Is the US National Park Annual Pass Worth It?
With summer fading away and the leaves starting to turn, we’re reminded that fall is a great time to visit America’s national parks. Although some parks begin to close roads in mid-September, most of the parks remain open well into October. Traffic is back to normal and temperatures are noticeably cooler, making for the perfect time to hit as many parks as you can.
Building an adventure around national parks happens to be one of the most affordable ways to get off the beaten path, explore the natural beauty of the US and learn about America’s rich history. For less than the cost of a day pass to Disney (or your favorite amusement park), you can score a ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country. Did we mention the pass is good for a whole year?
About the Pass
The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass unlocks access to 60 national parks and over 2,000 federal recreation sites. For just $80, you can experience all of these attractions for one full year from the month of purchase (through the last day of that month). It covers you and all passengers in your non-commercial vehicle (including rental car or RV). Keep in mind that no entry fee is charged for children 15 and under.
1. Save money
More on this later, but the cost savings of owning a pass are a no brainer. Why pay $35 for park entrance when you could visit as many as you'd like for an entire year for just $80?
The annual pass allows two people (co-signers) to endorse the card and they don't have to be related. This can be great way to get more use out of the pass and let friends or family experience America's national parks too.
3. A reason to see the parks
Once you have the pass, you'll likely want to get your money's worth. It's an excuse to get outside, head to Yosemite for the weekend or knock off a bunch on a family road trip. If you've got it, might as well use it.
There's no way to get a virtual annual parks pass (at least not yet). Because it's a physical card, be extra careful not to lose it. Unfortunately, it can't be replaced if lost or stolen without forking up another $80.
2. Limited to entrance fees
You're only granted access to federal recreation sites and national parks with the pass. It's not accepted at state parks or local areas where fees may apply. Additionally, it does not cover third-party fees like ferries, parking, or boat launches.
Crunching the Numbers
Here’s a look at the entrance fees charged at a sampling of popular national parks:
Grand Canyon National Park: $35 for a single, private, noncommercial vehicle and all its passengers (valid for seven days).
Arches National Park: $35 for a single, private, noncommercial vehicle and all its passengers (valid for seven days).
Yosemite National Park: $35 for a single, private, noncommercial vehicle and all its passengers (valid for seven days).
Zion National Park: $35 for a single, private, noncommercial vehicle and all its passengers (valid for seven days).
Acadia National Park: $30 for a single, private, noncommercial vehicle and all its passengers (valid for seven days).
With entrance fees exceeding $30 at many national parks, the cost of the pass is nearly covered in a single trip.
So is it worth it?
If you plan on visiting three or more parks in a given year, you should purchase an annual park pass. There’s no harm in saving a few bucks. And for those avid road trippers and weekend warriors that may visit many parks, it’ll pay for itself ten-fold. That said, owning one tends to increase one’s usage of the parks. If you’ve already prepaid for access to over 2,000 federal sites and 60 national parks for a year, you might as well visit as often as possible — after all, your actual cost decreases with each visit. It may be the nudge you need to get out and see America's natural treasures.
Interested in purchasing an annual pass and saving money on entrance fees? Order one online ahead of your visit. It covers you and all passengers in your vehicle (including rental car or RV). Just a single trip nearly covers the cost of the pass. Get it now.