With all due respect to summer, fall and winter are the best time to visit many of our national parks. There are fewer crowds than in the summer—you’ll have more elbow room on the trails and the campsites, and better luck with classic scenery shots that you want of nature, not tourists.
Temperatures are milder—with crisp, cold mornings that often dissolve into warm, sunny afternoons. Nothing is more stunning than the hardwood trees of the Great Smokies National Park in full autumn glory, or Yosemite National Park with a light dusting of snow in El Cap Meadow.
And while you can always buy a day pass for entry into a single national park, we say embrace the challenge of visiting several parks throughout the year, and consider one of several multi-park passes on offer to cut the cost, and—for some—receive free entry.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
Anyone (regardless of citizenship) can buy the America the Beautiful Annual Pass for $80—or, you can give the pass to someone as a gift. Each pass can have two owners, so you can split the cost with a friend.
It gives you unlimited access to more than 2,000 parks, monuments, battlefields, and recreational areas managed by the federal government; the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service, and the National Park Service all recognize the pass.
The money goes toward improving visitor recreation services—so look at it as an investment. The pass will provide free entry for you and everyone in your vehicle (or for you and three other adults if it is a per-person fee; or for bike riders—you and three others on bicycles). Children under the age of 16 are free.
$10 Interagency Senior Pass
If you are over the age of 62 (and a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident), you qualify for an Interagency Senior Pass. It costs only $10 dollars and gets you and all the family you can fit into your car into all Federal Recreation Areas (national parks, national monuments, national battlefields, and national grasslands) across the country.
Of course add-on activities, like guided tours, horseback or mule rides, or boat rental are not included. But you consider that many national parks charge $30 per carload, and an Interagency Pass costs $80—it is a whopping deal.
Lowering Barriers to Entry
Anyone with a permanent disability (who is a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident) can qualify for a free Interagency Access Pass that allows for entry into national parks, monuments, battlefields, and other federally-owned lands.
FreeÂ Annual Pass for U.S. Military
If you are a member of the U.S. military or a dependent of someone serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard Reserve or National Guard, you can show your Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173) at any Federal Recreation Site for free access.
Fourth Graders Get a Break, Too
Students in the fourth grade in the United States (including home-schooled and free-choice learners ten years of age) can get a free pass for the duration of the school year that’s good for the following summer (September through August).
Kids, parents, and educators can go to the Every Kid in a Park website and print off a paper voucher. The initiative was launched by the White House and Federal Land Management agencies in September of 2015 to help engage and create our next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates.
The immediate goal is to provide an opportunity for each and every 4th-grade student across the country to experience their federal public lands and waters in person throughout the 2015-16 school year.
If you volunteer for at least 250 hours at one of the agencies that honor the Interagency Pass Program, you can qualify for a free annual pass.
Donating your time at a national park, U.S. forest, or any of the lands managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a great way to give back to your community and country.
It’s also an excellent way to meet like-minded people, enjoy the outdoors, and become part of a small, tight-knit community.