It’s time to enjoy the great outdoors! Every year tourists around the world visit a National Park in the United States. Visiting a National Park does come at a price. Here’s how you can get into National Parks for free. Plus, tips for buying a National Parks pass.
What is a National Parks Pass?
National Park passes are called America the Beautiful Passes. These are passes that grant the holder free admission to any National Park for a year. Admission to National Parks varies, but many charge approximately $30 for a seven-day admission pass.
A National Parks Pass covers the pass owner and three (3) accompanying adults age 16+. No entry fee is charged for children 15 and under. Be sure to note that it is granted for an individual, and you’re expected to show your ID with your pass for admission. Each pass can have two “owners”, with two names written on the back of the card.
The pass is a plastic card, similar to a credit card. There are a few different “types” of park passes (i.e. annual, senior, volunteer) and each has a unique look.
How Much Does a National Parks Pass Cost?
Annual America the Beautiful Passes cost $80 a year. There are senior passes available for people who are 62+ years old. Senior passes cost $20 for an annual (one year) pass or $80 for a lifetime pass.
We bought an annual pass on our recent WA State road trip since we were visiting Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier. Each of those parks charges $30 admission, so we got an annual pass for only $20 more. We only need to visit one more park in the next year to have made the pass worthwhile.
Who Can Get a Free National Parks Pass?
It’s exciting that some can get into National Parks for free! Here’s how you could be eligible for a free America the Beautiful Pass.
If you have a 4th grader in your family, you’re eligible to enter National Parks for free with an Every Kid Outdoors Pass. You apply for the pass online, print your unique barcode pass, and present it for free entry to National Parks. (Note, you must present the paper Every Kid Outdoors pass for entry.)
You’re considered eligible for this pass your entire 4th grade school year and the summer after (September to August). This pass is also available for home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age. Passes are barcoded and unique to the child, so the pass can’t be loaned or borrowed by others.
4th-grade teachers (and camp/youth group leaders) can also apply for complimentary passes for their students. Educators can enroll at the Every Kid Outdoors site and print up to 300 passes for their individual students.
If you’re a current U.S. military member (and/or dependent) in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard (including Reserve and National Guard members) you’re eligible for a free National Parks Pass. A Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID will be used for issuing the pass.
The Access Pass is available for free to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants will need to provide documentation of permanent disability and residency/citizenship.
Give back and earn a free National Parks pass! If you volunteer for 250+ service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program you can be eligible for a free National Parks Volunteer Pass.
How to Buy a National Parks Pass
One of the easiest ways to buy a National Parks Pass is at an entrance booth to a National Park/NPS site. Not all National Parks (and sites) sell the passes, so check this list to find which recreation sites sell passes.
Also, you can also buy a pass online at the USGS store. Keep in mind that you need to allow 5-10 days for shipping (there are expedited shipping options at an added cost). There are processing fees for buying passes online, $5 for the annual pass, and $10 for a senior or access pass.
You might also be able to order a pass by phone or by mail (for senior or access passes). Some REI stores sell America the Beautiful Passes, however, call ahead as our local store was sold out this summer.
Tips for America the Beautiful Passes
- Passes are eligible for one year through the end of the month when issued. So, if you buy your pass at the beginning of the month, you’ll get a few additional weeks of admission the following year. We bought our pass on August 10th, and it’ll be good through August 31st the following year.
- Passes can be “owned” by two people, so you could share the cost with a friend or family member who is traveling on different dates. You don’t have to be related or live at the same residence to share a pass.
- An annual NPS pass is a good idea if you’re planning to visit three or more National Park sites in a year. Most of the leading National Parks charge around $30 for admission for seven days, so visiting three parks in a year would mean a $10 savings. Some parks charge more or less, and some recreation sites don’t charge an admission fee.
- If you’re only visiting one National Park for multiple trips, look into getting an annual pass for that specific park. It will cost a bit less.
I hope this info and tips were helpful. Have fun on your National Park adventure!