The National Park Pass, also known as the America the Beautiful or an interagency pass, can be a pricey annual investment and you’re probably wondering if it’s worth it and if it will actually save you money.
We break it down for you including national park annual pass types, cost, who qualifies for a free or discounted national parks pass, what benefits are included, how to make the most of your investment, and when it makes sense to buy an annual national park pass.
Is America the Beautiful pass the same as a national park pass?
The National Park Pass is known by a few names and it can be confusing. Don’t be confused.
America the Beautiful pass is the exact same as an annual National Parks Pass and the names are used interchangably. The America the Beautiful pass is also called an interagency pass. A lifetime National Park Pass is also called an Access pass and it is available only for qualified applicants.
What is included in the America the Beautiful National Park Pass?
A national park passes cover entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as day-use fees at national forests and grasslands and on lands managed by the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers.
As of 2022, there are more than 2,000 qualifying sites that accept America the Beautiful national park pass. Signs posted at these sites and on their websites will clearly state if interagency passes are accepted.
We’ve used our pass as the traditional National Park but also on kayaking or swimming trips to local lakes. It’s saved us money at hiking and biking trailheads on federally managed property.
If you plan to travel the US and enjoy outdoor activities then the annual pass will definitely come in handy more than you realize.
One pass is valid for all passengers in a non-commercial vehicle, up to 4 adults, at locations charging per vehicle entrance fees. The NPS FAQs go into much more detail about acceptable combinations of cyclists, motorcycles, large families and more.
At locations with a per person fee, the national park pass will generally provide admission for up to 4 adults. Admission for children under 16 years old is free at National Park sites.
The national park annual pass does not cover expanded amenity fees such as camping, tours or special recreation permits. Additionally, reservation fees and fees for organized groups or concession-operated facilities or activities may not be included. An access pass such as disabled, senior or veteran does often provide 50% discount on camping fees at federally owned campgrounds.
National Park Pass Types including Costs
There are numerous types of annual and lifetime national park pass types. Some are even free if you qualify.
- Annual – $80
- National Park Pass for Senior Citizens
- Senior Lifetime – $80 one time
- Senior Annual – $20
- Lifetime Access Pass for Disabled – lifetime free
- Military National Park Passes
- Active Military & their dependents – one year free
- Veterans – lifetime free
- Gold Star Families – lifetime free
- 4th Graders – one year free
- Volunteers – one year free
Annual National Park Pass
Most visitors will probably be interested in annual America the Beautiful National park pass. It’s the standard annual park pass.
It costs $80 annually and is valid for 2 pass holders (do not have to be related parties). This means two households could share one pass if they don’t need to use it at the same time. For more ways to maximize your pass benefits, skip here.
Full benefit details of the annual America the Beautiful National Park Pass are here.
Senior passes are a subcategory of National Park or interagency passes. They are only available to qualified applicants.
US citizens and permanent residents 62 and older are eligible for the lifetime or annual America the Beautiful National Park Pass for seniors. Proof of residency status and age is required.
The benefits of a senior or access pass far exceed those of an annual national park pass so take advantage if you qualify.
In addition to the standard benefits, access pass holders receive discounts on amenity fees at federally owned sites. Camping, boating and swimming fees are commonly discounted by 50% for access pass holders. Tours and other services generally offer discounts as well if you qualify for a National Park Senior or Access Pass.
The lifetime annual national park pass is well worth it if you love to camp and spend time at federal recreation sites.
Lifetime America the Beautiful National Park Pass for Seniors
America the Beautiful National Park Pass for seniors is often officially called a Senior pass or I’ve heard seniors unofficially call it the Old Age pass.
The discounted national park pass for seniors has changed in recent years but it’s still a great deal. Prior to 2017, a lifetime senior national park pass could be purchased for $10. That’s right $10 for a lifetime pass. And the price hadn’t changed since 1994.
However, Congress passed a price increase in 2017 for the lifetime National Park Senior pass from $10 one-time fee to $80. They reasoned the value of the benefits was much greater than $10 and I tend to agree. Existing $10 lifetime senior passes are still valid for the lifetime of the pass holder.
The senior access pass works like all other national park passes and is valid for everyone traveling in the same car with the pass holder. The America the Beautiful National Park Pass for Seniors, also known as an Access Pass, also has the added benefit of providing discounts at federally owned campgrounds.
Access pass holders are eligible to receive up to a 50% discount on camping and other amenity fees (tours, swimming, boating) at participating locations.
Annual America the Beautiful National Park Pass for Seniors
What if you don’t want a lifetime pass? Or don’t have the money to fork out $80 at one time for a lifetime national park pass for seniors?
Seniors can purchase an annual Senior national park pass for $20. Plus after 4 consecutive years of passes, they can be exchanged for a lifetime pass. It’s like a payment plan for our seniors to enjoy the national parks.
America the Beautiful National Park Access Pass for Disabled Citizens
Permanently disabled citizens (regardless of age) are eligible for a free lifetime National Park Access Pass.
A permanent disability is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
This pass functions much like the senior pass but without any application fees. Access pass holders receive all of the benefits of an annual national park pass holder plus discounts on amenity fees like camping, boating and tours. Many federally owned campgrounds provide access holders with a 50% discount on camping fees.
Applicants must show proof of a permanent medical disability such as a statement from a licensed physician or government agency (VA, SSDI, or SSI). The applicant does not need to be 100% disabled to qualify for an access pass.
Military National Park Pass
Those who have served or are serving in our military are eligible for free Military national park passes. Passes provide the same benefits as an annual park pass.
The online national park pass application process for military can be confusing but totally worth it. However if given the choice, I’d recommend applying in person at a park site instead of applying online.
America the Beautiful National Park Pass for Military
Current members of the US military are eligible for an interagency Military National Park Pass.
More specifically the following groups are eligible:
- Current members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force and National Guard with valid DoD CAC card
- Dependents of current U.S. military members with valid DD Form 1173
- U.S. Military Cadets
- U.S. Active Reservists (Do not need to be deployed)
- Dependents of deployed US Reservists
The following individuals/groups DO NOT Qualify for the annual Interagency Military Annual Pass:
- Foreign military members (Including those stationed in the US with a CAC card)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees
- Public Health Service (PHS) members
- Inactive US Reservists
- Civilian military contractors
- Civilian military employees
America the Beautiful National Park Pass for Veterans & Gold Star Families
In 2021, President Biden approved legislation for veteran and Gold Star families to receive a lifetime National Park Pass.
Until the new lifetime passes are widely available, veterans and gold star families can continue to apply for and use the annual military pass.
Applications for qualifying individuals can be submitted online or in person. Proof of eligibility is required.
Lifetime National Park Pass for Veterans
Veterans are those who served in the US Armed Forces including the National Guard and Reserves. Acceptable forms of proof are unexpired:
- Department of Defense ID card (CAC card, DD Form 2, DD Form 2765)
- Veteran Health ID Car (VHIC)
- Veteran ID Card
- Veterans designation on a state-issued ID or driver’s license
Lifetime National Park Pass for Gold Star Families
Gold Star families have lost a family member serving with the United States Armed Forces in a qualifying situation.
Prior to visiting a National Park site to apply for their national park pass, eligible families should complete the Gold Star Voucher.
America the Beautiful National Park Pass for 4th graders
All 4th graders in the US are eligible for a free National Park Pass including 10-year-old homeschooled and free-choice learners. Passes are valid from September to August including the 4th grade school year and the following summer. It is worth your time to get a free national park pass when your kids are eligible.
Many public school curriculums build in the requirements and National Park Pass application process. If not then, visit this NPS site to complete the activity and print your voucher. Digital copies of the voucher are not accepted so make sure you print a copy.
Benefits for 4th-grade passes are the same as an annual America the Beautiful National Park pass. That means the 4th-grade national park pass will provide admission to everyone in the vehicle to over 2,000 federally-managed sites.
America the Beautiful National Park Pass for Volunteers
America the Beautiful volunteer pass is one of my favorites. I love that you can’t buy it but instead have to earn it by contributing your time and skills to our National Parks or their sister agencies.
Volunteers with over 250 service hours at an interagency participating location are eligible for a free annual park pass.
Benefits are the same as the paid Annual America the Beautiful national park pass.
Discounts on National Park Pass
There are a few ways to get discounts on National Park Pass and you might qualify.
Free national park passes are available to federal volunteers with 250 service hours, all US 10-year-olds or 4th graders, military members, military veterans, Gold Star families and permanently disabled American residents.
Senior citizens are eligible to purchase a lifetime pass for the price of an annual pass, which is a great discount on the national parks pass.
If you don’t fall into any of these categories, discounts on the national parks pass are not common.
Actually, if you want to get a discount you’ll have to rely on credit card rewards or other incentive programs (like REI co-op cash back for members) for your purchase since the NPS does not sell discounted national park passes. You’ll get a net discount on your national park pass after cashback rewards but the NPS will still get their full price.
Where can I buy an America the Beautiful National Park Pass?
There are numerous ways to purchase your annual national park pass.
I’ve seen them being sold in gas station vending machines (random Cito 20 miles outside the Grand Canyon South entrance), at sporting goods stores, online and at federal recreation sites including National Parks.
In my opinion, the best way to purchase a national parks pass is in person.
Most allow credit card payments so you can still earn points/miles/cashback.
Check here for sites that sell interagency passes.
The benefit of purchasing in person is saving time and headache. The card is activated when it’s purchased so you get the full 12 months of benefits. Plus if your vacation gets canceled or delayed, you haven’t wasted precious unused time on your annual pass by prepurchasing.
If you qualify for a discount or free card, confirm the site issues them. Also, remember to bring your qualifying documentation.
The National Park Pass can be also purchased online.
The official online marketplace for passes is thru the USGS online store. All types of passes are available online once qualifying documentation is submitted electronically.
A $10 convenience fee applies to all online purchases.
Remember to allow 10 business days for delivery. Receipts or confirmations are not valid for entry so you’ll need to receive your actual pass before your trip.
Annual America the Beautiful passes are also available at REI. No discounted or free passes, including senior, military and access, are issued at REI. An annual national park pass can be purchased in-store or online at REI. Multiple forms of payment are accepted including REI gift cards. Allow delivery time if purchasing online.
National Park Pass List of Included Sites
The America the Beautiful pass is valid for entrance fees at over 2000 federally-owned recreation sites across the US maintained by the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers.
This includes National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests and Wildlife Refuges.
If you need a little inspiration, we’ll share some of our favorites and America’s Favorites, the most visited national parks in 2021.
As of today, we have visited 29 of the 64 National Parks and numerous more NPS-managed sites like National Monuments. A few of our favorites have been Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Utah’s Big 5 and Grand Staircase Escalante.
Most Visited National Parks in 2021
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Zion National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Acadia National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Indiana Dunes National Park
Will a National Park Pass save me money?
If you plan to visit 3 or more paid federal recreation sites within one year then a national park pass will probably save you money. Some sites are free to visit like the Great Smoky Mountains but the popular Western parks’ admission prices range from $20-$35 per vehicle. Skip to our full list of 2022 National Park admission prices.
Free National Park Entry Days
Each year the National Parks offer free park admission on certain days for all visitors. This is a great way to try a nearby park before you buy a national park pass.
- 17 January (Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday)
- 16 April (the first day of National Parks Week)
- 4 August (the anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act)
- 24 September (National Public Lands Day)
- 11 November (Veterans’ Day)
How to get the best value from the America the Beautiful National Park Pass?
We’ve been national park pass holders since we hit the road full time in our RV in 2019. I realize $80 is a lot of money so let’s talk about how to squeeze the most value of your national park pass purchase and make it all worth it.
National park passes are valid for one year after purchase. Therefore, time your purchase for when you need it.
I recommend buying your pass at the entrance gate to your first destination. Check here for sites that sell interagency passes.
If you order online a month before your vacation, then you’re only getting 11 months of benefits.
Share is Caring
This recommendation is only if you can’t otherwise afford your own national park pass.
Annual national park passes are valid for two individuals and the pass holders don’t have to be related. Each pass holder signs the back of the card and either pass holder can use it at any time without the other present. You will be requested to show your ID to prove you are one of the pass holders.
For instance, friends or family planning separate trips could share a single national park pass. One person from each group would sign the card and be the pass holder for their trip. This would only work if the two groups don’t ever need to use the pass at the same time and each pass holder must escort their group when visiting parks.
However, if you can afford it, then I would love to see our dollars go towards supporting the amazing National Parks with as many passes as possible.
Apply if you Qualify
Many Americans qualify for a free or discounted annual national park pass. Check out the types of passes to see if you qualify. If so, don’t pay full price, you should absolutely apply for your discounted or free pass.
Take it with you everywhere
Once you buy a national park pass, take it with you everywhere. We’ve been pleasantly surprised to find trails, lakes and more that accept interagency passes to cover entrance fees. If we didn’t have our national park pass with us, we would have paid out of pocket.
When visiting a new site, flash your America the Beautiful card and ask if they accept it. You’ve got nothing to lose.
Sometimes they do and you save yourself admission fees. Sometimes they even offer unadvertised discounts for interagency pass holders.
List of National Parks with Admission Fees
Some National Parks do not charge admission fees so you will not need a National Park Pass. Here is a complete list of US National Park admission fees so you can determine if a national park pass is worth it.
National Park passes work in all national parks including popular sites like Yellowstone and Zion. Some sites required timed entry tickets during the busy season so check NPS status when planning your vacation.
Parks with Entrance Fee Per Vehicle
The most common model of National Park Fee is an admission or entrance fee charged per vehicle including up to 4 adults. They can be easily purchased at the entrance gates to any national park charging fees.
The national park entrance fees are not generally transferrable to other parks, even neighboring parks. Be sure to ask before paying your next national park entrance or admission fee.
Park admission fees are valid for 7 days from the date of purchase.
Annual park-specific passes are available for less than America the Beautiful pass if you live near one park and visit it regularly. However, if you are visiting more than three of these parks, the annual $80 national park pass fee is worth it.
National Park entrance fees as of 2022 are as follows:
- Grand Canyon National Park – $35 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Petrified Forest National Park – $25 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Saguaro National Park – $25 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park – $35 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Yosemite National Park – $35 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Joshua Tree National Park -$30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Lassen Volcanic National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Pinnacles National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Great Sand Dunes National Park -$25 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Rocky Mountain National Park -$25 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park -$30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Mesa Verde National Park – $30 (summer) or $20 (winter) entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Everglades National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Haleakalā National Park -$30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park -$30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Yellowstone National Park – $35 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Acadia National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Glacier National Park – $35 (summer) or $25 (winter) entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days admission
- Death Valley National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- North Dakota
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park- $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Crater Lake National Park – $30 (summer) or $20 (winter) entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- South Dakota
- Badlands National Park- $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Big Bend National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Arches National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Canyonlands National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Capitol Reef National Park – $20 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Bryce Canyon National Park – $35 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Zion National Park- $35 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Shenandoah National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Mount Rainier National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Olympic National Park – $30 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
- Grand Tetons National Park- $35 entrance fee per vehicle for 7 days of admission
Parks with Entrance Fee per Person
Some national parks do not charge a vehicle fee but instead charge a per-person entrance fee.
National Park Pass holders receive free admission for up to four adults to the federally owned recreation sites listed below with daily entrance fees.
With 4 adults, these entrance fees can add up quickly. A few visits to any of these sights might make your national park pass worth it.
- Denali – $15 per person
- Dry Tortugas – $15 per person
- Isle Royale – $7 per person
- Gateway Arch – $3 per person
- New Mexico
- Carlsbad Caverns – $15 per person
- Guadalupe Mountains – $10 per person
Parks with No Entrance Fees
Some National Parks do not charge any entrance fees so if you are planning to visit any of these the National Parks pass may not save you money or be worth it.
In my experience, these parks do not charge fees because it is not possible or logical. Some of the parks are very remote with multiple entrance options (North Cascades), spread across large geographic areas sharing fuzzy boundaries with State Parks and towns (Redwoods or Great Smoky Mountains), fees are collected for tours (Wind Cave), or they are integrated into a town or public use highway that logistically makes collecting fees impossible (Hot Springs).
- Gates of the Artic
- Glacier Bay
- Kenai Fjords
- Kobuk Valley
- Lake Clark
- Wrangell- St Elias
- Hot Springs
- Virgin Islands
- Channel Islands
- Indiana Dunes
- Great Basin
- North Carolina/Tennessee
- Great Smoky Mountains
- Cuyahoga Valley
- South Dakota
- Wind Cave (charge applies to tours)
- South Carolina
- South Pacific
- American Samoa
- North Cascades
Is the annual national park pass worth it?
An annual national park pass might not be worth it for many people. It only makes financial sense to buy an annual national park pass if you plan to visit at least 3 paid sites each year or if you are happy to donate the difference to federal recreation agencies. Your fees go towards maintaining these wonderful protected areas for the enjoyment of future generations.
I love my National Park Pass but we travel full time and regularly chose locations specifically to visit a National Park site. And since I’ve already paid for my national park pass, I feel like the more sites I visit the more it’s worth it.
Honestly, if you have an annual national park pass you might also be inspired to plan more trips to make the investment worth it. In my opinion, that’s a “risk” I’m willing to take. Plus I know my money is going to an organization, the National Park Service, that has provided me a lifetime of entertainment, beautiful destinations and education.