Buying a national park pass will set you back $80 that you might have been thinking about using for other activities during your park visit. But it’ll also give you access to national parks and more for an entire year.
To help you make your decision, we’re breaking down what you need to know about national park annual passes.
What Kinds of Passes Are Available?
There are several types of national park passes available, although most are only allotted to visitors who meet certain requirements.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
The only national park pass that’s available to anyone, the America the Beautiful Pass is the most popular option for visitors. For just $80, you’ll get access to hundreds of federal recreation sites, including all 418 national park sites and 61 national parks, for a full year.
Unlike other passes on this list, you don’t even have to be a citizen to purchase this pass. This makes it ideal for visitors planning to see several parks during their vacation.
The American the Beautiful Annual Pass can hold two cardholder names. For those entering the park in a vehicle, the pass covers the vehicle fee or individual entrance fee for one cardholder and three passengers.
Annual Pass for U.S. Military
This annual pass offers all of the same benefits as the America the Beautiful Annual Pass but is available to current U.S. military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. It is also available to those in the Reserves and the National Guard.
To obtain this pass, you’ll need to present a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID at any of the locations that issue national park passes.
Available to any U.S. citizens or permanent residents aged 62 or older, the Senior Pass is available as a lifetime or annual pass. The Lifetime Senior Pass is $80, while the Annual Season Pass is $20. If you purchase four Annual Senior Passes and keep your cards, you can exchange them for a lifetime pass.
The Lifetime and Annual Senior Passes give cardholders access to the same sites as the America the Beautiful pass. But you’ll also get other benefits, like a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees, like camping, swimming, boat launches, and more.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents with a permanent disability may be eligible for the Access Pass. The Access Pass provides all of the same perks and benefits as the Lifetime and Annual Senior Passes. In order to obtain this pass, you’ll need to provide documentation of a permanent disability, as well as your residency or citizenship.
Annual 4th Grade Pass
Another free pass is the Annual 4th Grade Pass. Part of the Every Kid in a Park initiative, U.S. 4th graders and home-schooled or free-choice learners who are 10 years of age can get a free annual pass good for entrance into all federal recreation sites that the America the Beautiful Annual Pass provides access for.
To get the 4th Grade pass, students and their parents need to go online to the Every Kid Outdoors website to print a paper pass. The pass can then be exchanged for a pass at any park entrance that sells annual passes.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Parks Without a Pass?
While the America the Beautiful Pass will cost you more than a single visit to most of the national parks that charge an entrance fee, if you plan to visit more than once–or more than one–it’s well worth the investment.
Here’s what you can expect to pay at some of the most popular parks in the country if you don’t have a pass:
- Arches: $30 per vehicle/$15 per person/$55 for a park-specific annual pass
- Badlands: $25 per vehicle/$15 per person/$55 for a park-specific annual pass
- Bryce Canyon: $35 per vehicle/$12 per person/$50 for a park-specific annual pass
- Canyonlands: $30 per vehicle/$15 per person/$55 for a park-specific annual pass
- Capitol Reef: $20 per vehicle/$10 per person/$35 for a park-specific annual pass
- Death Valley: $30 per vehicle/$15 per person/ $55 for a park-specific annual pass
- Grand Canyon: $35 per vehicle/$20 per person/$70 for a park-specific annual pass
- Joshua Tree: $30 per vehicle/$15 per person/$55 for a park-specific annual pass
- Yellowstone: $35 per vehicle/$20 per person/$70 for a park-specific annual pass
- Yosemite: $35 per vehicle/$20 per person/$70 for a park-specific annual pass
- Zion: $35 per vehicle/$20 per person/$70 for a park-specific annual pass
Many national parks do not charge an entrance fee, so you’ll get into these for free whether you have an annual pass or not.
Deciding Whether an Annual Pass is a Good Investment
If you do not qualify for a free annual pass, it’s a good idea to take a look at the national parks you plan to visit during the course of a year to decide whether or not a pass would be a good investment. Look at the entire year ahead of you, and make a list of parks you might visit. Then, check to see if the parks have an entrance fee, and what it will cost you. If you think you’ll visit a park more than once, be sure to list it more than once as well. Unless you visit again within 7 days of your first visit, you will have to pay the gate fee again.
In most cases, if you plan to visit a national park with an entrance fee at least 3 times over the course of a year, an annual pass can help you save some money!