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What Is a National Parks Pass?

Visitors under the age of 16 receive free admission to all U.S. national parks.
National Parks Passes allow visitors to witness the grandeur of nature for a discount.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 September 2014
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The National Parks of the United States are frequently cited as breathtaking treasures, full of natural wonders. These 58 reserves feature widely varying landscapes and ecosystems, from the wild tropics of Hawaii's Volcano National Park to the majesty of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. A National Parks pass, also known as the America the Beautiful pass, is an annual or lifetime ticket that allows entrance to all 58 parks. Available through the National Park Service, a National Parks pass is a gateway to a lifetime of stunning wilderness experiences.

Many national parks charge an admission fee on a daily or weekly basis. This fee helps pay for maintenance, monitoring, and upkeep of the park, as well as helping to pay park employees. In 2004, the National Park Service created the Interagency Pass Program to foster increased park attendance and awareness. Now, with an annual pass, visitors can get access to every National Park.

There are four different types of National Parks pass that can be purchased through the National Park Service website or at many of the Parks themselves. Most people qualify for the basic annual pass, which allows entrance for up to four adults to all parks in the program. It is important to note that visitors under 16 get free admission to National Parks, so a pass can be used to cover up to four adults and as many under-16 visitors as necessary.

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Available at a significantly discounted rate is the National Parks pass for seniors. Anyone over 62 can qualify for this type of pass, though identification that verifies age may be required to complete purchase. Instead of operating on an annual system, the senior pass is a lifetime entry pass for the holder and up to three other adults. The senior pass also includes discounts on some other fees, merchandise, and amenities.

As part of an ongoing campaign to increase visitation by the disabled community, a free lifetime National Parks Pass is available for visitors with permanent disabilities. This pass may require identification and some medical documentation to purchase, but like the other passes admits both the holder and three other adults.

The fourth and final type of National Parks pass is for exceptional volunteers. For those that can provide proof of 500 hours of volunteer work, the National Parks Service offers a one year free pass equivalent to the regular annual pass. In order to qualify, visitors may need to present evidence that confirms volunteer efforts, such as time sheets or signed letters from volunteer coordinators.

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