It’s the most valuable card in your wallet. It’s your National Parks Senior Pass and it is literally your passport to hundreds of unique locations around the United States. Your America the Beautiful National Parks and Recreational Lands Senior Pass provides first-class outdoor opportunities, whether you’re a day tripper or avid camper or hiker. Across America’s national parks, there are picnic spots and ranger talks, walking paths and hiking trails, scenic drives and wilderness adventures. Everyone will find a place for their comfort level and interest on our national lands.
What Is The America The Beautiful National Parks Pass?
America the Beautiful National Park passes cover admission to national parks and wildlife refuges coast to coast and are available to folks in a variety of demographics for different prices. The Senior Pass is for people 62 and older and is distinct from the general Annual Pass option.
There are two types of Senior Pass available: annual and lifetime. They cover entrance and access to over 2,000 national lands sites including all national parks and national park recreation areas across the U.S. Your pass covers entry for you and up to three additional adults who are with you in your vehicle. Children under 16 are always given free admission. Your pass also entitles you to discounts on camping and tours at many locations.
Cost Of The Pass
The Senior Annual Pass is $20 and the Senior Lifetime Pass is $80. Both entail an additional $10 service fee.
The pass is a great value. There are 118 National Parks Service-managed sites, including 112 national parks that have entrance fees. Without a pass, entry fees to these sites vary from $10 to $30 per person depending on the park. When you add in half-price camping fees (available only for Senior and Access Pass holders), the pass will easily pay for itself.
Does My Pass Expire?
Annual passes must be repurchased each year. Lifetime passes do not expire, but they are not transferable to anyone else. You can upgrade to a lifetime pass at any time and will pay the full $80 fee.
Where Do I Get A Pass?
You can purchase your pass online through the USGS store. The USGS manages all pass purchases and information. You also can print out the online application and mail it with your $30 or $90 fee depending on what pass you choose. All passes are sent to recipients by return mail. Passes can also be purchased in-person at many national parks and other recreation sites. Download this PDF for a full list of pass issuance locations.
How Old Do I Have To Be?
You must be 62 or older to qualify for a Senior Pass. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
The Fine Print
- Lost passes are not eligible for replacement — they must be repurchased.
- Proof of age and U.S. citizenship (or permanent residency) is required at purchase.
- You must have your pass with you to receive discounts and fee-free entry.
- Some private concessionaires run campgrounds or tours and may not provide discounts for Senior Pass holders. Always call ahead to explore your options.
- Always have an ID (like your driver’s license) with you when using your pass to verify you are the pass owner.
Benefits Of Your Senior Pass
There are over 2,000 national lands sites where you can use your Senior Pass. Just keep in mind that fee-free entry to a park is separate from camping or tour fees. Sorry — no discounts at park bookstores.
You can use your Senior Pass to visit any national park including national recreation areas and national monuments, Army Corps of Engineer recreation sites, Fish and Wildlife areas, and National Forest Service campgrounds.
Why Visit A National Park?
What can you do at a national park? Well, they’re not just for young, energetic hikers who tent camp and backpack. National lands cater to people of all experience levels who want to enjoy the great outdoors. Listen to a scheduled ranger talk, do a self-guided walking or driving tour, attend a star-gazing event, fish, hike, bike, and — of course — see wildlife in their natural habitats. National parks have restrooms and bookstores as well as welcome centers where you can get maps and ranger information.
The top 10 national parks according to annual visits are regularly published by National Geographic, but aside from the big-names like Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yosemite, here are two of my favorites…
Buffalo National Grasslands
The Buffalo National Grasslands in South Dakota is a great day site where you will experience buffalo herds as they lazily cross the park road with their calves in tow. They may come right up to your car, and rangers will be present to keep you safe.
From amateurs using their smartphone cameras to photographers with sophisticated long-range lenses, visitors line up to capture photos of these magnificent animals. You’ll find interpretive markers with historical information in convenient pull-off areas where you can park your car and get out to stretch. Don’t miss the burros that roam the park. One might even stick its head in your car window seeking a treat.
Zion National Park
Your breath will be taken away when you see the red rock mountainsides and canyons of Zion National Park in southwest Utah. Board a free tram at the visitor center and ride through the park, taking in its beauty. Get off and on at any of the tram’s nine stops, where you’ll find easy walking paths as well as strenuous climbing opportunities.
From the last stop, you can walk one mile down a paved path along the Virgin River, eventually finding yourself at the canyon entrance to The Narrows. Here you can sit on smooth rocks on the river bank and watch the adventurous don waterproof shoes and waders to step into the shallows, trekking several miles out and back through water between the canyon walls.
Plan A Day Trip Or Long Weekend
Get out to a park and enjoy a picnic. Most parks allow dogs on a leash (but not in bookstores or ranger buildings). Visit the welcome center to learn more about your park. Have lunch or dinner in one of the park restaurants, which are known for serving locally sourced meals.
Traveling to a national park can be a wonderful experience. Camping in a tent or an RV is a lot of fun, but you can stay at a lodge, cabin, or hotel in many national parks. Reservations for campgrounds and lodging places are a must, especially at the popular parks and during summer or ski season. Consider getting off the beaten path to an Army Corp of Engineers campsite on lake or riverfront for boating and fishing, or a Fish and Wildlife refuge for birding.
There are parks and monuments from Denali in Alaska to the Dry Tortugas in Florida, from Acadia in Main to Big Bend on the Texas-Mexico border. Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming (famously portrayed in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is a fascinating location. Take in the Lake Mead Recreation Area just outside Las Vegas. Olympia National Park is a great weekend trip outside of Seattle.
Once you start visiting our national parks and lands, you’ll be hooked. Your pass will be your most valued card. You’ll see amazing vistas, and access unspoiled wilderness and natural features including waterfalls, petroglyphs, caves, glacial lakes, and seashores. You’ll experience diverse flora including redwoods, sequoias, Joshua trees, saguaro cactus, rainforests, and swamps.
You’ll never forget your encounters with wild animals and birds including bear, moose, elk, prairie dogs, bald eagles, and buffalo. Bring your binoculars, camera, camp chair, and water. Be safe and have fun using your America the Beautiful Senior Pass!
Photo Credit: Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock
Photo Credit: RossHelen / Shutterstock