How to Get a Cheap National Parks Pass

(Last Updated On: November 6, 2018)

The most magnificent wonders in the United States are tucked within National Parks. From the towering, glacial peaks of Mount Rainier to the 800 miles of scenic wonderland in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the National Parks hold some of America’s greatest treasures.


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A visit to a National Park is a wonderful experience… until you get to the gate and realize you can’t afford to go in. That’s happened to us more than once.

However, I’ve uncovered several alternatives to the expensive daily rates. Our family has a free disability pass now so we never get turned away at the gate!

Annual Passes save everyone money.

The National Parks system offers an $80 annual pass that grants access to more than 2,000 federal locations. Can’t afford $80? Hang on – I’ll tell you all the ways you can save money on that in just a minute. First, let me tell you what this pass does.

This interagency pass covers entrance fees, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle. At locations that charge per person instead of per car, up to four adults and all children age 15 and under are admitted free.

This pass works at the following locations:

  • National Parks
  • Wildlife refuges
  • National forests and grasslands
  • Bureau of Land Management lands
  • Bureau of Reclamation lands
  • US Army Corps of Engineers lands

You can get a FREE or CHEAP Annual Pass if you qualify for one of these programs!

The National Parks system offers special discounted passes for military, seniors, disabled persons, fourth graders and volunteers. Here are some great ways to save money.

MILITARY: If you are an active US military member or dependent, you can get a free annual interagency pass by showing your CAC card or military ID at a federal recreation site.

SENIORS:  Seniors who are age 62 or older can purchase a lifetime pass for just $10 on-site (or $20 through the mail)! This pass includes admission and provides a 50% discount on special amenities, including camping, swimming and boat launches. This Senior Pass replaces the Golden Age Passports that used to be sold, although GAP cards will still be honored.

UPDATE: The $10 lifetime senior pass will be discontinued on August 28. Seniors who do not have their pass by then will pay $80 for the lifetime pass or $20 per year for an annual senior pass. Once you’ve bought four annual senior passes, you can turn them in for a lifetime pass. 

DISABLED: If you have a permanent disability, you can obtain a FREE Access Pass, which includes admission and provides a 50% discount on special amenities, including camping, swimming and boat launches.

You’ll need to provide evidence of your disability. Evidence could include any of the following:

  • A letter from a federal agency, such as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs or SSI/SSDI offices
  • A letter from a state agency, such as a vocational rehabilitation agency
  • A letter that is signed by a licensed physician stating that you have a permanent mental, physical or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities and states the nature of the impairment.

You can apply for the disability pass through the mail or in person at a federal recreation site. The pass is free if you pick it up on-site but costs $10 for processing if you apply through the mail. More information on that here. 

FOURTH GRADERS: The Every Kid in a Park program grants a free annual pass to US fourth graders, including students who are homeschooled or free-choice learners who are 10 years old. The pass is valid for one year, beginning the September that the student begins (or would begin) fourth grade. The paper pass can be obtained by clicking here and must be printed to be used.

VOLUNTEERS: Volunteers who provide 250 hours of service with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program can receive a free pass as well.

Save money on State Parks passes, too!

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6 Comments

  1. su ollom January 28, 2018
  2. Flora Spivey March 23, 2018
  3. Rose Dominguez May 9, 2018
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