Recently, National Parks have been a trending vacation destination because they tick all the COVID-19-friendly boxes: plenty of fresh air and space to spread out, plus plenty of natural beauty. In 2020, more than 237 million people visited a national park, with 50% of those visits focused on just 23 of the nation's parks. If you plan to join in on the fun this year, we'll help you decide if a National Park Pass is worth the investment for your national park travels.
WHAT IS A NATIONAL PARK PASS?
In long-form, a National Park Pass is called The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This is an annual membership that waives entrance or standard amenity fees at "more than 2,000 recreation areas managed by five federal agencies."
Each pass can have two owners, who need not be related. Said owners and fellow passengers will receive free entrance to parks that charge per-vehicle fees. Where per-person fees are charged, free admission will be granted to pass owners and two guests or three guests if only one of the pass owners is present.
SHOULD I BUY A PASS OR PAY ENTRANCE FEES?
A pass isn't a good idea for all park visitors. You must weigh the cost of the pass against the fees charged by the parks you intend to visit over the next twelve months. Persons under 16 years of age are admitted free without a pass.
Also, note that the standard park passes do not cover or discount charges for facilities or activities on Federal land managed by private entities. Neither are "Expanded Amenity Fees, such as camping, boat launching, parking, special tours, special permits or ferries," covered.
The standard annual National Park Pass is $80. Fees for specific parks vary but are published online. To find park-specific prices visit the park's page on nps.gov. Then, under the Plan Your Visit menu bar, select Basic Information, then Fees and Passes. For example, Yellowstone National Park's seven-day vehicle pass fee is $35.
Some parks also offer a park-specific annual pass. Suppose you intend to visit the same park repeatedly instead of traveling the U.S. and visiting different parks. In that case, you might consider the usually cheaper park-specific pass. Yellowstone's annual pass, for example, is only $70.
Passes for special interest groups are available at discounted prices or no cost. Such groups include federal volunteers, permanently disabled persons, those 62 or older, students in fourth grade, or military members and their families. Some of these passes are available on an annual or lifetime basis.
Special terms and conditions apply to these passes that differ from the standard annual pass. For example, senior passes may provide a discount on certain Expanded Amenity Fees.
Passes are available for purchase in person at select sites that accept passes and online.