The right pass could make all the difference

Affordable Ways to Enjoy National Parks

by Debra Karplus

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According to the United States National Park Service, over 273 million people visited one of America's 401 national parks and other federal recreation sites, which includes 84 million acres located in one of the 50 states, just in 2013. Yellowstone Park in Wyoming established in 1872 was America's first national park and perhaps most well-known and frequently visited national park. But with the establishment of the US Department of the Interior in 1916, the national park began growing into the vast recreation opportunity that it has evolved into today. To visit Yellowstone Park, expect to pay $25 per vehicle or $12 per person. Visit often, and the expense really adds up. But the National Park Service offers a variety of reasonably priced passes to make visits much more affordable for you and your family. They can be purchased at most, though not all, of the national parks.

Passes make national park visits more affordable.

Boating, camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, and just a family picnic amidst a breathtaking scenic backdrop are just a few of the activities that your family can enjoy at one of the National Parks. The National Park Service sells its America the Beautiful annual pass for $80, allowing access to over 2,000 federally operated sites. If you plan to visit any of the parks in your area or while on vacation, this could pay for itself quickly. Visit one of Florida's twelve parks, for example, such as the Everglades, typically costing $10 per vehicle per visit, and after a few visits, your pass has paid for itself.

National parks are especially enticing with a pass for seniors.

Does that sound too good to be true? Well, it isn't! People over age 62 can purchase a one-time lifetime pass. After paying $10 only once, you can enjoy the many activities available at any of America's national parks at no additional cost for the rest of your life. These passes can be obtained at or in the mail for an additional $10 processing charge. This could easily be the best $10 you will ever spend.

Free passes exist for national parks, too.

If you have a disability, you may be eligible for a free access pass to all of the national parks. Check for details. The website for each of the individual recreation sites will give details about accessibility, such as for wheelchairs.

Perks for the parks are available for those who volunteer.

Time is money. How true that is when it comes to enjoying our national parks. If you are willing to give 250 hours of your time, a volunteer pass can become yours. Peruse and locate a park near where you live and discover what volunteers can do at that site to earn a free pass. Then check out the steps required to acquire your volunteer pass. What a great way for your family to give service and receive a special reward for your good deeds!

Recreation, whether indoors or outdoors comes at a price. Our national parks have much to offer individuals, couples, groups of friends, and families. If you visit a national park only rarely, a pass may not be for you. But with the low cost of some of the national park service passes, you may benefit from obtaining a pass and experiencing the national parks more frequently year round. Check it out.

Reviewed April 2017

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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