Planning a visit to one or more of the 61 National Parks in the U.S. this year? You may wind up paying a hefty sum in admission fees if you visit often throughout the year.
Luckily, the National Park Service has a solution for you; an America the Beautiful Pass. Keep reading to learn what the passes are, where they get you access, and why they might be a good investment for you and your family.
National Park Service Sites
While there are just 61 federally protected properties that hold the title of “national park,” these are far from the only destinations managed by the National Park Service. In fact, there are 20 different types of national park properties. In total, there are 419 properties that fall under the 20 categories. The categories, and the number of properties classified under each, include:
- National Battlefields: 11
- National Battlefield Parks: 4
- National Battlefield Site: 1
- National Military Parks: 9
- National Historical Parks: 57
- National Historic Sites: 76
- International Historic Sites: 1
- National Lakeshores: 3
- National Memorials: 30
- National Monuments: 84
- National Parks: 61
- National Parkways: 4
- National Preserves: 19
- National Reserves: 2
- National Recreation Areas: 18
- National Rivers: 5
- National Scenic Trails: 3
- National Seashores: 10
- National Wild and Scenic Rivers and Riverways: 10
- Other Designations: 11
Many citizens and visitors alike don’t realize that some popular destinations are managed by the park service. For instance, the Statue of Liberty is a National Monument, and nearby Ellis Island is one as well.
Admission to National Park Sites
Of the 419 National Park Service sites, 116 charge admission. Admission fees vary widely. Some charge as little as $5 per person to visit a site or enter a park. Others charge by the vehicle, with the most expensive pass costing $35 per passenger automobile. RVs, buses, and other large vehicles may pay more.
Of the sites that charge, the average National Park admission is $30 per vehicle. The average cost to visit a National Monument is $10 per person or $20 per vehicle. And the other types of sites average an admission fee of $10 per person.
In most cases, National Park admission fees gain visitors entrance to the park for 7 consecutive days. All National Parks, as well as some other National Park Service sites, offer their own annual pass. This pass is often cheaper than America the Beautiful Passes but only allows for entrance to that park for one year.
Admission fees go towards preserving the sites, paying rangers and other staff, and various other park programs. Around 80 percent of your entrance fee stays in the park where you paid it, with a portion of the rest going to the operation of the National Park Service at a national level.
Utah’s Mighty 5 National Park Admission Fees
All five of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks charge an admission fee. Each also offers its own park-specific annual pass.
- Arches National Park charges $30 per vehicle or $15 per person on foot to enter the park. A park-specific annual pass costs $55.
- Bryce Canyon National Park charges $35 per vehicle or $20 per person on foot. The park’s annual pass costs just $40.
- Canyonlands National Park charges $30 per vehicle and $15 per person on foot. Like Arches, a park-specific annual pass costs $55.
- Capitol Reef National Park charges $20 per vehicle and $10 per person. You can purchase a park-specific annual pass for $35.
- Zion National Park charges $35 per vehicle and $20 per person. An annual pass costs $70 per visitor.
While a park-specific annual pass will save you money, in Utah, where all 5 National Parks are within just a few hour’s drive of one another, it might be tough to choose which park. And buying more than one would be a waste. Instead, it’s time to find out why an America the Beautiful Pass is the best option.
America the Beautiful Annual Passes
America the Beautiful Annual Passes gain holders access to not only those 419 National Park properties. In total, these passes include admission to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass allows admission for up to 4 people in one vehicle. An America the Beautiful Pass can hold two names, and one of the two people need to be in the vehicle for the pass to be used.
There are several types of America the Beautiful Passes. The most common is the standard annual pass. For $80, the pass gives two cardholders access to all federal recreation sites. The pass does not include any other discounts in the park. Anyone, whether they are a citizen or not, can get this pass. That makes it ideal both for those who call the U.S. home or those planning to visit the country and make a stop at a few National Park sites. Annual Passes are good for 12 months from the date that you purchase them.
Free Annual Pass for U.S. Military
Current members or dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Reserve, or National Guard are eligible for a free Annual Pass. This pass includes the same benefits as the standard Annual Pass.
Annual 4th Grade Pass
As a part of the Every Kid Outdoors initiative, any 4th-grade students in the U.S., whether in a public or private school or homeschooled, are eligible for a free Annual Pass. Again, this pass includes all of the same benefits as the standard Annual Pass. To obtain it, students and their parents need to visit the Every Kid Outdoors website to print a paper pass that can then be exchanged for their card at any federal recreation site that charges an entrance fee.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents age 62 or older are eligible for a Senior Pass. The Senior Pass can either be purchased annually for $20 per year or purchased as a lifetime pass for $80. The pass includes entrance to the more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, but also provides a 50 percent discount on some park amenity fees, like camping, swimming, or boat launches.
Carrying all of the same benefits and discounts as the Senior Pass, the Access Pass is available to all U.S. citizens or permanent residents who have documented permanent disabilities.
If you have volunteered 250 or more service hours with any federal agency that participates in the Interagency Pass Program, you are eligible for a free annual pass good for one year.
Purchasing Your America the Beautiful Annual Pass
America the Beautiful Annual Passes can be purchased online, at any federal recreation site that charges an admission fee, and from many other outlets, like outdoor stores that partner with the National Park Service.
Purchasing an Annual Pass means that you’ll never have to worry about limiting your visits to your favorite National Parks. If you’re on the fence, check in your area for federal recreation sites; you might just be surprised how many locations are hiding right in your backyard!