The America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Land Passes (better known as the America the Beautiful pass for short) is a recreational pass issued by the National Park Service.
You’ve probably heard of the senior pass, but you might be still on the fence about investing in one. Is the America the Beautiful Senior Pass worthwhile?
The America the Beautiful Senior Pass is worth it for a multitude of reasons, including:
- Access to over 2,000 federal parks and recreation sites
- Pass pays for itself fast (and some pass options are free)
- Discounts on amenities that aren’t free
- The pass is good for life
If you’re still mulling over your purchasing decision, that’s fine because this article will explore the America the Beautiful Senior Pass in full.
We’re including information on what’s covered in the pass, how to buy it, how much it costs, and whether it works in state parks. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know whether being a pass owner is a good investment for you!
What Does The America The Beautiful Pass Cover?
The America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series includes a variety of passes, such as Senior Passes, Military Passes, and Access Passes.
Of course, for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on the Senior Pass. So what do senior passes cover?
The America the Beautiful Pass is part of an interagency pass program and covers entrance fees into lands, national recreation areas, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, national grasslands, national forests, and national park overseen by several federal agencies.
Among these are the US Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and National Park Service.
If the pass doesn’t outright cover a certain park’s entry fee, it will apply to the destination’s standard amenity fees.
The pass covers a lot, but not everything though.
In fact, the National Park Service makes it clear that the America the Beautiful Pass doesn’t apply to concessionaire special recreation permit fees. These are an additional cost.
That’s also the case for guided interpretive tours, boat launching fees, shuttle passes, campsite rentals, parking, and RV water and/or electrical hookups.
What Are The Benefits Of An America The Beautiful Senior Pass?
If your mind isn’t totally made up about the America the Beautiful Senior Pass, let’s go over the benefits from the intro. We’re sure this will help you decide!
Access To More Than 2,000 Federal Parks And Recreation Sites
Have you explored every last nook and cranny of your neighborhood since you’ve retired? Do you long to expand your parameters?
With the America the Beautiful Senior Pass, you can visit well over 2,000 federal parks and recreation sites.
Whether you want to stick within your own backyard, explore adjacent states, or venture out clear across the country, you’re always welcome with your pass.
Pass Pays For Itself Fast
Now that you’re in your golden years, you probably find yourself with more spare time than ever.
You’ve taken up hobbies, and while you find that very fulfilling, you long to get out of the house and travel, just as many seniors your age do.
The only problem? You don’t have a huge travel budget, as you’ve had to pinch pennies since retirement.
Formerly known as Golden Age passports, the America the Beautiful Senior Pass is the best of both worlds. You can travel and see the world without having to spend an arm and a leg to do it.
For example, let’s say you wanted to visit the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. A single personal vehicle costs $35 to get in.
The America the Beautiful Senior Pass costs $80. That’s a one-time fee for a lifetime access pass. Okay, the annual Senior Pass is far cheaper at $20, but you have to renew it every year.
If you spring for the $80 national parks lifetime pass for seniors, within three visits to any federal lands, public lands, or national park sites, the pass would have paid for itself. You’ll be saving money, going forward!
Remember that you can also visit 2,000 other parks and lands across the United States, so you can see what a value the America the Beautiful Senior Pass is!
Discounts For Any Amenities That Aren’t Free
We’ve made clear that while the America the Beautiful Pass does pay for a lot, it doesn’t cover everything. While you still have to pay special concessionaire fees out of your own pocket, the NPS makes other elements of visiting parks more affordable.
For instance, you can receive discounts on amenities such as interpretative services, boat launches, and camping. According to the NPS, the America the Beautiful Senior Pass discounts these services up to 50 percent.
However, this does not necessarily apply to every park or national site you want to visit, so check ahead.
The Pass Is Good For Life
Yet another advantage of the America the Beautiful Senior Pass is that it never expires.
You might have to pay a higher initial fee for the pass than in days gone (the price of the pass increased a couple of years ago for the first time since the 1990s), but once you have the pass, you never pay for it again.
Keep in mind this only applies to the America the Beautiful Senior Lifetime Pass. To recap, if you purchase the lower-cost $20 America the Beautiful Senior Annual Pass instead, that’s only good for one year from the month of purchase when you bought the pass.
Is There A Free America The Beautiful Pass?
You betcha, some people can get the America the Beautiful pass for free, including:
- Current U.S. military members
- Military veterans
- People who can show documentation of permanent disability
- And certain federal agency volunteers
- 4th graders can get free access from September of their 4th grade year, through August of the following summer.
Where Is America The Beautiful Pass Sold?
Okay, now you’re really interested in the America the Beautiful national parks pass for seniors. So, where can you purchase it?
Well, if you’re up for a road trip, you can visit any federal recreation site and get the pass issued to you in person.
The NPS put together a full list of federal recreation sites that you can check out here.
If you’d rather save the gas, you can also purchase the America the Beautiful Senior Pass online through the USGS store website here.
To purchase, click the pass you’re interested in, add the pass to your cart, and follow the checkout instructions. You can pay using major credit cards such as American Express, Discover, MasterCard, and Visa.
You’ll receive a confirmation email from USGS after you order your America the Beautiful Senior Pass.
Since the pass is a card, however, you can’t download it and print it out. Instead, you have to wait for the pass to arrive in your mailbox.
How Do I Show America The Beautiful Pass On My Car?
While you can always keep your America the Beautiful Pass in your wallet to present to park rangers when entering a park, if you’re the forgetful type, you might find it better to keep the pass in your vehicle.
You could even wear it around your neck on a lanyard like these.
You have two options for displaying your pass. The first is to put it on your dashboard with the pass signature side visible.
You can also request a hangtag through USGS and attach the hangtag (with the pass) to the rearview mirror.
Also, you can display a decal on your vehicle that can be used for sites without a staffed entry (if there is an actual “ticket taker” at the site, you must show your physical pass).
Can 2 People Use The America The Beautiful Pass?
Typically, as long as they are all in the same vehicle, two or more people can use the America the Beautiful pass. Up to four people can use the pass at sites that require a per person entry fee.
You can really get more bang for your buck if you have several people riding in your vehicle and you’re visiting a park that has a per vehicle fee, though.
According to the National Park Service website, “A pass covers the pass owner and all occupants in a personal vehicle at sites that charge per vehicle or, the pass owner and up to three additional adults (16 and over) at sites that charge per person. Children ages 15 or under are admitted free.”
*It should be noted that if your group is divided between two or more vehicles, the car(s) not transporting the pass holder will need to purchase a second pass.
Can You Use Someone Else’s America The Beautiful Pass?
While it may seem like a simple solution to borrow a friend’s America the Beautiful pass, unfortunately, it’s not permissible.
The pass is non-transferable and the National Park Service requires identification from the passholder when presented at entry as proof of ownership.
This even applies if you have a large family and are traveling together, but in two separate vehicles.
In this case, according to the USGS online store, “Only the vehicle with the pass owner is covered. The second vehicle is subject to an entrance fee, or must have (or buy) a second pass.”
Does The America The Beautiful Park Pass Work In State Parks?
You love visiting state parks. To you, they’re the most beautiful places on earth. You can spend days breathing in the fresh air, listening to the sounds of insects in the distance, and enveloping yourself in sunshine.
You still have so many state parks you want to see, and you figure that retirement is the perfect time to do it. Can you use your America the Beautiful Pass in state parks?
You most certainly can!
From Chugach State Park in Arizona to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California, and Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee, if it’s land owned by the NPS, you can use your pass.
Does The America The Beautiful Pass Cover Campground Fees?
While the America the Beautiful Pass does offer free entry to more than 2,000 federally-managed recreation sites, it typically does not cover the cost of camping fees.
That said, there are some camping-related discounts the pass does offer within national parks and national forests, but not all campgrounds are included.
This is because each park and forest sets their own fees and some campgrounds are run by private companies that are not affiliated with the America the Beautiful Pass.
So it really depends on where you plan to camp.
The America the Beautiful Senior Pass grants the elderly 65 and older the opportunity to see the United States’ best national and state parks, grasslands, wildlife preserves, and so much more. If NPS owns the land, you can visit while waiving your entrance fee with the pass.
If you can, opt for the America the Beautiful Senior Lifetime Pass. It currently costs $80, but you only pay that fee one time. If you travel often, the pass will pay for itself very quickly.
We hope this information helps you decide whether you should buy the America the Beautiful Senior Pass!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is America the Beautiful Pass tied to license plate?
The American the Beautiful national park pass is a physical pass. It is not tied to the license plate of a vehicle. Since you must physically show the pass, you can use it to enter a participating park in a rental car.
What if I forget my America the Beautiful pass?
If you forget to bring your American the Beautiful pass, you’ll have to purchase a new one to get into a park. Same if it was stolen or you’ve lost it. There is no digital record of these passes, so they can’t look them up at a park or other national recreation site.
How long does America the Beautiful Pass take to ship?
According to the USGS website, “Passes ordered from USGS ship within 5 business days. Transit time varies, and is dependent upon the service selected:
- USPS – typically 5-10 business days
- FedEx Ground – typically 3-5 business days
- FedEx 2nd day – typically 2 business days
- FedEx Overnight – typically 1 business day
If you need your pass within 10 days or less, it is recommended that you either purchase your pass at the first site you visit or request expedited shipping services for your order.”