Tag Archives: national parks

Guide to the America the Beautiful Federal Recreation Site Passes (Part 2)

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Autie Em and I got into the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument with no admission fee because she flashed her America the Beautiful Senior Pass.

Last week I told you about all of the the America the Beautiful Annual Passes: the basic Pass available for $80, the FREE America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the military and their dependents, and the America the Beautiful Annual and Lifetime Senior Passes. According to the National Park Service, any of these passes

is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.

Today I’ll tell you about other groups who can receive FREE America the Beautiful passes. Passes are available FREE to folks with disabilities, 4th graders, and federal volunteers.

Sign with National Park Service logo on it and the words Island in the Sky Visitor Center Canyonlands National Park National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
Folks with disabilities who have the FREE America the Beautiful Access Pass can visit Canyonlands National Park without paying an admission fee.

A special America the Beautiful pass is available FREE to people with disabilities. According to the USGS Store, the Access Pass (formerly known as the Golden Access Passport) is

[a] free, lifetime pass – available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability (does not have to be a 100% disability)…

permanent disability is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

The disability requirements for the Access Pass are not based on percentage of disability. To qualify for the Pass the disability must be permanent and limit one or more major life activities.

Orange Cliffs Overlook in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park

You must submit appropriate documents to prove that you have a disability before you will be issued an access pass.

Some examples of acceptable documentation include:
Statement by a licensed physician  (Statement must include: that the individual has a PERMANENT disability, that it limits one or more aspects of their daily life, and the nature of those limitations.) ; Document issued by Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income; Document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.

The pass program for folks with disabilities is operated by five Federal agencies that operate under different regulations and have different fees. This means the discount program for this pass is handled differently on different federal recreation lands. You can research the discount guidelines here.

According to the National Park Service,

Peeling brown wooden sign reads Sequoia National Forest Campground Redwood.
Folks with the America the Beautiful Access Pass can often get a 50% discount on camping fees.

The Access Pass may provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services.

The Access Pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.

It is important to remember that if there is a 50% discount on camping fees,

The discount only applies to the fee for the campsite physically occupied by the pass owner, not to any additional campsite(s) occupied by members of the pass owner’s party.

As I mentioned above, the America the Beautiful Access Pass was formerly known as the Golden Access Passport. Like the Golden Age Passport, Golden Access Passports are no longer sold. However, Golden Access Passports are lifetime passes and are still honored under the terms of the America the Beautiful Access Pass. If a Golden Access Passport wears out or is lost, the pass owner must resubmit acceptable documentation to prove disability.

There is no age requirement for the Access Pass. Even a child with a permanent disability can receive an America the Beautiful Access Pass.

The National Park Service says there are two ways a person can obtain an Access Pass. One can get the Pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes) [or] [t]hrough the mail using this application form (PDF).

Note: The cost of obtaining an Access Pass through the mail is $10 for processing the application. (The pass is free.)

Fourth graders and their grownups can see the wonders of nature (like these giant sequoias) at national parks (like Sequoia National Park) without having to pay an entrance fee if they have their Annual 4th Grade Pass.

The Annual 4th Grade Pass is available for FREE to every

U.S. 4th grade student (including home-schooled and free-choice learners 10 years of age) with a printed voucher from the Every Kid Outdoors website. Students may not receive a pass without a valid voucher.

The get the voucher, 4th graders must complete a

web based activity on the Every Kid Outdoors website. [After a 4th grader completes the activity] they will be awarded their voucher package for printing. Once your 4th grader arrives at the participating Federal recreation site they may exchange their Every Kid Outdoors voucher for the Annual 4th grade Pass. A list of sites that issue passes is available. Please contact the Federal land you will be visiting in advance to ensure that they have the pass available.

According to the USGS Store,

The pass is valid for the duration of the 4th grade school year through the following summer (September – August).

Like the America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the military and their dependents, the Annual 4th Grade Pass

does not cover or provide a discount on expanded amenity fees such as camping, boat launch or interpretive fees.

Holders of most America the Beautiful Passes will receive free admission to White Sands National Monument. (The White Sands Fees & Passes page makes no mention of the Annual Military Pass or the Annual 4th Grade Pass.)

As I mentioned, a fourth grader must jump through a few hoops to get the FREE Annual 4th grade pass. Go to the Every Kid Outdoors website to learn about the hoops and do the jumping. Each 4th grader

[m]ust have a paper voucher printed from the Every Kid Outdoors website to obtain the Annual 4th Grade Pass. Digital versions of the voucher (such as [on] smart phones or tablets) will not be accepted.

The final free pass that allows access to federal recreations sites with no admission fee is the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass.

A “Volunteer Pass” is an Annual Pass awarded to those individuals who volunteer 250 hours at one or more recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies as a way to say “thank you!”

According to an America the Beautiful document , the Volunteer Pass is

valid for one year from the month of issuance.

There are some other things to know about the Volunteer Pass.

There is no specific time frame in which volunteer hours must be accrued. Hours can be accrued over one, or several, calendar years.

You can accrue 250 hours by volunteering on Federal recreation lands managed by one or all of five agencies – NPS, BLM, USDA FS, FWS, and Reclamation. For example, you can volunteer 100 hours for each of the five agencies and earn a pass.

Once the 250 hour requirement is reached, a pass is issued, and the volunteer’s “pass hours”; are reset to zero and the count begins again.

Campground hosts are eligible to receive a Volunteer Pass once they have completed 250 hours of service.
Campsite with a picnic table under a shade structure and a fire ring
Camp hosts can receive the America the Beautiful Volunteer pass after completing 250 service hours.

To find out about volunteer opportunities at federal recreation sites, visit volunteer.gov.

To earn the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass, volunteers must get all volunteer activities pre-approved by a volunteer coordinator. Activities that are not pre-approved may not count toward the 250 hours needed to earn a Volunteer Pass. Volunteers must get their record of volunteer hours signed by applicable Volunteer Coordinator(s). The Federal Volunteer Coordinator/Manager who authorizes that a volunteer has accrued 250 hours will issue the Volunteer Pass.

According to the USGS Store, with any pass

[p]hoto identification may be required to verify ownership [of pass]. Passes are NON-REFUNDABLE, NON-TRANSFERABLE, and cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.

Hopefully the information I’ve provided today and last week will help you decide if you want to get an America the Beautiful federal recreation pass. If you already have one, would you suggest that others get one? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the right toolbar or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Please note all information was correct to the best of my knowledge when this post was written. Blaize Sun is not responsible for changing prices or any other changes that may take place after this post was written. Use the information given here as the starting point of your own research. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you.

I took the photos in this post.

Guide to the America the Beautiful Federal Recreation Site Passes (Part 1)

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Your federal recreation site pass will get you and your carload of passengers into Arches National Park at no additional charge.

If you’re a senior, a person with a disability, a member of the U.S. military (or the dependent of a military member), a fourth grader, a volunteer, or even if you don’t fit in any of those categories, there is an America the Beautiful Pass available to help you save money when exploring federal recreation sites in the U.S.A. Some of these passes are free, like the ones for fourth graders, members of the U.S. military and their dependents, volunteers, and folks with disabilities. The basic America the Beautiful Pass and the Senior Pass cost money, but if you plan to visit many public lands in the U.S. in a 12-month period, your America the Beautiful Pass will pay for itself quickly.

There is a lot of information I want to share about the six passes available, so I’ve written two posts on the subject. Today’s post will cover the basic America the Beautiful Pass, the free pass for members of the military and their dependents, and the Senior Pass. Next week I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Access Pass for people with disabilities, the 4th Grade Pass, and the Volunteer Pass.

The National Park Service explains what benefits the holder of any one of the available passes receives.

A pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park charges a per-person fee, but no worries. Your federal recreation site pass gets you and three additional adults in with no admission fee.

The first pass, available to anyone with the money to pay for it, is The America the Beautiful-The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. This annual pass costs $80. According to USGS Store,

the Annual Pass is valid for 12 months from the month of purchaseexpiring the last day of that month.

There are several costs the America the Beautiful pass does not cover. The USGS Store says,

The Annual Pass does not provide discounts at Cooperating Association bookstores or on-site gift shops.

The Annual Pass does not cover discounts on any Expanded Amenity or Concessionaire (Concessioner) Fees such as: camping, RV hook-ups, boat launching, backcountry permits, parking at Mount Rushmore, guided cave tours at Wind Cave National Park, or parking at some historic monuments or homes.

Your America the Beautiful pass will not get you a discount at a campground.

The fact that the standard America the Beautiful Pass did not cover camping fees or even provide a discount on the fees often tripped up my campers back in my camp host days. Many campers thought their America the Beautiful pass got them a 50% discount on camping fees, but that was not the case. It didn’t help that the reservation website allowed folks making reservations to enter their America the Beautiful pass number, then reflected a 50% discount on the reservations. When such campers showed up in my campground, guess who was expected to shake the rest of the money out of their pockets? The camp host (me!) of course. It was one of my least favorite parts of being a camp host. The lesson for you? If you make camping reservations with the America The Beautiful Pass and you seem to be getting a 50% discount, you may be in for a big surprise when you get to the campground.

The America the Beautiful Pass is not valid at State Parks or local city/county recreation areas.

It is only valid at participating Federal recreation sites. Visit http://www.recreation.gov for more information about Federal recreation sites.

If you want to purchase an America the Beautiful Annual Pass, there are three ways to do so, according to the National Park Service. You can buy your pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes),

By phone at: 888-ASK USGS (1-888-275-8747), extension 3 (Hours of operation are: 8 am to 4 pm Mountain Time) [$5 handling fee may be added] [or,]

Online from the USGS store! ($5 handling fee added to cost of pass)

U.S. military personnel and their dependents can see Canyonlands National Park (and over 2,000 other federal recreation sites) for free with their own special America the Beautiful Pass.

A FREE America the Beautiful Pass is available to active members of the U.S. military and their dependents. According to the USGS Store, the following people qualify for the Pass:

Current U.S. Military personnel and their dependents who present, in person, a U.S. Department of Defense CAC identification or DD Form 1173 dependent identification and are in the following military personnel classification:
• Current members of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard
• Dependents of current U.S. military members with DD Form 1173
• U.S. Military Cadets
• U.S. Active Reservists (Do not need to be deployed)

Unfortunately,

[t]he following individuals/groups DO NOT Qualify for the interagency Military Annual Pass:
• Foreign military members (Including those stationed in the U S and have a CAC card)
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees
• Public Health Service (PHS) members
• Inactive U S Reservists
• Civilian military contractors
• Civilian military employees
• U S military veterans
• U S military retirees

Members of the military do not get a discount on the camping fee at Superbowl Campground near Canyonlands National Park.

As with the basic America the Beautiful Pass, the interagency Military Annual Pass

does not cover or provide a discount on expanded amenity fees such as camping, boat launch or interpretive fees.

There is only one way to acquire the FREE America the Beautiful Annual Pass for the U.S. Military (and dependents) according to the National Forest Service. A member of the military or the dependent of a military member can obtain the pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes) by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173).

Dependents of National Guard and Reserve members can also acquire a FREE Annual Military Pass.

Dependents of deployed military members with DoD Form 1173 may obtain a pass.

The America the Beautiful Senior Pass, formerly known as the Golden Age Passport, is available to

U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are 62 years or older. (You must have turned 62 before you can buy the pass).

Owning property or paying taxes in the U.S. does not automatically qualify you for a Senior Pass. You must be a permanent U.S. resident, or a U.S. citizen with identification such as U.S. Driver’s License, Green Card or U.S. Passport.

There are two options with the Senior Pass. You can get an Annual Senior Pass for $20 per year or a Lifetime Senior Pass for $80. If you want a Lifetime Senior pass but can’t afford to lay down $80 all at once, you are allowed to exchange your Annual Senior Pass(es) for a Lifetime Senior Pass.

Annual Senior Passes may be exchanged at any time for a Lifetime Senior Pass at the following exchange rates:
1 Annual Senior Pass: $60 for Senior Lifetime Pass
2 Annual Senior Pass: $40 for Senior Lifetime Pass
3 Annual Senior Pass: $20 for Senior Lifetime Pass
4 Annual Senior Pass: $0 for Senior Lifetime Pass

So basically you can buy your Lifetime Senior Pass in $20 installments. Furthermore, you get the enjoy the benefits of the Annual Pass whilce accumulating enough of them to get your Lifetime Pass.

At Las Petacas Campground in the Carson National Forest, camping only costs $3 per night for holders of the Senior Pass (formerly known as the Golden Age Passport).

Golden Age Passports are no longer sold, but they are lifetime passes and are still honored according to the terms of the Senior Pass.

At many sites the Senior Pass provides the pass owner a discount on Expanded Amenity Fees (such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours).

The pass program is managed by six Federal agencies that operate under different regulations and have different fees. Therefore, the discount program for the Senior Pass is not handled in the same way on all Federal recreation lands.

According to the National Park Service,

The Senior Pass may provide a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services.


The Senior Pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.

It is important to remember that if there is a 50% discount on camping fees,

The discount only applies to the fee for the campsite physically occupied by the pass owner, not to any additional campsite(s) occupied by members of the pass owner’s party.

The Annual or Lifetime Senior Pass will get you into White Sands National Monument with no admission fee.

There are three ways to purchase either the Annual or Lifetime America the Beautiful Senior Pass. According to the National Park Service, a senior can get the pass

In person at a federal recreation site (see PDF list of federal recreation sites that issue passes).

Online–buy the lifetime pass or the annual pass online through the USGS store!

Through the mail using this application form (PDF).

NOTE: There is an additional cost of $10 for passes purchased online or by mail.

According to the USGS Store, with any pass

[p]hoto identification may be required to verify ownership [of pass]. Passes are NON-REFUNDABLE, NON-TRANSFERABLE, and cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.

So that’s what you need to know about the basic America the Beautiful Pass as well as the FREE America the Beautiful Pass for active members of the U.S. military and the America the Beautiful Senior Pass. You can also read my post with information about the America the Beautiful Access Pass for people with disabilities, the America the Beautiful 4th Grade Pass, and the America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the right toolbar or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Please note all information was correct to the best of my knowledge when this post was written. Blaize Sun is not responsible for changing prices or any other changes that may take place after this post was written. Use the information given here as the starting point of your own research. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you.

I took the photos in this post.

Terrible Experience

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This photo shows the Double Arch, right across from where we utilized the pit toilets before starting our hike to see the North and South Windows.

I’d stepped out of the little building housing the pit toilet and was waiting for The Lady of the House to step out of the little building she’d gone into. We were in Arches National Park, near the Windows Trail. We were on our epic road trip, and we were having a great time.

I was standing to one side of the walkway. Two women passed me and went to the front of the pit toilet buildings. They were older than I am, probably in thier early to mid 60s. One woman was wearing a rather bashed up black cowgirl hat glittering with black sequins. The woman with the hat looked at her companion and declared, This is going to be a terrible experience.

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought it a shame she’d decided what kind of experience she was going to have before she even allowed herself to experience her actual experience.

My experience with the pit toilets throughout the national parks we visited was that they weren’t so bad. They all had toilet paper, most offered hand sanitizer, and none disgusted me. The Lady and I ulilized one at a scenic overlook at the very end of the day, and we both noticed the floor could have used a sweep and the outside of the risers could have used a wipe, but it was still on the pleasant end of the pit toilet spectrum.

Some of the pit toilets we encountered were smelly, but that’s the nature of decaying of animal (human or otherwise) waste. Folks who flush away their excrement don’t always realize the pit toilet stench is a normal result of the process of decay. Sometimes they don’t seem to realize that loudly complaining about the stink isn’t going to make it go away.

I think perhaps this sign I saw in the pit toilets thoughout the national parks in Utah is helping to keep things clean.

I can tell you from experience, finding feces on the floor near a pit toilet is a terrible experience. Having to clean up the feces is even worse. I wonder if the lady in the black sequined cowgirl hat had ever had that experience.

I took the photos in this post.