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