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How to get a FREE National Park pass

There is no denying that the National Park Service has amazing offering of historical and environmental importance. Access to many of the 429 sites are free, however, there are some that have to charge (for various reasons). 

Some of the most iconic sites fit into the charge category, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton, Yosemite, Arches, Badlands, Dry Tortugas, Zion, etc. So, the question is, how to get a Free National Park pass?

What is the America the Beautiful Park Pass?

First off, what is an America the Beautiful Park pass? This annual allows entrance to National Parks and other Federal recreation areas at no charge. It allows access to the bearer and up to three additional adults or an entire carload (non-commercial vehicle). I am not sure if clown cars are allowed, but you can try.

How much does it cost?

As of this year the Annual pass cost $80. This may seem a lot, but if you are planning some epic adventures at our National Parks or other public lands, a family of four can easily make this up in two visits.

Is everything free?

That would be nice, but unfortunately no. This primarily applies to entrance fees charge by the park service, so specific tours and fees by associated organizations would not apply.

Is it only for National Parks?

No! This pass can also be used at locations managed by the US Fish & Wildlife, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and even US Army Corp of Engineers.

America the beautiful park pass sitting dark wooden table

A neat program by the NPS that started in 2015 and expanded in 2019 as the ‘Every Kid Outdoors” program, provides 4th graders a FREE entrance pass to NPS sites for them and their families (up to three additional adults) for a year. The idea is to give access to everyone at that age so they can have the opportunity to see all that is available without barriers. 

From 2021-2022, there were 120,688 passes provided free to children across teh country. While there was a decline after the pandemic, this illustrates a 12% increase year over year. The NPS also reports that 73% of visitors would not have visited a park, without the free pass, which provides clear support that the program is meeting its primary mission of getting these kids outdoors!

Here are the steps you need to take to get the free pass:

  1. Have a child that is in the 4th grade
  2. Get a paper voucher at this NPS website.
  3. Find a location that can provide a pass. This can not only be a National Park, but any National Park Service site.  As well as Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife locations, NOAA, Bureau of Reclamation, US Army Corp of engineer sites and areas managed by the US Forest Service.
  4. Exchange the printed voucher for the official 4th grade pass at a location that would normally charge a fee. 
  5. Note: the pass is available for one full year, September through August of the child’s 4th grade career.

The National Park Service has a great website that provides even more information on the program and how this works.

Places to see with your Free Pass

For a complete list of locations to use your Americas the Beautiful pass, you can go to this NPS site.

After we picked up my daughter’s pass at Historic Jamestowne, we went on a short hike on the Black Point trail that afforded a wonderful view of the James River.

I can say for certain that the Roaming Monk family will continue to take advantage of the FREE National Park pass. Our plan has us visiting some great National Parks, and I am sure she will take pride in letting us ‘use’ her pass.

Even if you don’t have a fourth grader, get out there and enjoy the outdoors with your family!

Remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

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