national park pass

Outdoor Travel Tips USA

IS THE NATIONAL PARK PASS WORTH IT?

WHAT IS THE PARK PASS?

The US National Park Pass, more formally known as the America the Beautiful Pass, is a recreation pass that gets you into any national park, national wildlife refuge, national monument, national forest, or BLM land for FREE. It waves the entrance or day use fee for the area for you and anyone else in your vehicle. There are a few types of passes.

Annual Pass

  • Cost: $80
  • Good for: 1 year
  • Available to: anyone

Annual Senior Pass

  • Cost: $20
  • Good for: 1 year
  • Available to: anyone 62 and over

Lifetime Senior Pass

  • Cost: $80
  • Good for: forever
  • Available to: anyone 62 and over

Military Pass

  • Cost: free
  • Good for: 1 year
  • Available to: active military members

4th grade pass

  • Cost: free
  • Good for: 1 year
  • Available to: US 4th graders

Access pass

  • Cost: free
  • Good for: forever
  • Available to: US citizens with a permanent disability

IS IT WORTH IT?

For the sake of ease, I am just going to discuss the Annual Pass that costs $80. You can go ahead and assume that, if you can get one of the other passes, they are absolutely worth it, 100% of the time. That is not always the case with the Annual Pass.

Annual Passes are only worth the money if you think you will be spending over $80 in a year on park and day use fees. Are you going to Yosemite a couple times and also visiting a lake in your national forest? Will you be going on a road trip and visiting multiple parks?  To find out if the pass is worth it, you need to do a little math and a little guessing.

It is also important to note that the Annual Pass can be signed by two individuals, meaning you can share it with a friend and split the bill. Either of you can use the pass, even if the other is not present.

This year I purchased a pass right before traveling to Zion. I knew I would be frequenting the parks, as well as some local Forest Service areas, and thought it would be worth it. My best friend also signed the pass, although so far he has only taken one trip without me there. Here is my running total for this year:

  • Zion: $30
  • Crater Lake: $15
  • Yosemite: $30
  • Redwoods: $15
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon: $30
  • Numerous day use fees at trail heads, picnic areas, etc. in California and Oregon: ~$40
  • Total so far: $160

I am only six months in and have already doubled my pass’s worth. I still have trips planned to Yosemite, Lassen, Death Valley, and possibly Arches, Canyonlands, and Capital Reef. The pass will pay for itself again and again.

OTHER BENEFITS

The pass’s worth isn’t just in its savings though, it also has a sort of VIP feel to it. Trust me, I never get tired of how cool I feel being waived through a park entrance after flashing my pass.

Also, if you are like me and always determined to get your money’s worth, the pass may act as an inspiration, driving you to get out, visit everywhere you can while it’s paid for, and see places you may otherwise have ignored.

Lastly, if you qualify for a senior or access pass, you also receive up to 50% off of other amenities such as camping. What a freakin’ steal.

SHOULD I GET ONE?

Ask yourself three questions.

  • Will I be visiting the National Park system three or more times this year?
  • Do I have a friend who will split the pass with me?
  • Will having the pass inspire me to get out more?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then do it. Take the plunge, spend the $80, and get adventuring. The National Park Pass will be absolutely worth it. Remember, this money goes to protecting and preserving the lands you love, so even if you buy the pass and never use it, an $80 donation to public lands isn’t bad either.

WHERE CAN I BUY THEM?

You can buy the passes online here or at National Parks, Forest Service and BLM offices, listed here.

 

 

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