If you're going to visit several American national parks in one vacation or over the course of a year, you can save money by investing in an "America the Beautiful" (or "Interagency") Pass, which admits the cardholder and others in the vehicle (or up to three others at places that charge per person) to more than 2,000 sites managed by the NPS and four other federal agencies, including national parks as well as national wildlife refuges, forests, and grasslands. (Find participating areas at www.store.usgs.gov/pass).
There are four different passes, plus a fifth that's available to members of the U.S. military and their dependents. All can be purchased from the NPS or the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) online (at www.store.usgs.gov/pass or www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm), through the mail, in person at participating federal recreation sites (go to www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm for a state-by-state listing), or by phone (888/275–8747 Ext. 3). All passes have a $10 processing fee, with the exception of those bought in person.
You must have photo identification with you when presenting your pass at any park entrance. All passes are nontransferable and nonrefundable. If they are lost or stolen, they will need to be repurchased.
Annual Pass. This pass costs $80 and is valid for a year from the date of purchase. It can be shared by two "owners," who need not be related or married (both must sign the back of the pass).
Senior Pass. If you're 62 or older, you can purchase this pass for $10. It is valid for a lifetime.
Access Pass. Those with permanent disabilities may acquire a parks pass that is free and valid for a lifetime.
Volunteer Pass. Volunteer 250 or more service hours in national parks or other participating federal agencies and you'll be eligible for this free pass, which is valid for one year from the date of acquisition. Go to www.store.usgs.gov/pass for more information.
Military Pass. This pass is free to current members (and members' dependents) of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as the Reserves and National Guard.
Canadian Park Passes
Canada also offers annual passes to its parks. In Canada, an individual pass is good only for the pass holder, not for everyone in the vehicle. For a carload of people, you need the family/group pass (covers up to seven people in one vehicle). Passes may be purchased online at www.pc.gc.ca or in person at one of the participating parks, conservation areas, or historic sites.
The pass must be signed by the cardholder and is nontransferable. Retain your receipt/proof of purchase in case you lose your pass and need to have it replaced.
National Discovery Pass. Good for entrance to Canada's national parks, national marine conservation areas, and national historic sites (close to 100 in all) for a year, this pass costs $68 for individuals, $58 for those 65 and older, and $33 for youths up to age 16. A family/group package pass is $136.
Single-Location Annual Pass. This pass will get you unlimited access to one park for a year. Fees range from $15 for a youth pass to $74 for a family or group.
Other Annual Passes
Most individual national parks also offer an annual pass for unlimited access to that particular park. Prices vary, but hover around $30 to $50. In a few cases these passes include admission to two parks that are near each other, such as Grand Teton and Yellowstone. In other cases, the entrance fee to one park includes admission to other federally managed sites nearby: a $50 Local Passport gets you into Arches and Canyonlands, plus Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments, for a year; any paid entrance to Sequoia and Kings Canyon includes access to the Hume Lake District of Sequoia National Forest/Giant Sequoia National Monument; and for an extra $10, you can add unlimited access to Arapahoe National Recreation Area to your $40 Rocky Mountain NP annual pass. If you think you might be back to a park within a year, ask the gate attendant how much the annual pass is. In some parks, there’s only a small difference between a single day’s admission and the cost of a year’s worth of visits.