There are MANY different options for buying a California State Parks pass. If you love to visit California State Parks, you’re probably familiar with the overwhelming price tag of the California Explorer vehicle day use annual pass ($195/year) and the still expensive but slightly cheaper regional parks passes (like the $75/year Tahoe Regional pass for the Lake Tahoe region).
Fortunately for the low income folks in California, there are even cheaper options! We’ve started this list with the cheapest, because who wouldn’t love a free pass!? If you aren’t eligible for it, though, keep reading. There’s a pretty sweet deal for low income Californians for just $5/year!
Distinguished Veterans Pass – FREE!
Honorably discharged war veterans who reside in California and have an overall service-connected disability rating of 50% or higher can receive the Distinguished Veteran Pass. This pass is also available to honorably discharged Prisoners of War and Medal of Honor recipients.
This pass grants the pass holder FREE access to California State Parks. It provides day use, camping and boating fees. This lifetime pass never expires.
You’ll need to provide proof of California address, honorable discharge, and eligible veterans status. You can use a copy of your personnel records, a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs or similar documentation.
Disabled Discount Pass – $3.50 LIFETIME
Permanently disabled persons can obtain a Disabled Discount Pass for just $3.50. This pass never expires and entitles the bearer to 50% off vehicle day use fees, family camping fees and boat use fees at California State Parks (except Hearst San Simeon SHM).
To qualify, the applicant must be a disabled person who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities, and 2) has a current record of such impairment.” These disabilities could include autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, hearing disabilities, vision impairments, mental disability, mobility loss, respiratory disease, multiple sclerosis or other disability. You must submit some sort of record, such as a doctor certification, social security statement, or proof of DMV permanently disabled status.
This discount pass does not apply to per-person entry or tour fees, group use sites, special events, oversized vehicle fees, extra vehicle fees or other charges.
Golden Bear Pass – $5 per calendar year
Do you qualify for a Golden Bear Pass?! This pass is just $5 per calendar year (January through December) and must be renewed each year. The pass entitles you and your spouse (or registered domestic partner) to visit California State Parks without paying a vehicle day use fee. The pass completely covers one passenger vehicle with a capacity of nine people or less!
You qualify for the Golden Bear Pass if you meet one of the following requirements:
- You receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- You are receiving aid from the CalWORKS Program.
- You are age 62+ and have a limited income. If single, your average gross monthly income must not exceed $952. If married (or in a registered domestic partnership), your combined average gross monthly income must not exceed $1,751. If your income exceeds these thresholds, you can still obtain the Limited Use Golden Bear Pass.
This only works at parks with vehicle day use fees, not those that have per-person entry or tour fees. It also does NOT cover boat use, camping, group use, special events, commercial use, extra vehicles or supplemental fees.
Limited Use Golden Bear Pass – $20 per calendar year
Californians who are age 62+ can receive a Limited Use Golden Bear pass for $20 per calendar year (January through December). It’s essentially the same as the Golden Bear Pass with two major exceptions:
- There’s no income limitation.
- The pass cannot be used in the peak season. It is not valid from the Friday before Memorial Day until Labor Day at most parks.
Don't miss out!
Sign up for our Low Income Freebies & Tips (LIFT) messages to get text notifications of new freebies in your area!