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A US National Park Pass covers entrance fees to over 2000 parks and recreation sites across the United States, allowing travelers money-saving access to some of America’s most beautiful public lands. If you plan to visit any National Parks and Federal Recreation Sites during the next year, you should consider purchasing a pass. For some lucky folks, that pass will be heavily discounted or free. And if you’re a member of one group, you should hurry and get that pass right away.
Read on for details on who should get a US National Park Pass, the best time to get one, and why some of you should buy now.
How a US National Park Pass Works
The National Park Pass, also known as the America the Beautiful Pass, is purchased for a one-time fee, then used throughout the National Parks and Federal Recreation Land system until the pass expires. The system includes national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, BLM lands, and other federally managed land.
Arrive at a site that charges an entrance fee, show your valid pass and ID, and your entry fee is waived. If you’re traveling with a group, your pass covers everyone in your vehicle (up to four adults if the site fee is per person). There are Annual Passes, which expire one year from the month of purchase, and Lifetime Passes available to specific groups.
You can purchase the pass at many of the parks and sites that charge fees. Instead of paying the normal entry fee, tell the ranger that you want to buy an annual pass. Pay for and sign the pass and the ranger will mark it to show the month of purchase. Your pass is now good until the end of the month one year from your purchase.
US National Park Pass Costs
The price of a US National Park Pass depends on whether you fall into any of the special categories that qualify for a discounted or free pass. Follow the links for details on eligibility and ordering the pass.
- Everyone can purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80.
- Current US military members and their dependents can get a free Annual Pass for US Military.
- 4th Graders can get a free Annual 4th Grade Pass as part of the Every Kid in a Park Program.
- Seniors 62 and over can purchase a $10 lifetime Senior Pass, but the price will increase in 2017.
- Citizens with a permanent disability qualify for the free Access Pass.
When to Get Your US National Park Pass
Depending on the type of pass, you may be able to order your pass online or by mail, but you can also pick it up in person at site locations that issue the pass. In Northern Virginia, for example, you can get your pass at Great Falls Park, Prince William Forest, or Shenandoah National Park, along with many other locations.
Seniors: Get Your US National Park Pass NOW
In 2016, Congress approved legislation to raise the price of a Senior Pass, and that price hike is coming in 2017. When the fee change is enacted, cost of the lifetime Senior Pass will increase to $80. Alternatively, seniors will be able to buy an annual pass for $20, which can later be applied to the lifetime fee.
$10 for lifetime access to national parks and federal lands is an unbelievable deal for Seniors. If you are 62 or older get your pass now. The date of the price increase has not been announced, but you should buy your lifetime Senior Pass as soon as you can.
Families with 4th Graders: Get Your Pass in September
The 4th Grade Pass is good for one year—when your student enters 4th grade in September through August of the following summer. Your student has to pick up the pass in person, and there is a little online pre-work (4th Grade Pass details). If you live near a participating park, it makes sense to get your pass in September to have a full year of use.
General Public: Buy Your Pass When You Visit a Park
You can buy your pass online or at many park sites. Unless you fall under one of the special categories, we suggest buying an annual pass in person. Since your pass is activated at time of purchase, it makes sense to time that with your first visit to get maximum time before it expires. Order online if you will need the pass at a park that does not sell them. If you travel as a couple or family in the same vehicle, you generally only need to buy one pass.
No Pass Needed on Fee-Free Days
You won’t need a US National Park Pass or cash to enter sites on annual Free Entrance Days. These fee-free days encourage visitors to head to a park on some holidays, National Park Week, Kids to Parks Day, and other times.
Even if you are paying the full $80 for your US National Park Pass you are getting a great deal as long as you plan to visit a few parks over the year. In Northern Virginia, we make regular visits to Great Falls Park ($10) and Shenandoah National Park ($25). It doesn’t take long to recoup our $80 purchase. We’re also happy that our dollars contribute to our beautiful national parks, one of America’s greatest assets.
If you have any tips or caveats about the US National Park Pass, please share them in the comments below. Thank you and happy travel!