Is the America the Beautiful Pass Worth the Cost?

Is the America the Beautiful Pass Worth the Cost?

Every year, more than 331 million people visit our country’s national parks. While the 62 national parks certainly cover an incredible number of acres, together they still rival other popular tourist destinations in the U.S. But unlike Disney World, their primary purpose isn’t to turn a profit. 

Tax money, federal grants, and money-making ventures in the park, like gift shops or rentals, help provide some of the funds that parks need. However, when you consider just how many costs they have, like those needed to pay ranger and staff salaries, maintain roads and facilities, and to protect the precious resources that are the very reason the parks exist in the first place, it’s easy to see how that money may not be enough.

One way that many national parks offset the cost of welcoming thousands or even millions of visitors each year is by charging an entrance fee.

Which National Parks Charge an Entrance Fee?

While it’s true that there are 62 national parks, the National Park Service actually manages 419 sites. Aside from the parks, they also care for and run battlefields, historical sites, monuments, forests, and a variety of other types of historically significant locations.

Of those 419 sites, 116 of them charge an entrance fee at this time. National parks, monuments, recreation areas, and historical sites make up the majority of pay-to-enter sites managed by the park service.

The majority of the entrance fees that you pay goes towards maintaining the site in which you paid them. But a small portion goes towards helping support the parks and other sites that do not charge an entrance fee.

Planning to visit one of Utah’s 5 national parks? Expect to pay an entrance fee.

  • Arches National Parks charges an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle or $15 per person entering on foot.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park charges an entrance fee of $35 per vehicle or $20 per person entering on foot
  • Canyonlands National Park charges an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle or $15 per person entering on foot.
  • Capitol Reef National Park charges an entrance fee of $20 per vehicle or $10 per person entering on foot. 
  • Zion National Park charges an entrance fee of $35 per vehicle or $20 per person entering on foot.

Most of the national parks and other sites that charge an entrance fee also offer a park-specific pass. For instance, an annual park-specific pass to Capitol Reef National Park costs $35, or less than the cost of two visits to the park. These passes are great for locals because they allow entry into the park for an entire year at a discounted rate. Visitors on vacation are often better off paying the regular rate, as that gains entry into that park for 7 days after its purchase. Or better yet, consider an America the Beautiful Pass.

America the Beautiful Annual Pass

Plan to visit more than 2 national parks that charge an entrance fee in the next 12 months? Or, do you know that you’ll visit at least 2 parks 2 separate times during that year? An America the Beautiful Annual Pass will likely save you some money.

For just $80, the America the Beautiful Pass gives up to 2 cardholders access to any federal recreation site that charges an entrance fee. If you’re driving, the card allows up to 4 individuals in the same vehicle to enter the park or site, free of charge, as many times as they’d like.

This pass won’t just get you access to national parks or other properties managed by the National Park Service either. Instead, the pass allows access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including those managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This pass is available to anyone, whether they are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. or not. Which means that tourists visiting from other countries can use the pass to save some money if they plan to visit multiple parks and sites during their stay.

Other Annual Passes

Besides the America the Beautiful Annual Pass, there are also several other pass options available, though each carries specific requirements.

The Annual Pass for U.S. Military members and their families offers the same benefits as the America the Beautiful Pass but is free of charge. It is available to current military members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard and Reserves, as well as their dependents.

Individuals who volunteer with any federal agencies that participate in the America the Beautiful Pass and who clock at least 250 service hours can get an annual pass free of charge.

The Access Pass is available to any U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. To get this pass, you will need to provide documentation of the permanent disability. You’ll also need proof of residence or citizenship. Besides entry into parks and other sites, this pass also provides a 50 percent discount on some fees in the parks, like those for swimming, boat launches, or interpretive services.

Americans or permanent residents 62 or older can purchase an annual pass for $20. Or they can choose a lifetime pass for $80. This pass also provides a 50 percent discount on some fees in the parks, like camping, swimming, or boat launches.

Finally, any fourth-grade students or home-school or free-choice learners that are 10 years of age can get an annual pass for free by visiting the Every Kid Outdoors website and getting a paper pass. They can then exchange the paper pass for an Annual Pass at any location where passes are sold.

So is the Pass Worth it?

If you plan to visit more than 2 national parks, an America the Beautiful Pass can save you money. Even if you don’t have multiple visits planned, purchasing a pass might just be the inspiration you need!

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