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Ultimate Guide: How to Choose the Right National Parks Pass

Exploring the breathtaking landscapes and diverse ecosystems of the United States national parks is a dream for many travelers. With over 400 national parks and sites spanning the country, selecting the appropriate national park pass can elevate your adventures and offer cost-saving benefits. While you can purchase a daily entrance pass for individual visits, if you plan on exploring two or more locations within a year, investing in a Parks Pass is highly recommended. Here’s a guide to assist you in choosing the ideal option for your needs:

Annual Pass: $80Annual Parks Pass

Best for: Regular visitors, families, or road trip enthusiasts planning to visit multiple parks within a year.

The Annual Pass, also known as the America the Beautiful Pass, provides unlimited access to federal recreation sites that charge an entrance fee. This includes national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and more. Offering unlimited access to over 2,000 federal recreation areas, the pass streamlines entry processes and eliminates the need for multiple entrance fees, making it an attractive choice for those planning frequent visits. Its flexibility caters to diverse travel itineraries, whether for a weekend getaway or a year-long exploration of America’s public lands. With the pass, adventurers can simply present it at the entrance station or visitor center, granting hassle-free access to a wealth of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Moreover, its shareable nature extends its value, covering the pass holder and accompanying passengers in a single, non-commercial vehicle, fostering group outings and family adventures. If you are planning on visiting two or more parks in a year, we recommend the American the Beautiful Pass.

4th Grade Pass: FREE 4th grade pass from Tumbleweed Travel

Best for: Families with a 4th-grade student, as part of the Every Kid Outdoors initiative.

The Annual 4th Grade Pass, a key component of the Every Kid Outdoors initiative, encourages families to explore the outdoors and cultivate a love for nature in young children. This pass grants fourth-grade students and their families free access to all federal lands and waters for a full year. By eliminating entrance fees for fourth-grade students and their accompanying family members, the pass removes financial barriers, ensuring that all children have equal opportunities to connect with the natural world. It serves as a gateway to adventure and discovery, fostering curiosity, learning, and a lasting appreciation for the environment. Through this initiative, the National Park Service aims to instill stewardship and conservation values in future generations, empowering young people to advocate for the protection of our nation’s natural and cultural heritage. Apply for your 4th Grade Pass here.

Senior Pass (Lifetime $80) or (Annual $20) Senior Pass from Tumbleweed Travel

Best for: U.S. citizens or permanent residents aged 62 and older who plan to visit national parks regularly.

The Lifetime Senior Pass, or America the Beautiful Senior Pass, is a lifelong access pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents aged 62 and older. It offers unlimited entry to national parks and federal recreation areas, often with discounts on camping and tours. This pass is a one-time purchase, providing seniors with affordable, long-term access to outdoor adventures without renewal fees. It’s transferable, allowing seniors to share experiences with loved ones. Symbolizing a reward for a lifetime of contributions, the pass promotes active, healthy lifestyles and enables seniors to explore nature’s beauty and tranquility. It is a fantastic deal and if you have someone in your group 65 yrs or older, we recommend using this pass for your trip.

Access Pass (Lifetime FREE): access pass from Tumbleweed Travel

Best for: U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.

The Access Pass, also known as the America the Beautiful Access Pass, is a lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. It provides free admission to national parks and federal recreation lands, as well as discounts on amenities such as camping and guided tours. Beyond access to outdoor recreational opportunities, the pass symbolizes inclusivity and ensures that individuals with disabilities can enjoy the same experiences as others. It’s a one-time purchase, offering long-term value without renewal fees. Additionally, the Access Pass supports the mission of accessibility and inclusivity within the national parks system, promoting equal access to the natural wonders of the United States for all individuals.

Volunteer Pass (FREE):Volunteer Pass Front from Tumbleweed Travel

Best for: Volunteers who accrue 250 service hours on federal public lands in a single year.

Most Tumbleweed travelers, will not qualify for this pass, but the pass is an appreciation gesture for individuals who volunteer 250 service hours on federal public lands in a year. It grants free access to national parks and federal recreational sites for a year from issuance. The pass acknowledges volunteers’ vital role in land stewardship and encourages continued engagement in conservation efforts. By completing service hours and applying through designated channels, volunteers can obtain the pass, which may also offer discounts on amenities like camping and guided tours. Overall, it’s a tangible token of gratitude for their contributions to preserving America’s natural heritage.

Annual or Lifetime Military Pass (FREE) military pass from Tumbleweed Travel

Best for: Current and Former Service Military Members

The National Parks military pass is a special pass offered to current U.S. military members and their dependents. This pass grants them access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, and grasslands, without having to pay an entrance fee. Generally, active-duty military members and their dependents, including National Guard and Reserve members, are eligible for the military pass. Additionally, veterans who have been medically discharged or retired from any branch of the U.S. military and possess a Department of Defense Form 214 (commonly referred to as a DD Form 214) are also eligible for the pass. The pass is a token of appreciation for the sacrifices made by military personnel and their families and aims to facilitate their enjoyment of the natural and cultural heritage sites across the United States.

Where to buy your National Parks Pass

All of the mentioned national park passes, including the Annual Parks Pass, Annual 4th Grade Pass, Senior Pass, and Access Pass, can typically be purchased through various channels for convenience. These passes are available for purchase in person at many national parks, visitor centers, and entrance stations, allowing you to acquire them directly while on-site. We recommend buying your pass in person the day you need it. Additionally, these passes can be obtained online through official websites such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or the National Park Service website, providing a convenient option for those planning or unable to visit a physical location. It is worth noting though, that although bought online, these retailers will send you a physical pass. You will need a good mailing address to receive your pass and enough time to receive it. Don’t leave the online option until the last minute. Lastly, some third-party vendors, such as outdoor retailers like REI, recreation outfitters, or camping supply stores, may also offer these passes for sale.