If you think you’ll be visiting national parks for years to come and you’re age 62 or older, I highly suggest that you look into getting the National Parks Senior Pass.
But how exactly do you get this pass and how much does it cost to purchase?
I’ll explain everything you need to know about this pass and show you how to order your senior pass today.
I’ll also talk about the senior pass benefits that could save you a lot of money and get you into a long list of park locations.
Table of Contents
What is the National Parks Senior Pass?
The National Parks Senior Pass is version of the “American the Beautiful Pass” created specifically for senior citizens in order to allow them access to the national parks at a discounted rate.
It offers a discounted membership rate that can be purchased on a lifetime basis for on an annual basis for a lower cost. That means that when you visit parks like Yellowstone National Park, you’ll be able to save money or eventually get in for free!
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What is the American the Beautiful Pass?
The National Park Service offers a pass known as the “American the Beautiful Pass.” This is an annual pass that gives you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.
The pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person).
Each pass will cover the entrance fees and standard amenity fees at:
- National parks
- National wildlife refuges
- National forests and grasslands
- Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management
- Lands managed by the Bureau of Reclamation
- Lands managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The cost for this annual pass is $80 but there are several different versions. You can find out much more about the annual pass here.
What are the National Parks Senior Pass benefits?
The Senior Passes admit pass owner/s and passengers in a noncommercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas and pass owners plus three adults, not to exceed four adults, where per-person fees are charged. (Children under 16 are always admitted free.)
So if the entrance fee is based on the vehicle everybody inside gets in free but if the entrance fee is based on a per person basis, only a total of four adults will get in free.
Also, at many sites, the Senior Passes provide the pass owner (only) a discount (up to 50%) on things like camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours.
In general discounts are honored as follows:
- The discount only applies to the fee for the campsite physically occupied by the pass owner, not to any additional campsite(s) occupied by members of the pass owner’s party.
Campsites with Utility Hookups
- If utility fees are charged separately, there is no discount. The discount may apply if the utility fee is combined (seamless) with the campsite fee.
Group Campsites and Facilities:
- (including, but not limited to, group facilities, picnic areas or pavilions): There is no discount for group campsites and other group facilities that charge a flat fee. If the group campsite has a per person fee rate, only the pass owner receives a discount; others using the site pay the full fee.
- The pass offers discounts on some guided tours. Only the pass owner receives a discount if one is offered.
- Transportation Systems: (Inquire Locally)
- Concessionaire Fees: (Inquire Locally)
Special Use Permit Fees
- Special Use Permit Fees: (Inquire Locally)
The pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners. Also, the Senior Pass does not cover discounts in on-site bookstores or gift stores.
Senior pass for state parks?
Note that the National Parks Senior Pass does not provide you with access to state parks.
Admission to those parks is controlled by your local state. Many states do provide discounted entry rates to senior citizens but the age requirements and terms of the discount could differ.
How do you qualify for the National Parks Senior Pass?
The National Parks Senior Pass is available for: U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over.
Keep in mind that applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship.
Documentation that may be required includes:
- A U.S. State or Territory issued Driver’s License
- Identification or Birth Certificate
- A U.S. Passport or Passport Card
- A Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
How much does the National Parks Senior Pass cost?
There are actually two different versions of the National Parks Senior Pass.
1) Lifetime Senior Pass
The Lifetime Senior Pass will provide you with free entry into all of the above mentioned National Park sites for the remainder of your life.
The cost of the Lifetime Senior Pass is $80.
2) Annual Senior Pass
The Annual Senior Pass will provide you with free entry into all of the above mentioned National Park sites but only for one year.
The cost of the Annual Senior Pass is $20.
A typical admission fee to a national park can range from free to $30 plus.
For that reason, I would recommend purchasing the lifetime pass because you will probably end up getting better value out of that, even if you only plan on visiting one national park per year for the next decade.
Where can I buy a National Parks Senior Pass (purchase locations)?
There are a few different ways that you can purchase a National Parks Senior Pass.
You can purchase a National Parks Senior Pass in person at federal recreation sites. Click here for a list of federal recreation sites that issue passes.
If you’re a bit old fashioned, you can purchase the pass through the mail. You’ll need to use the specific application form which you can find right here.
If you mail in your application, you’ll need to provide a photocopy of proof of age and citizenship or residency and pay the processing fee. You will mail it off to:
- Attn: Senior Pass
- Box 25286
- Denver, CO 80225
There is an additional cost of $10 for passes purchased online or by mail. So the effective cost of the annual pass is $30 and the lifetime pass is $90 if you purchase it online or via mail.
List of recreation sites
Can I replace my National Parks Senior Pass?
If you lose your National Parks Senior Pass or it gets stolen there is no way for you to purchase another pass.
However, if the pass is damaged, it can be replaced as long as a portion of the pass is identifiable and you show proper identification.
The replacement will be subject to a $10 replacement processing fee.
Can I transfer my National Parks Senior Pass?
The National Parks Senior Pass is not transferrable so you are not allowed to give your pass to another individual.
Is there a National Parks Pass for veterans?
Unfortunately, there is not currently a special national parks pass for veterans.
However, there is a special pass for current US military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as most members of the US Reserves and National Guard.
In order to obtain that pass, proper military ID is required (CAC Card or DoD Form 1173). You can read more about the national parks pas for military members here.
What is the Golden Age Passport for national parks?
The Golden Age Passport was a pass for national parks issued by the National Parks Service until January 1, 2007. This is no longer available and the Senior Pass has completely replaced this.
However, these passes will continue to be honored according to the provisions of the pass.
What is the access pass?
You should note that there is also a special pass to United States citizens or permanent residents, regardless of age, that have a permanent disability. This is called the access pass and will allow you to have free entry into the parks.
There is no cost for this pass but you will need to provide documentation that you have a permanent disability, which could include:
- A statement signed by a licensed physician attesting that you have a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and stating the nature of the impairment; OR
- A document issued by a Federal agency, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration, which attests that you have been medically determined to be eligible to receive Federal benefits as a result of blindness or permanent disability. Other acceptable Federal agency documents include proof of receipt of Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI); OR
- A document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency, which attests that you have been medically determined to be eligible to receive vocational rehabilitation agency benefits or services as a result of medically determined blindness or permanent disability. Showing a State motor vehicle department disability sticker, license plate or hang tag is not acceptable documentation.
Here is the application form.
Why did the National Parks Senior Pass go up in price?
On August 28, 2017, the price of the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass increased for the first time since 1994 due to Centennial Legislation P.L. 114-289 passed by the US Congress on December 16, 2016.
The prior cost was only $10 so the increase to $80 was a major price increase.
The price increase was meant to bring in additional revenue that “will be used to enhance the visitor experience in parks.” This price increase comes around the same time that we’re seeing price increases at many national park sites.
The reason being that the National Park Service needs more funds to support their much-needed infrastructure improvements, which have been needed with the rise of visitors of recent years.
How do I show my pass?
At Federal recreation sites with entrance stations, you’ll simply show your card to the park ranger working the entrance stations.
But if you’re arriving to a site with no entrance station or there’s no staff member there to verify your pass, you’ll need to display your pass or show proof of pass ownership to compliance officers via one of the two following methods:
- HANGTAGS — A valid national parks pass can either be displayed on your rearview mirror using a free hangtag or on your dashboard with the signature side showing.
- DECALS — If you own an open-topped vehicle (jeep, motorcycle, etc.) you can obtain a free decal to display on your vehicle to serve as proof of payment
Final word on the National Parks Senior Pass
It’s good to remember that access to the majority of National Park Service sites remains free—only 118 of 417 National Park Service sites have an entrance fee.
So in many instances fees are not an issue.
However, if you think you’ll be visiting some of the popular sites like Yellowstone National Park or Yosemite National Park, then I think it’s a good idea to look into the lifetime pass since you’ll end up saving money in the long-run.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.