The Best Way To Tell If An America The Beautiful National Park Pass Is Right For You

The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass gives you unlimited free admission to more than 2,000 locations around the United States, from major national parks like iconic Yellowstone National Park and postcard-worthy Acadia National Park to historic sites like Alcatraz Island. The pass costs $80 per year, and for some people, that could translate to major savings and more opportunities to enjoy their favorite activities like hiking, camping, and exploring nature. However, if you prefer traveling alone and only visit a national park once or twice a year, you might not be getting your money's worth.


While the America the Beautiful Pass is a great deal, you should also know that the National Park Service also offers some fantastic discounts for certain members of the population. If you're a senior, you can get the $80 annual pass for only $20, or purchase a lifetime pass for only $80. If you volunteer with organizations that are part of the Interagency Pass Program, have certain disabilities, currently serve or have served in the military, or are in the fourth grade, you can get your pass for free. If not, read on to see if an America the Beautiful Pass is right for you.

How many national parks are you planning to visit?

The America the Beautiful pass covers the entrance fee for national parks, so whether spending the $80 upfront will save you money depends on how many parks you plan to visit. According to US Park Pass, an authorized seller of the America the Beautiful Pass, if you are planning to visit three or more major parks, then you'll probably save money with a pass. For example, if you are planning to attempt the dangerous hike up Mount Rainier, watch the sunrise and sunset over South Dakota's Badlands, and look for alligators in Everglades National Park next year, you'd be spending $95 in entrance fees. In that scenario, the America the Beautiful pass would be a bargain.


However, if you live close to a national park and are planning to spend your free time exploring every corner of it, you might be better off with an annual pass to that specific park. Some, like Denali National Park and Preserve, only cost $45 for a park-specific annual pass. Even pricier parks, like Yellowstone National Park, cost $70 per year for an annual pass. If you're positive you're only going to visit just one national park, you might be better off skipping the America the Beautiful pass and opting for a park-specific pass instead.

How many people are you bringing on your national park visit?

Not only can you use your America the Beautiful pass to enter national parks by yourself, but you can also use it to bring friends and family members in with you. If a park charges per person, the pass allows you to bring three other adults with you for free. However, if you're driving into a park that charges per vehicle, the pass may not make much of a difference, as you'd only be charged a flat fee for your car (for example, $35 at Olympic National Park) even without a pass.


However, if you're planning to arrive by public transportation or on foot, you'll be paying per person. While kids and younger teens are typically free, per-person fees can add up quickly. For example at Yosemite National Park, you pay $20 per person. That means that if you and three friends want to hike together, you'll break even on an America the Beautiful pass in just a single visit. It's all about doing some simple math and determining how many of America's scenic national parks you plan on visiting (and with who) throughout the year.