American's National Parks Podcast explains National Park Passes. Nature is a great tool for unplugging, grounding, and healing. Explore your national lands today!
Updated Date: Jan 27, 2022
Publish Date: Feb 18, 2021
mhm. It's the time of year when people around the world are planning their adventures to America's national parks on we thought this would be the perfect time to explain one of the things we most commonly get questions about. Annual park passes I'm Jason Epperson, and I'm the host here at the America's National Parks Podcast, as well as the Sea America and the RV Miles podcast. They're all part of the RV Miles network, a resource my wife, Abigail and I have built to help United States travelers get the best out of their journey. Three. Information on today's episode is also available on a video over at the RV miles YouTube channel. If you'd like to check it out there over the next few minutes, we're going to cover all the passes available for the parks. Why? To choose which one and where to get them. So, first of all, what we're actually talking about is an interagency pass. It's not just for national parks. It's a federal pass that gives you access to national parks, Fish and Wildlife service sites, Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, any federal recreation sites. The charge a fee. For the most part, these passes give you access to There are three main types. There's the annual pass, the senior Pass and the access pass. So let me start with the annual pass. The annual pass is available to anybody that wants to purchase one, and it's $80 a year. It gets you and your car load. You plus three adults. Kids 16 and under are free into federal fee charging facilities, including national parks. It doesn't give you any sort of discounts on anything other than that. It just provides admission to parks and other federal sites for a year. There's no real reason to buy one in advance before going to a park. In fact, only about a third of national parks and other sites actually charge a fee to get in. So you might not actually be getting a fee wherever you're going. But there's no reason to buy one before you get to your first destination, because you want that past toe last for, ah, whole year, another 12 months. If you buy it now and you're going on a vacation in a few months, then you're losing three or four months worth of use for it. So buy it at the facility that you get Thio, unless you really want to avoid the lines in advance. And that's really the easiest way to get one. Is that any federal fee charging facility you can buy the past right then and there at the admission gate? So that's the annual past. The annual passes, $80 a year. But it's free for active duty, military and their families. Active duty on Lee There actually is no veterans past. We'll get to that in a moment because there's actually a lot of confusion over that. Volunteers also get a free pass after serving so many hours and fourth graders fourth graders get a free pass, a free annual pass as part of the every kid in a park program. By the way, these air also called the America the Beautiful Pass. You may have also seen that as well. That's what's printed on the card. The names are confusing, and that's part of the confusion that a lot of people have over them. The second pass is the senior pass, which also used to be called the Gold Baggage Pass. The Senior pass provides all the same benefits as the annual pass, but it's $80 lifetime instead of per year. So if you're 62 or older, you can get the senior past for $80 and it will be good for the rest of your life. You can also buy it for $20 for one year, and then each year you spend $20 on it adds up. So once you've purchased four years, you've got your lifetime pass. You turn those in for a lifetime pass. The senior past also provides a couple other benefits, and that mainly is half off camping at federally operated campgrounds. That's a big discount available at most federally operated campgrounds. It's not available at campgrounds that are operated by concessionaires, for the most part, so the very popular campgrounds at places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone that might be operated by a concessionaire or private party. You're not going to get a discount there. There's some places, particularly national force, where you might get that discount if it is run by a concessionaire, but not always, and at National force it is not quite half off. It's actually half off the base rate the camping rate, but if it's an electric site, there's additional fee that you don't get half off of and you might not see that V It might be actually rolled in to the price that is out there. So usually it works out to being about a third off of electric site or a site with hookups at a national forest. The senior pastor also gives you half off tours and other types of fees, like boat ramp fees like dump fees. But mainly, this is really beneficial for things like, If you're going to Carlsbad Caverns and you want to do a cave tour, you're gonna get half off for that. Now that's on Lee for the cardholder. It's not for your whole family. So a lot of seniors, particularly senior couples, you could just buy one senior pass if you're a couple. But if you plan on doing a bunch of tours, it's beneficial to get to one for each of you. That way you could get half off the tours as well. Now the third pass is the access pass, and the access pass provides the exact same benefits as the senior pass. But it is for people who have a disability, and this is any disability at any level. The bar for this is not the same as things like a disabled parking placard. People with learning disabilities could get a federal access past anybody with any disability that is life changing and permanent at any level. So if you have a diagnosis that you can show on paper that says that you are permanently disabled, you can get an access pass for free and you're gonna get the half off camping. You're gonna get half off tours. You're gonna get free admission. And to all those different federal facilities. It's a really fantastic deal. Now there are several articles that get thrown around on the Internet that say veterans can get a free pass to national parks. And what they're really talking about is the access pass, which is only available to disabled veterans. But it's available toe all disabled people. So I'm not sure where the veteran thing comes into play on these articles, but the whole purpose behind it is that all people living with a disability could get an access pass. Now, if you are a disabled veteran and you have a rating. Your VA rating can be shown as the proof that you need to get your access pass. So those are the three main passes and the benefits they provide. Now, how do you get one? So the first place, like I suggested earlier is to go to a National park service site or other federal fee charging facility. Could be a campground could be the entrance to a park, all those sorts of different places. If they have a cash register, they probably sell them. The other place that you could do it is online, and it's at the USGS store store dot USGs dot gov. If you purchase it online, you're gonna get charged a $10 fee. Whether you're getting the annual pass, the senior pastor or the free access past, you're going to get charged a $10 fee for ordering it online, and they'll send it to you in a matter of a few weeks, depending on how backed up they are. So really, the easiest way to do it is to get it at the parks, and I don't quite recommend doing it online, but the only reason that you might want Teoh is a like I said, to avoid lines on that first day that you arrive. But be if you want to book campgrounds in advance and you don't wanna pay full price for them. If you get that card in advance, you can put your number in and get your discount right then and there. Now, if you don't, you can buy the card later on your senior pass or your access pass. Get your half price off and they will give you a refund of the amount you overpaid at the campground. But if you don't want to do that, it might be worthwhile to go ahead and buy it in advance. And it's a really convenient process. When you book online at the Recreation dot gov website, you take your past, you just enter the number on it and you will get your discount right away. So those were the different passes, and I hope that clears up some of the confusion. Some