Whether you're from the US or planning a visit to some of the nations best sights, consider a National Parks Annual Pass. Good for more than just the National Parks themselves, the annual pass at the current price of $80 US is a great deal.
With an average entrance fee of $25 to $30 at each National Park, a vacation that includes three parks and monuments and/or historical sites can easily cover the cost of the pass.
The official name of the annual pass is America the Beautiful The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass or Interagency Annual Pass. It covers entrance fees at over 2,000 recreation areas across the United States, while 100% of the proceeds are utilized for the improvement and enhancement of visitor services.
Basic Information about the National Parks Annual Pass
The pass is valid for a full 12 months from the purchase date. It will grant access to the pass holder and their passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle. Where the site may charge an admission fee per person, the pass admits the owner and three accompanying adults over 16 (15 and under are always exempt from fees).
Passes can have two owners, so you and a spouse, friend, relative, co-worker, etc., can share the pass and split the cost. You'll need to show the pass with valid identification, so you'll want to be sure you share it with someone you can easily share the pass back and forth with.
If you're current US military or their dependent, you qualify for a free annual pass. Details are on the USGS website. Other types of discounted or free passes include Access (for permanently disabled) and Volunteer Pass (earned with 250 or more hours of volunteer service in public lands).
Senior Citizen Pass
US Citizens or permanent US residents who are 62 years old or over are eligible to purchase a lifetime Senior Pass for only $10 US (as of Summer 2015). I was planning to add my mother to my annual pass when the representative asked if she was over 62, and told me about the options for a senior citizen lifetime pass. For seniors who are retired and RVing around the United States, you can't beat this benefit.
Downsides to the National Parks Annual Pass
Be careful with your pass, as its not replaceable if its lost or stolen. You'll have to fork over another $80 to replace your lost/stolen current one. The only upside is you'll start with a fresh 12 months to use it.
The passes cannot be used at state parks or local recreation sites. While its name includes Interagency, its not reciprocal at state parks and recreation areas. The five Federal agencies included in the pass are:
- National Park Service (NPS)
- USDA Forest Service
- Fish and Wildlife Service
- Bureau of Reclamation
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
If you've already paid entrance at another park, there is typically no upgrade option. You may be able to visit another National Park within 7 days of your original visit to ask for an upgrade, but it seems its not a guarantee. And, if you're like me and visit a park that doesn't sell them, you'll have to pay $25 or $30 and then buy the pass at another location.
The annual pass doesn't include expanded amenity fees like camping, boat launching, parking, tours and permits. Some parks have private concessionaries that manage services at the parks and those are not covered in the annual pass fee either. Some discounts are included for the Senior and Military passes check the official website for details.
How to Obtain a National Parks Annual Pass
If you know you're planning a road trip visiting multiple National Parks, order your pass online ahead of time. This way you are guaranteed to have the pass at your first park location and not be forced to buy entrance and an annual pass later on. Expedited shipping is available if you need the pass within a short period of time. If your pass doesn't arrive in time, you can still purchase a pass at a National Park and return the unsigned one from the Internet for a refund.
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