“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”


Those words are just as true today as they were the day FDR uttered them. The parks belong to us. In keeping with that, the National Park Service has made the parks more accessible and affordable to everyone by creating a line of park passes called America the Beautiful the National Parks and Federal Recreational Land Pass passes. There are several options to choose from in the series. What is the America the Beautiful pass and which version is right for you?


How the America the Beautiful Pass Works

Typically, when you enter a national park unit, the park collect a per vehicle fee. The fee varies from park to park but it’s usually around $20. If you choose to purchase the America the Beautiful pass for $80, the pass covers the entrance fee of you and whoever is in your vehicle and your entrance fee to more than 2,000, yes, 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country for 12 months from that date. That means in a year’s time, you can access any National Park, Monument, Battlefield, Refuge, Historic Site and more, included in the interagency system, as many times as you like, for just $80.

2018 America the Beautiful Pass

In addition to the National Park Service, here’s a list of the other agencies that honor the pass:

U.S. Forest Service: https://www.fs.fed.us/
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: https://www.fws.gov/
Bureau of Land Management: https://www.blm.gov/
Bureau of Reclamation: https://www.usbr.gov/
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: https://www.usace.army.mil/

How Does the Pass Save You Money?

The America the Beautiful pass saves you money on your entrance fees and day use fees. Let’s take a look at Utah for example. Utah has 13 National Park sites that include the Mighty 5 of Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Arches. Most people planning a park trip try to see at least those five, if not more, park units. So if you made it to just the Mighty 5 and didn’t have the pass, it would cost $125, total, to enter those parks. It you purchased the America the Beautiful pass, you only be out the $80 on the pass. One summer, my daughter and I visited nine parks, including those five Utah parks. After our trip, we estimated we would have spent at least $250 if we hadn’t bought the pass. It’s a great deal!

  • Vehicles covered by the pass are any non commercial vehicles including motorhomes, RV’s and motorcycles and rentals.
  • If the park or site is a unit that collects a per person fee, then the pass is good for up to four people and children 16 and under are free.
  • The pass is non transferable but you can share ownership of it with family or friends. Up to two people are allowed to sign the card and use it. Two people with ownership of the card on two separate motorcycles are covered as one.
  • Passes can be purchased in person at sites that sell the passes, listed here, on the phone by calling 1-888-ASK USGS, extension 3 or online at the USGS store.

How it Works

After you’ve purchased your pass, the next time you enter a park, at the entrance station, just present your pass with your ID to the ranger and you are good to go. Your pass also comes with a plastic holder. You should insert your pass and hang it on your rearview mirror, signature side out.

Southerner Says: Beware of opening both doors at the same time if it’s windy. The winds could blow the holder off the mirror and out of the car. And you end up chasing it around in parking lot. Oops! This is important to note because if you lose your pass, it cannot be replaced. Even if you have your receipt, you will have to buy another one. Some desert parks, like Lake Mead, do not require the pass in a hanger. The heat may cause the card and/or the hanger to melt.

At times, you might have to go inside the Visitor Center and present your pass to a ranger if there is no entrance station or if the entrance station is closed for the season. 

Other America the Beautiful Passes

Here are the other type passes available:

Military- For current members of the military and their dependents, the America the Beautiful pass is available for free. This includes members of the National Guard and Reserve. Passes can be obtained in person at a site that issues passes by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173)

Annual 4th Grade Pass- In an effort to get kids more involved in the parks, the NPS created this pass for 4th graders. The pass is free and is good for the entire 4th grade school year including the following summer. Home schooled and free schooled children are also eligible. You can get your paper pass at the Every Kid in a Park website. It can then be exchanged for a hard copy at the sites that issue passes. 

Access Pass- There is a free access pass available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants are required to provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship. The Pass can be obtained in person at sites that issue passes or by mail using this form. There is a $10 fee for applications processed through the mail. The Access Pass also entitles the user to discounts on some amenities such as camping, swimming, boat launch and interpretive services that might other wise have a fee.

Senior Pass- This pass is available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. Applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship. There are two types of this pass.

  • Lifetime Senior Pass $80
  • Annual Senior Pass $20

Yes that’s a lifetime pass for seniors and it follows the same rule as the basic pass. Time to road trip with the grandparents! Also with the Senior Pass, you are are eligible for discounts on camping, guided tours, transportation, concessionaires, and special use permit fees. For more info see this website

Passes can be obtained at sites that issue passes, online, or through the mail using this form. There is a $10 fee for applications processed through the mail.

Volunteer Pass- This pass is available for volunteers that have 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program. Obtain your pass where you volunteer or through your Volunteer Coordinator.

Find Your Park

For more info or questions about the America the Beautiful passes, check out the National Park Service’s official website or the online USGS store where you can purchase some of the passes. You can now purchase the basic America the Beautiful pass from REI and they donate ten percent to the National Parks Foundation. Remember to always use Leave No Trace principles when visiting a park or recreation area and don’t feed or pet any wildlife. With the useful passes now offered there’s no reason to not get out there and find your park.


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Southerner Says National Parks

4 Replies

  1. Lori, this is amazing! I had not heard of the America the Beautiful Pass. I am going to share this article with my daughter who is taking some time before college to travel. This pass is so economical, and a gateway to some of the most beautiful parts of this country. Thank you so much!

  2. Yay! Thank you! I’m so glad it was helpful. A road trip before college sounds wonderful too. My daughter just graduated college in May. She unfortunately/fortunately, depending how you look at it :), started a job two days later. No road trip for us this summer. We are hoping to travel together in September. Best of wishes for your daughter. It’s an exciting time for them.

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