As full-time RVers, we love visiting different sites in our National Parks system across the United States. This includes popular destinations like Yellowstone, The Grand Tetons, and Zion, but also under-the-radar National Parks, too.
So, it didn’t take us long after hitting the road to purchase an annual National Park pass. This pass gives you entry to any National Park site within the National Park system for up to a year. Which can save you a lot of money depending on where you’re traveling. But at $80, you may be wondering if the cost is worth the money.
Don’t fret! We’ve got the answer for you. This post will talk about the different annual National Park pass options available, the cost for each, and ultimately who we think the annual National Parks pass is right for. Let’s dive in.
What does the annual National Parks pass cover?
According to the National Park’s website, the annual National Parks pass (also referred to as the America the Beautiful pass) covers over 2,000 sites across the United States including territories. These sites can be a part of the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and US Army Corps of Engineers.
The America the Beautiful pass is an interagency pass because its access extends beyond the National Park Service alone. It will give two adults aged 16-62 entry to any of these 2,000+ sites for one year.
The pass will give entry to anyone in your non-commercial vehicle visiting one of these sites. This means your annual National Park pass you could get your children, family members, or friends in your vehicle into the site without having to pay individual entry fees.
The one or two people who plan to use the card for the year are required to sign the back of the card. When you enter a qualifying site, the agent will request a secondary form of ID to confirm your name matches the pass holder. So make sure to choose the pass holder names carefully.
The annual National Park pass does not include other fees associated with visiting the site, such as camping spots, permits, or parking fees.
Annual National Park pass cost
At the time of this writing, the cost of the America the Beautiful annual National Park pass is $80. The pass can be purchased at any participating National Park Site (like the entry gate or Visitor Center for a National Park) or online. If you purchase your pass online, make sure you buy it with enough time to receive the card in the mail which can take 5 to 7 days or more depending on when you are purchasing.
We always purchase ours the entry to the National Park just because it’s easier for us. However, some parks will require you to purchase the pass at the Visitor Center which is often located outside of the entry gates. And can make purchasing a card difficult (because you need to pay the entry fee to get to the Visitor Center).
What other National Parks passes are there?
There could be a chance you can gain access to the 2,000+ sites offered with this card for a cheaper cost.
- If you are a Federal Lands volunteer that has completed 250 hours of service, you can get the America the Beautiful interagency pass for free.
- If you are a Military veteran, military dependent, or active duty you can get a free card.
- Those with a medical or permanent disability are also able to get an annual National Park pass for free.
- In 2023, the National Parks Service is allowing students in the 4th grade, or 4th-grade equivalent to get an America the Beautiful pass for free, too.
Additionally, if you are over 62 you have the option to purchase an annual card for just $20, or a lifetime America the Beautiful card for $80. Proof of eligibility for any of these qualifications is required when purchasing the pass.
Is the annual National Parks pass worth the money?
To determine if the annual National Parks pass is worth the money or not, you need to look at your travel plans and see if the cost of the card is justified in your entry fees.
For example, let’s say you’re planning a Utah road trip. You plan to visit the ‘Big 5’ (Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, and Capital Reef over a three-week period. If you paid for a car entry for each park it would cost $150 for all 5 parks.
In this instance it 100% is worth the money and would in fact save you $70!
Now let’s say you’re taking a road trip out east that includes stops at the Great Smokey Mountains, Shenandoah National Park, and Acadia National Park. Entry to these three parks is only $65 because the Great Smokey Mountains has no entry fee.
In this case, paying for the annual National Park pass would not be worth it, because you’re saving $15 by paying the entrance fees.
It’s also worth considering when you plan to visit certain sites. If you will visit a qualifying site on free entry day it may not make sense to pay the $80 that year.
The following days offer free entry to all National Park System sites:
- MLK Day (Third Monday in January)
- First Day of National Park Week (Mid to late April – check for the date this year here)
- Great American Outdoors Act (Early August – check for the date this year here)
- National Public Lands Day (Mid to late September – check for the date this year here)
- Veterans Day (November 11)
Who is the annual National Parks pass right for?
The annual National Park pass is right for anyone who is planning to visit one of the 2,000+ sites in the parks system that would require more than $80 in entry fees in a single year.
Each year we consider where we plan to travel to in our RV to determine if and when we should purchase the National Parks pass or not. Of the five years we’ve been traveling, we’ve only purchased the annual National Park Pass three times because some of our road trips didn’t include a lot of stops at National Parks or other sites.
We also make sure to plan when we purchase our passes. For example, we decided to pay the $15 per person entry fee at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in San Augustin, FL instead of buying the National Park pass because we knew it would be another 5 months before we returned to a National Parks destination.
In turn, would have waisted 5 months of free entry to National Parks. Instead, we waited until our next destination before purchasing because we’d be visiting more sites in the following year thus saving ourselves more money.
A good rule of thumb is if you plan to visit at least three qualifying sites that have entrance fees in one calendar year, the annual National Park pass is worth it. If you are able to purchase the pass with a senior discount, or better yet, for free then it’s definitely worth it.
Let us know if this guide was helpful for you in determining whether or not to purchase the annual park pass below. Please share where you’re heading. We love hearing about other RV road trips. If you need helpful RV guides to any of our country’s amazing National Parks, make sure to check out our blog series here.