Horseshoe Bend where the Colorado River makes a horse shoe in the canyon

What Does the America the Beautiful Pass Cover?

If the national parks are our best idea then the America the Beautiful Park Pass or officially the “America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Lands Pass” may just be the second best idea. What is the America the Beautiful Pass and what does it cover? Keep reading for more details.

“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst”

wallace stegner

What is the America the Beautiful Pass?

The America the Beautiful Pass is a pass, or card, that covers the entrance fee of the cardholder, and whoever else in the vehicle with the cardholder, when visiting a national park. After purchasing, the pass is valid for one year and also covers entrance fees at over 2,000 participating federal and state recreation sites across the United States.

How Much Does an America the Beautiful Pass Cost?

An America the Beautiful Pass costs $80 USD. That means in a year’s time, you can access any of the participating public land as many times as you like, for just $80. Previously, the America the Beautiful could be shared with one other designated person.

But, beginning January 1, 2024, the pass is good for only a single passholder. However, it still covers the passholder and all occupants in a personal vehicle at sites that charge per vehicle or, the passholder and up to three additional adults (16 and over) at sites that charge per person.

And remember that children 15 and under are always free in national parks.

Southerner Says: If you purchase your pass towards the first of the month, you have to the end of that month of the next year to use your pass. So, you actually get a little more than a year’s use out of your America the Beautiful pass.

Where Can You Use an America the Beautiful Pass?

In addition to sites managed by the National Park Service, the America the Beautiful Pass can be used for entrance fees, or day use fees, at lands managed by these agencies too:

The 2018 America the Beautiful Park Pass with a frog on the front of it
2018 America the Beautiful Park Pass

What Does the America the Beautiful Pass Cover?

Frequent and even not so frequent park travelers that have an America the Beautiful Pass can save a lot of money on park entrance fees.

For example, Utah has thirteen national park sites. That includes the “Mighty 5”, which is Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Arches. Most people on a Utah park road trip plan on including those five – if not more – park units when they visit.

If you entered the “Mighty 5” without an America the Beautiful Pass, it would cost $150 total to visit those parks. But if you purchase a pass, you’ll only spend $80 on the pass. That’s a $70 savings!

Additionally, the America the Beautiful Pass saves you money at Bureau of Land Management sites, national forests and even on parking fees at many federal sites in the western United States.

For example, I was recently at the Tonto National Forest to kayak the Salt River near Phoenix. Visitors are required to purchase a Tonto Pass but since I had my America the Beautiful Pass, I was able to display it in my vehicle and pay no additional money.

What Doesn’t the America the Beautiful Pass Cover?

It’s Important to note that the America the Beautiful Pass only covers entrance fees or day use fees. It does not cover camping, permits or any special event fees.

Where Can You Buy an America the Beautiful Pass?

Purchasing an America the Beautiful pass is super easy. There are several ways to do it:

  • in person at participating parks that sell the passes
  • online at the USGS store
  • online at
  • from REI and they donate 10% to the National Parks Foundation

Buying a Pass in a Park

To buy a pass at a park, simply tell the ranger at the entrance station you’d like to purchase a pass. Present your identification and your method of payment, sign your pass and just like that, you’re an America the Beautiful Pass holder.

Parks receive a small commission from their sales of the American the Beautiful Passes so if you have a favorite park and plan on visiting soon, you might want to hold off on purchasing your pass until you visit that park.

Southerner Says: Many parks are switching to credit cards only. This is much simpler and safer for park rangers who previously had to handle and carry around cash in rural or remote areas. If the park you are visiting accepts cash and you are paying with cash, then small bills are appreciated.

How to Use an America the Beautiful Pass at the Park

The next time you arrive at a park, just present your America the Beautiful pass with your identification at the entrance station of the park. That’s it.

Some parks, like Yellowstone National Park, even have dedicated lanes for pass holders. That’s a huge bonus because the entrance lines can get long at busy times. Having a dedicated lane means getting into the park quicker.

The West Yellowstone Entrance Station at Yellowstone National Park where you can use your America the Beautiful pass
A dedicated lane for pass holders at Yellowstone National Park

READ MORE: The Best National Parks to Visit When You Don’t Have Much Time

Other Types of National Park Passes

Besides the classic America the Beautiful Pass that anyone can, and should purchase, there are other free or discounted passes available for other groups that meet the requirements. Here’s a list of those additional passes, how to qualify, and how to obtain a pass.

Veterans + Gold Star Families

In 2020, a new program was introduced for veterans and gold star families. This program gives veterans free access to parks, wildlife refuges and other sites governed by the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service.

The pass covers entrance fees but does not cover camping, special tours or permits. Visit the National Park Service website to see who qualifies and what’s required for this type of America the Beautiful pass.

Military Pass

An America the Beautiful Pass is available for current members of the military and their dependents. This includes members of the National Guard and Reserve. Passes can be purchased in person at national parks by by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173).

Annual 4th Grade Pass

In an effort to start early and get kids involved in our national parks, the National Park Service has created a special pass for 4th graders. The pass is free and is good for the child’s entire 4th grade school year including the following summer. Home schooled children are also eligible.

Parents – and educators – can sign up for a paper pass at the Every Kid Outdoors website. Then, the next time you visit a national park, simply exchange the paper copy for a hard copy at the sites that issue passes. Note: no digital passes will be allowed.

Another bonus from signing up for this pass is that you are eligible for a free Christmas Tree cutting permit from the U.S. Forestry Service.

Access Pass

The America the Beautiful Access Pass is a free pass available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents, that have permanent disabilities. Applicants are required to provide documentation of permanent disability along with proof of residency or citizenship.

The access pass entitles the user to discounts on some amenities such as camping, swimming, boat launch and interpretive services that might other wise have a fee.

Access passes can be purchased in person at sites that issue passes or by mail. There is a $10 fee for mail processing applications.

Senior Pass

The National Park Service has a pass program 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

The biggest advantage the senior lifetime pass is that once purchased, it’s good for life. Additionally, senior pass holders are eligible for discounts on camping, tours, transportation, concessionaires, and special use permit fees. For more info see the USGS website

For seniors on a fixed income, an annual senior pass is still available and four years of annual pass purchases can be traded in for a lifetime pass. For more info, visit the National Park Service’s FAQ page here.

Passes can be purchased at online, or through the mail using this form. Note: there is a $10 fee for mail processing applications

Volunteer Pass

A volunteer pass is available for volunteers that have 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program. Volunteers can ask for a pass at the park where they volunteer or through the Volunteer Coordinator at that park.

More America the Beautiful Tips

If you don’t have an America the Beautiful Pass or don’t plan on purchasing one, you can still visit a national park for free on special days throughout the year. The free days for 2024 are:

For fee-based parks that don’t have an entrance stations or if the entrance station is closed during low season, you might be asked to display your America the Beautiful Pass on your dash or present your park pass in the visitor center.

One more important tip is that if you lose your pass, it cannot be replaced. Even if you have your receipt, you will be required to purchase another one.

Final Thoughts About the America the Beautiful Park Pass

For more info or if you have questions about the America the Beautiful Pass, check out the National Park Service’s official website or the online USGS store

Also, when you are out their exploring our national parks and public lands, remember to leave them better than you found them and always use Leave No Trace principles. That includes giving wildlife plenty of space and not feeding them.

See you on the road!

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  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!

    1. 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.

  2. Really worthwhile having if you’re planning to visit multiple sites. It’s cool they offer free passes for certain people too 🙂

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