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US National Park Annual Pass – Is It Worth It?

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Do you live in the United States? Are you planning an extravagant road trip around USA as a visitor? Do you love to experience breathtaking scenery? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I would strongly encourage you to consider reading on as we are going to delve into the world of U.S National Parks and experience some of the awesome benefits of an annual pass that may interest you.

Specifically we are going to look at the US National Park annual pass known as a ‘America the Beautiful pass’ and after exploring some of the national parks scattered around USA, you will certainly understand why the term ‘beautiful’ is used to describe this country.

america the beautiful national park annual pass

National Park History

Let’s start by taking a look at a little history into USA’s national park system and also put into context exactly what we are referring to here when discussing the number of protected areas around the country. There are currently 60 of these protected areas located throughout the nation, and they are known as national parks.

National parks and reserves are an integral aspect of intelligent use of natural resources. (John F. Kennedy)

An act of Congress is required for a national park to be denoted in such a manner, and the history of national parks dates back to 1872 when President Ulysees Grant proclaimed Yellowstone as the first such park in the country.

national park annual pass

Heather and I have been very fortunate to explore several of these national parks but of course, there are many more we would like to visit, and this is where the National Park Annual Pass comes in very handy!

What is the National Park Annual Pass?

According to the National Park Series website, the annual pass is your ticket to over 2,000 federal recreation sites. Not only do you gain access to the 60 designated national parks, you are only presented with the opportunity to experience different sites and landmarks around the country.

For only $80, you can experience all of these attractions for a full year from the date of purchase. We will take a look later at the real benefits of this pass and how there are a potential huge cost-savings, but when considering whether this pass is for you, it’s important to understand exactly how this pass works.

arches national park utah

An annual pass covers unlimited entrances for one vehicle into all the designated national parks (and other attractions on the registry list), for a driver and all passengers in the vehicle.

Senior Passes, Military annual passes, and disability passes are also available, so if you fit the criteria of any of these, you should probably check these out before handing over $80.

Key Benefits

1. Cost Savings

Let’s take a look at the major benefit of purchasing a national park annual pass. The cost-savings are potentially astronomical, especially if you are planning on visiting many of the parks on the list within the same year. I can tell you that on our recent road trip to Utah and Arizona, we visited four national parks and immediately saw value for money in the annual pass.

arches national park utah

Many of the ‘famous’ national parks such as the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park are $25 for a vehicle entrance fee. That’s $75 just visiting these three which is feasible given their relatively close proximity to each other. We also added Arches National Park which was another $10 and immediately we had a good return on investment with our purchase.

yosemite national park

You have to figure out exactly how much you intend on using the pass. Do some research on the costs of each of the national parks you plan on visiting. Are you just passing through these national parks in one day? Are you going to stay for a longer period of time? Although many of these national parks are geographically close to each other, the vast area that these landscapes cover make it difficult to see everything you want to.

bryce canyon national park utah

Without a doubt, an America is Beautiful annual pass is a DEFINITE cost-savings if you plan on visiting multiple national parks within a year or purchase. Even if you are not intending on traveling to other parks, after purchasing this pass you will be encouraged to do so. It’s not a bad problem to have, trying to figure out how and when to explore these areas of stunning natural beauty!

2. Ease of Use and Flexibility

All passes can be purchased at the entrance to most national parks. We purchased ours at the Grand Canyon South Rim and it was a really seamless process. You can also find information on the National Park Service website for details about purchasing online or over the phone.

us national park annual pass bryce canyonAfter purchasing the ‘America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass’, visitors will be provided with a membership card, parking decal, and information regarding the annual pass.

One of the key benefits of this pass that is frequently missed is the ability to have two co-signers. This allows two different pass holders access and the co-owners do not have to be related. This flexibility can prove to be really beneficial if you have travelers within your family and perhaps one pass will be sufficient for two families if your timing is right.

yosemite national park annual pass

Each time you use this pass, ensure you have a valid photo ID such as your passport or drivers license because this will be required whenever you attempt to enter a national park. Simply hand over your annual pass with your ID to the park ranger and you should be on your way within a few seconds! Our experiences at the entrances were always excellent with the park rangers being extremely friendly and helpful.

3. Enhance Your Wanderlust

Why not take advantage of the national park annual pass to enhance your wanderlust? We have quickly become experts (or should I say seasoned pros!) in weekend travel, so what better way to spend your next weekend getaway than by exploring a national park that is close to you.

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. (Sir. John Lubbock)

National parks offer stunning scenery, gateways to breathtaking beauty and potential sightings of your favorite wildlife. All of this plus it’s an awesome way to get outdoors and away from that 8-5 lifestyle in front of a computer. Hiking some of the trails at the Grand Canyon or even taking a scenic drive through the Zion Canyon tunnel is enough to warrant spending $80.

zion national park utah

One thing is for sure…once you have seen some of the natural beauty offered around the national park system, you will want so much more! And with the national park annual pass, you have nothing to lose.

I don’t think Heather or I needed this extra incentive to travel and explore, but with such great value and such a myriad of parks yet to visit, this just adds to our wanderlust! Are you ready to head out and explore the national park system with us?

grand canyon national park

Map of US National Parks

I thought it may be beneficial to provide you with a full listing of the 59 US national parks, so that you can begin plotting your routes to explore all of these (plus it will prove to be a great reference point for us as we continue to reap the benefits of our national park annual pass).

This list is updated as of 2015, so will likely change in the future as more national parks are designated as such. This is a pretty handy guide to carry around with you to ensure you don’t miss any national parks on your travels around the USA.

us national parks by state

Here is also an interactive map of all the US national parks, those highlighted in blue are the national parks we have currently visited!

[show-map id=’5′]

Summary

Let’s summarize by answering the question of the title…Is the $80 US national park annual pass worth it? OF COURSE, IT IS! There is no doubt in my mind that all of the positives far outweigh any drawbacks (I can’t think of any apart from possibly the initial outlay of $80) so you have to purchase this annual pass if you are considering visiting national parks.

Exploring USA would not be the same without taking a trip to see Bryce Canyon or the gorgeous Delicate Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Whether you are a waterfall aficionado or love to hike the tallest mountains around the nation, ‘America the Beautiful’ is waiting for you, so don’t think twice about purchasing the annual pass that will give you access to all of this and more!

mosantravel

Wednesday 5th of May 2021

I am realy thankful to you because of explaination one of my favorite park. Your description of national park is soo interesting. People will be excited to travel seeing your explanation and will be grateful in an impossible way.

Megan

Saturday 9th of February 2019

Sandy Hook, NJ is a national park.

Chris

Monday 11th of February 2019

Hi Megan,

This post is focusing on listing the official "national parks" as opposed to "national recreation areas" which I believe Sandy Hook is part of in the Gateway National Recreation Area in NJ.

Ivo

Friday 16th of November 2018

Thank you so much for all of this! We're excited to start our trip and I'm glad we'll save some money because of this pass. I ended up ordering the pass for our trip online (http://www.usparkpass.com/), which worked out well. Do you know if some parks have "express" lanes for visitors who already have a pass? I've heard the lines can get long in summer. Thanks again!

Sean

Monday 14th of May 2018

Great article.. just bought one for our trip ahead. What did you come up with as far as the 2000 federal land sites? I’m having a hard time finding examples or what they may include... Sean

Whit's End Mom

Tuesday 20th of February 2018

Does the Park Pass work for everyone in the vehicle. We have a family of six--two adults and four kiddos. Does everyone in the car need one/

Chris

Tuesday 20th of February 2018

The National Park pass is for one vehicle so everyone will be covered by one pass which is another great benefit. Let me know if you have any other questions regarding the pass. Thanks so much! Chris