While hiking might be free, hiking in our national parks often isn’t. If you want to experience everything that our country’s best-kept natural treasures have to offer, it’s going to cost you. Thanks to entrance fees for national parks, you could pay as much as $35 per park just to hit the trails. Visiting 2, 3, or more national parks could set you back quite a bit.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution; a National Park Pass.
What is a National Park Pass?
The National Park Service charges entrance fees at many of the sites that it manages. These fees go towards maintaining the parks, paying rangers and other staff, protecting the natural resources within the park, providing public programs, and more. While these fees are a small price to pay for the beauty and adventure of the parks, if you visit more than 1 or 2 national parks each year, the entrance fees, which can range from $5 per person to $35 per vehicle for a 7-day pass, can add up fast.
That’s where the National Park Pass comes in. A National Park Pass gives 2 cardholders entry into any national park site in the nation. If you’re traveling in a car, it provides entry for one pass holder and up to 3 additional passengers. If you’re traveling on foot, 2 people will be able to get into the park.
There are several types of National Park Passes to choose from:
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
This is the most common type of National Park Pass. For $80 a year, you’ll get entry into any site managed by the National Park Service for 12 months. This pass is available for both citizens of the U.S. and visitors. Which means that tourists visiting from out of the country and planning to stop at more than 1 or 2 national park sites can buy a pass to save some money.
Free Annual Passes
The National Park Service offers 4 types of free annual passes available to specific groups and individuals.
The first free annual pass is for any active members of the U.S. military, including the National Guard and the reserves. Dependents of those serving in the military are also eligible for a free pass.
The next type of free pass is for any individual who has a documented permanent disability. This pass offers the same benefits as the America the Beautiful, but also provides the cardholder with additional discounts on some services, like camping or boat launch fees and interpretive services. This pass is called the Access Pass.
The third type of free pass is available only to those who have devoted at least 250 service hours to the national parks or any other federal agency within the last year.
The final type of free pass is available to any fourth-grade students in the U.S. This pass is provided as a part of the Every Kid Outdoors initiative. Students who are homeschooled and who are 10-years of age can also get this pass. Parents will need to visit the Every Kid Outdoors website to print a pass that can then be exchanged for a card at any park gate or visitor center.
Visitors who are over the age of 62 and who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents are eligible for a Senior Pass. This pass provides free access to all 419 national park sites, as well as some discounts on services. A lifetime pass costs $80, while an annual pass is also available for $20 a year.
All National Park Passes can be purchased from any entrance gate or visitor center at sites that charge an entry fee. You can also order your pass online. To be eligible for the free passes or Senior Pass, you’ll need to be prepared to show proof of age, disability, military service, etc.
You’ll Get More Than Just National Parks
When most of us think of national park sites, we think about the big names, like Yellowstone, Zion, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, or Acadia. But while there are 61 national parks in the U.S., there are more than 400 sites that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
Besides national parks, other sites that are also preserved, protected, and put on display by the National Park Service include:
- 11 National Battlefields
- 4 National Battlefield Parks
- 1 National Battlefield Site
- 9 National Military Parks
- 57 National Historical Parks
- 76 National Historic Sites
- 1 International Historic Site
- 3 National Lakeshores
- 30 National Memorials
- 84 National Monuments
- 4 National Parkways
- 19 National Preserves
- 2 National Reserves
- 18 National Recreation Areas
- 5 National Rivers
- 3 National Scenic Trails
- 10 National Seashores
- 10 National Wild and Scenic Rivers and Riverways
- 11 Other, Unique Designations
While many of these are free to visit, some, including mostly battlefields, monuments, memorials, and historic sites, do charge an entrance fee. With a National Park Pass, though, you’ll get access to all of these sites for free for an entire year.
What You’ll Get in Utah With Your Pass
Utah is home to 5 national parks, aptly named the Mighty 5, as well as 8 national monuments, 2 national recreation areas, and 1 national historic site.
These sites include:
- Bears Ears National Monument
- Cedar Breaks National Monument
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
- Golden Spike National Historic Site
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
- Hovenweep National Monument
- Natural Bridges National Monument
- Rainbow Bridge National Monument
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument.
Some charge entrance fees and some don’t. But if you want to make the most of your visit to Utah and its national park sites, you’ll definitely want a pass. All 5 of the state’s national parks charge an entrance fee.
Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks will both cost you $35 per vehicle. Capitol Reef National Park charges a fee for entry to the park’s scenic drive, which will set you back $15. Canyonlands and Arches National Parks both cost $30 per vehicle to enter.
You can purchase park-specific annual passes, or the Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass, which gives you access to Arches and Canyonlands, as well as Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments. This pass costs $55. But if you want to visit any other parks or sites in the state, the American the Beautiful National Park Pass is the obvious choice.