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Travel News The U.S. National Parks Pass: Everything you need to know

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The U.S. National Parks Pass: Everything you need to know

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

A wise folk-hero once said of America: “This land was made for you and me.” However, 68 years before these words were sung, President Ulysses S. Grant was already acting in the spirit of Woody Guthrie’s poem. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established for the “benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Now, 148 years later, America has 421 national park sites — but only one National Parks Pass gets you all-access to every single one.

Joshua Tree National park
Get on the road to Joshua Tree with an America the Beautiful Pass

America the Beautiful Pass details

The first thing to note about the U.S. National Parks Pass is that the price point is well worth it. The all-access ticket is called the America the Beautiful Pass, and considering all the breathtaking land it can take you through, we think it’s pretty accurate.

Two people can claim ownership of one America the Beautiful Pass. Fortunately, the two owners are not required to be married or even related (after all, it is 2020). So, if you are looking to save even bigger on a few national park vacations, you can split costs with a neighbor or good friend.

Before we talk about the excellent adventures you’ll have with the U.S. National Parks Pass, let’s begin by covering the details.

How much is a U.S. National Park Pass?

The National Parks Pass costs $80 USD. When traveling to one of the 62 National Parks in America, the Pass covers the vehicle entrance fee. Where a park charges per-person, America the Beautiful Passes cover up to four people 16 years or older. Anyone 15 years and younger already gets in for free.

Your options for America the Beautiful Passes expand if you are a senior. Elders 62 years or older are eligible to receive an Annual U.S. National Park Pass for $20 USD or a Lifetime Senior Pass for $80. If you are an active military member, or a 4th grader (strangely specific, we know) your National Park Pass prospects are even more affordable: you get the Pass for free. The same thing goes if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with permanent disabilities.

wildflowers in national park
Visit several parks for one fee with a National Parks Pass

Where can I buy a National Park Pass?

You can purchase National Parks Passes online, over the phone, or at an in-person locale. Passes ship through Fed-Ex and normally arrive within a week. But, a digital receipt can be used in place of the Pass while you wait. America the Beautiful Passes are nonrefundable as 100% of the funds go towards the continued preservation of public land. The Pass is valid for a full year from your purchasing date.

Where can I use my National Parks Pass?

I’ve been a National Parks Pass holder for two years, and personally, it’s been an incredible investment. During the COVID-19 era, the Pass has become an invaluable asset when planning road trips to see several national parks, or for use at the same park multiple times. What’s great is that the Pass covers so much more than the National Park sites we consider. Although, since those parks are so high profile, let’s start there.

National parks

Say you are planning a trip through the Southeastern U.S. to see a few of the “Mighty Five” parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, or Capitol Reef. A tour through this line-up would cost you $150 USD in entrance fees alone — but with America the Beautiful Pass, it’s $80 USD to roll through all five gates. You can put that cash towards a cozy new tent, campfire libations, or fuel for your auto holiday. Even better is that Pass holders get their own entrance lane when entering the parks so you can start exploring without sitting in line.

Last year, my wife and I rented a camper van and took a tour from Joshua Tree to the Grand Canyon, and onto Zion. Incredibly, and with a bit more planning, you could also add Great Basin, Sequoia-Kings, Death Valley, and Bryce Canyon National Parks to this trip if you wanted.

There many options for national park road trips. Are you hoping for fewer mountains and a bit more beach lounging? The Atlantic Coast offers expeditions of a lifetime. In the South, you can start at Congaree National Park, take in some U.S. history at Forts Pulaski and Sumter, and continue down to Cumberland or Canaveral National Seashores. End your trip through in the crystal waters of Biscayne Bay National Park. Airboat through the Everglades while you’re at it–the two parks are only 19 miles apart!

Check out this national parks map to begin planning your great escape.

Mangrove trees over water with an airboat in the background. A destination for the National Parks Pass
Tour through the Everglades with an America the Beautiful Pass

National forests, monuments, and recreation areas

Beyond the 62 designated national parks, there is an abundance of other sites that the National Parks Pass covers, including multiple types of federally-owned recreation sites exist across the U.S. The cost to enter differs from place to place, so having the Pass can streamline your planning. For example, entrance to historical parks and preserves, national monuments, and national forest campsites fall under the Pass.

If you are a history buff, then an America the Beautiful Pass is for you. Entrance to all national historical parks is covered. You could visit Puerto Rico for a tour of the San Juan Historic Site, or learn about early life in America at Colonial National Historical Park in Jamestowne, VA.

As mentioned, national seashores are covered by the Parks Pass. Similarly, national monuments are also included under the Parks Pass. Visit amazing natural sites such as Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, or the awe-inspiring Gila Cliff Dwellings of New Mexico. National historic parks such as this help tell the history of an America that existed before colonization.

In addition to national monuments, America the Beautiful Passes can also cover your camp fees within national forest campsites. Public forest land covers 188+ million acres in the U.S. With the Parks Pass, all of it is open to you, free of fees. Remember to utilize the hangtag that comes with your Pass, and you’ll be good to go.

One thing the Pass doesn’t cover? Fishing, hunting, and various other land-use permits you’ll need for specific recreational activities within forest land.

The National Parks Pass secures access to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area pictured here.
The Muir Woods National Monument outside San Francisco is covered with a National Parks Pass

State parks and private sites

Usage of the National Parks Pass becomes a little less clear when it comes to privately owned monuments and state parks. For example, Great Falls State Park, located between Maryland and Virginia, accepts the Pass. However, most other state parks do not. Additionally, privately owned sites like Meteor Crater in Arizona, or Navajo-owned Antelope Canyon do not accept the Pass. You can clear up any discrepancies by calling the recreation agency that manages the site you intend to visit.

The mesmerizing Antelope Canyon is one site that is not covered by the Pass

Conclusion

Although travel has been difficult this year, the national park system has been a great reprieve for those of us in the U.S. There are 640 million acres of public land in the country. America the Beautiful Passes grant you streamlined access to these backyard exploration opportunities. And, all for one flat fee.

Remember to check out local government guidelines before you schedule travel. Things are constantly changing, so secure smart adventures by staying up-to-date on regional changes, and utilize features and tools from Skyscanner like our ‘Flexible Ticket’ option when booking flights.

Where can I go?

Making plans to get back out there? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.

Secure your Yellowstone Vacation by staying up to date on covid travel restrictions with this map from Skyscanner.

Want to read more?

Check out these articles from Skyscanner’s community of travelers. While you’re getting inspired to travel again, make sure you stay up-to-date with the latest coronavirus regulations, safety precautions, and travel restrictions.