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Annual Park Pass: Is it Worth it?

This past summer, I went on an epic road trip from Alaska to Colorado. It has always been a dream of mine to visit all U.S. national parks and this trip would be a great way to cross a few off the list. So, after some research, I  planned the route, which included Denali, Wrangell St. Elias, Northern Cascades, Mt. Rainier, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone.  With some of these parks having entrance fees of $20 or more, I quickly realized an annual park pass would be a great investment.

Annual Park Pass: Is it worth it?
photo credit: tinyvanbigliving.com

What is an Annual Park Pass?

The America the Beautiful Pass comes in different formats. There is a lifetime and annual pass for seniors and then there is a standard annual pass. For the purpose of this post, I will just examine the standard park pass.

Park Pass Facts

This pass allows you entry into lands regulated by the U.S. National Park service for the price of $80. The pass lasts one year from the time of purchase and the card can be split between two people. This means as long as one person in the car’s name is on the park pass, the pass is valid for the car, as well as up to three additional adults 16 years or older. The pass will not cover two cars even if the two people sharing the card are in different vehicles, as there is still only one pass. Passes are non-refundable and cannot be replaced if stolen or lost.

Annual Park Pass: Is it worth it?
photo credit: tinyvanbigliving.com

How do you use it?

From my own experience, this varied differently from park to park. Some parks had payment machines at the entrance where you could either pay or keep driving if you had a pass. It did not require you to display the pass. At others, the attendant at the gate would either just look at the card, while some wanted to see ID from one of us.

Which parks require the pass?

Not every park has an entrance fee. The parks during this road trip that required a fee included Denali, Mt. Rainier, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. Since then, we’ve also used our pass at Great Sand Dunes, Arches, Canyonlands, Maroon Bells, Black Canyon and Colorado National Monument. Here is a list of all the current fees for lands operated by the national park service.

Is it worth it?

With the current pay structure and the fact that I recently completed a long road trip, it has definitely been worth it to me. Since purchasing the pass, I would have encountered $138 dollars of entrance fees.  Thus in the 6 months, I  have owned the pass, I have saved approximately $58.

Annual Park Pass: Is it worth it?
photo credit: tinyvanbigliving.com

Should you buy an annual park pass?

If you plan to visit multiple parks and/or federal lands within a year, you will most likely make your return on investment. If you only have time to visit one or two and don’t plan to spend more than $80 on entrance fees, it might not be worth it. It depends on your current situation. However, the convenience factor is also something to consider. Not having to scramble for cash or take the time to process a credit card at the gate is a real time saver.

However you choose to pay, it is always rewarding to support our National Parks. Tons of money goes into maintaining trails, providing education and producing these precious and important lands that we all live in and enjoy, especially us folks on the road!


Which park will you visit first with your outdoorsy RV rental?

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