this limit. In parks that charge per vehicle, the pass admits everyone in your non-commercial vehicle, including RVs and motorhomes. Two people traveling on separate motorcycles can also enter on one pass.

Each pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchase. You can find the validity date on your pass, so you don’t forget. 

Keep in Mind: Are the Washington national parks worth visiting? Save your time and read this before visiting.

Where Does the America the Beautiful Pass Work?

While most folks may focus on the access granted to America’s more than 60 national parks, this is just a tiny fraction of what the national parks pass offers.

Pass holders can enjoy unlimited free access to national monuments, national historic sites, and other NPS properties. More than 2,000 federal recreation sites accept the America the Beautiful pass. So no matter where you are, you’ll likely find one nearby. 

A national parks pass on a car mirror.

What Does the America the Beautiful Pass Cost?

There are a few different varieties of America the Beautiful passes. Your price may vary depending on which one you’re eligible for. Here are the different types and who can get them. 

Annual Pass

This is the garden variety pass available to anyone. Two people can sign it, allowing them to use it independently. Standard annual passes cost $80 per year. 

Three people who are sitting on a log looking out at a lake in a national park.

Military Pass

Are you or an immediate family member an active or retired military member?

In recognition of your service, the NPS offers free passes with all the benefits of regular annual ones.

Members of the military reserves and Gold Star family members can also receive this one. 

Military member receiving the free military national park pass.

4th Grade Pass

National parks can be an incredible educational opportunity, so NPS has created a special pass for 4th graders.

All 4th graders (or ten-year-old students in alternative learning systems) can receive the “Every Kid Outdoors” pass for free.

They last from the beginning of the school year in September until the following August. 

Two children with their mom at a national park using a 4th grade parks pass.

Senior Pass

Those enjoying their golden years can also get a special National Parks pass.

The $20 annual one is available to visitors over the age of 62, who can also purchase a lifetime pass for just $80.

Applicants need to be United States citizens or permanent residents. 

An elderly couple walking in a national park during winter.

Access Pass

The National Park Service makes it easier for disabled Americans to visit parks with a special pass.

By providing documentation of their disability, they can receive a free lifetime pass to all NPS sites that accept the traditional one.

Like the senior access, pass holders must be United States citizens or permanent residents. 

Keep in Mind: There are many national parks to choose from, but exactly how many national parks are in the US? Find out here!

A man in a wheelchair enjoying a walk through a national park overlooking a river with his wife.

Volunteer Pass

Are you a dedicated volunteer for federal outdoors agencies? If so, you may receive a free annual national parks pass.

Applicants must complete 250 hours or more of volunteer time with the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, or National Park Service.

Volunteers can obtain the pass from their coordinator or supervisor.

Volunteer ranger with her arms up at the opening gate of Yellowstone which is covered in snow.

How Much Does It Cost to Visit the US National Parks Without a Pass?

The answer will vary depending on your mode of transportation and activities. The price to visit a national park varies for each traveler.

Most parks charge $20-35 per vehicle or $10-20 per person. Some have motorcycle rates, and many parks also offer park-specific annual passes that range from $20 to $70. Of course, this is just admission.

Visiting national parks often requires at least one night of accommodations, meals, transportation, and other expenses. Factor in these costs as well when planning your national park vacation. 

Does a National Park Pass Save You Money?

For some travelers, the annual National Park Pass can be an incredible deal that saves them a ton of money.

At $80 each, the pass pays for itself with as few as three park visits (at $30 per vehicle).

Beyond this, every visit is essentially free, making it a significant money saver for those who travel frequently or make many national park visits.

This math is even more favorable for senior passes and naturally better for free lifetime pass holders with the military or Access pass. 

Woman in her car taking photos after entering a national park with her parks pass.

Where Can I Buy a National Park Pass?

You can buy a National Parks Pass nearly everywhere you can use it.

Many parks or other NPS sites will sell some standard passes, allowing you to start using it immediately.

You can also get one online from the federal government or from some private outdoors retailers like REI. 

Is the US National Park Pass Worth Buying?

You can’t dispute that the National Park Pass can save you tons of money, not to mention the convenience it provides. But remember that it may not be worth it for everyone. For those who rarely go to national parks, it may make more financial sense to pay a la carte rather than for unlimited entry. 

Still, it’s not hard to make the pass pay for itself, whether you’ll make regular visits to your nearby park or travel around the country exploring new ones. Will you get an America the Beautiful Pass this year?

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