How (and Where) to Get a National Parks Senior Pass in 2020

Updated

Your golden years are all about putting yourself first. This is the chance to explore the world beyond your backyard. One of the best ways to see this great country is with a National Parks Senior Pass. This pass is specifically designed for those over the age of 61 to gain entry into National Parks all over the country.

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If you’re hoping to cross some of the country’s best parks off your travel bucket list or your retirement bucket list, now is your chance. The cost of visiting multiple National Parks adds up quickly, so a pass saves you big on some of the best sights in the world. In this guide, we’ll explain how and where to get a National Park senior pass this year.

How to Qualify for a National Parks Senior Pass

All of the passes under the National Parks system are known as America the Beautiful passes. The pass is your ticket to all of the National Parks, as well as more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. There are different passes available for members of the military, students, volunteers, and regular citizens. 

The senior pass falls under this umbrella. Like most senior discount policies, you have to be a certain age in order qualify—in this case, 62 years or older. You also must be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. You’ll need to provide documentation providing your age and residency as part of the application process. 

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Benefits of a National Parks Senior Pass

There are a lot of unexpected benefits to your senior pass membership. Not only do you gain free entry into all of the National Parks and federal recreation areas, but there are added benefits as well. 

  • Travel companions also enter for free with your pass
  • All owner/s and passengers in a vehicle are free (up to four adults)
  • Camping, swimming, boat launch, and guided tour fees waived in some locations
  • Covers all entrance and standard (day-use) amenity fees
  • Discounts on some recreational activities or programs

Cost of a Senior Pass 

There are two different types of senior pass membership. One is a lifetime membership and the other is an annual membership. The costs for each are:

  • $80 for a lifetime senior pass
  • $20 for an annual senior pass

The lifetime membership can be used for the remainder of your life with no renewal necessary. It also is not affected by any price changes that might occur, unlike the yearly pass. While the price doesn’t change often, it recently jumped to $80 for a lifetime membership in 2017. To protect against these changes, purchasing a lifetime pass is a better investment for most seniors. 

In addition to the cost above, there is a $10 cost for any passes purchased online or by mail. The only way to avoid this fee is to purchase your National Park pass in person at a National Park location. 

How to Get a Senior Pass for National Parks

If you’re ready to get a senior pass for yourself, it’s not always clear how to start this process. This is especially true if you don’t live near a National Park yourself. Follow these steps below to secure your own senior pass. 

Step 1. Decide between a yearly and lifetime pass

Your first step is to determine if you need a yearly pass or a lifetime pass. There are benefits to both. Of course, the annual pass is less expensive. That makes it a good fit if you’re not sure how much you’ll use the pass. If you only plan to visit a handful of National Parks or if you have under a year's worth of travel plans, save your money by choosing an annual pass. 

On the other hand, if you have a lot of plans to see a variety of National Parks across the country, consider a lifetime membership. Remember, an America the Beautiful pass includes more than just National Parks. 

Over 2,000 recreation areas are included, so you might discover you get a lot of use out of this pass, even in your own town. Ultimately, the lifetime pass is a great long-term option where you don’t have to worry about price changes in the future. 

Step 2. Visit in-person to purchase

The easiest (and least expensive) way to purchase your senior pass is to visit a location in-person. If you live near a federal recreation site, you can visit and ask for an application. This is something they usually process on the spot, so you could go home with your National Park pass that day. 

To check to see if there’s a location near you, review the full list of federal recreation sites that have the ability to issue passes. Not every site issues passes, so check before you leave home. Make sure you bring your ID so you can easily process your application. 

Step 3. Complete your application online or by mail

If you don’t have a location near you to purchase, you can also get your pass online or through the mail. As noted previously, this includes a $10 additional fee on top of the cost of the pass. 

You can purchase the lifetime pass or annual pass online through the USGS online store. When you purchase your pass online, it will not be downloadable or printable. The Park service reviews your application and mails your pass to you. When purchasing the past digitally, you’ll upload your ID documents for proof of age and residency. 

If you’d rather purchase your pass online, you can use this application form found online. This is similar to the application used for in-person registering. You’ll need to mail your form with a photocopy of your ID. Acceptable IDs include a U.S. state driver’s license, your birth certificate, passport, or green card. Similar to the online application, the park service mails your pass to you. 

Step 4. Use your pass

As soon as you get your pass in the mail, it’s time to start putting it to use. Find some travel inspiration in retirement magazines, travel sites, and just by checking out your local parks. There’s so much to see, so now’s your chance to explore more of this wide and wonderful country. 

Without the daily responsibility of a full-time job, many seniors find a new passion for exploration in their golden years. A National Park senior pass is the perfect way to complement this drive to see more. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Because most people don’t have any experience with National Park passes prior to the senior pass, it’s normal to have a few questions about what to expect. Here are some of the most common questions about a senior pass, as well as everything you need to know. 

Where can you use your senior pass?

Your senior pass works at a number of locations, not just the National Park service. They work in any federal recreation area. 

Note that this does not usually include state recreation areas. State parks and state locations typically have their own passes available if this is something you plan to use often. 

What happens if you lose or misplace your senior pass?

Unfortunately, if you lose or misplace your senior pass, it’s not replaceable. You’ll need to purchase a new pass if you no longer have your annual or lifetime pass. Store your records and pass in a safe place with your other travel documents. 

How long is the senior pass good for?

If you purchase an annual senior pass, it’s valid for a period of 12 months after your pass if approved. You’ll need to renew your annual pass each year if you wish to continue using your National Park pass. 

The lifetime senior pass is good for your entire lifetime. The cost will never change, and you won’t need to pay any additional fees to keep your pass active. If the price changes in the future, you will not need to pay anything else. 

How is the money from these passes used?

The money from all senior passes goes towards the National Park Foundation Endowment and the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund. These foundations are the official partner of the National Park Foundation. They serve to further the mission and purpose of National Parks. 

Your money goes towards things like educational programs, park maintenance, and other important conservation initiatives. A National Park pass isn’t just useful for your own travels and adventures, but it also does some good for the world. 

Explore America the Beautiful 

While many people have visited a National Park, how often do they take the time to visit the ones outside of their own home state, coast, or side of the world? The National Park senior pass makes it affordable for seniors 62 and older to visit as many parks as they wish. From the Everglades to Yellowstone, there’s so much to see.

Who said the second act of your life has to be boring? While it’s important to start end-of-life planning, it’s also essential that you make the most of this opportunity to focus on what you love. Are you ready to explore?


Sources

  1. “Plan Your Visit: America the Beautiful Passes.” National Park Service. NPS.gov
  2. “Plan Your Visit: Changes to the Senior Pass.” National Park Service. 29 August 2018. NPS.gov
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