National Park Programs that Enhance Your Visit

Planning a trip to one or more of the thousands of federal recreation sites across America? Enjoy the convenience of a pass that covers entrance, standard amenity (day use), and other recreation fees.

It is no secret that the National Park Service (NPS) sites are absolutely amazing. From breathtaking views to incredible hikes to awesome history lessons, there’s something for everyone in these spectacular places. Many people are not aware that in addition to keeping these parks, monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, and trails in tip-top shape, the NPS also offers a variety of programs to enhance your visit to each location.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As an RV traveler, there’s a good chance you find yourself visiting NPS sites often. And if you don’t, you really should because these protected places are incredible. Therefore, it makes sense for you to learn about all of the outstanding programs offered by the NPS so you can take full advantage and make your visits as awesome as possible.

Unfortunately, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, finding out about these programs can be somewhat problematic. That’s where this article comes into play.

Below I’ve listed six amazing programs offered in the national parks. Determine which ones are useful to you and ensure to access them on your next outing to a national park.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“America the Beautiful” Pass

First and foremost, I absolutely must mention the “America the Beautiful” pass. This pass allows the holder to enter all NPS sites without paying entry fees. And this pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Six agencies participate in the Interagency Pass Program 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 cost for this pass is $80 for 12 months. As you might imagine, it can be a huge money saver if you visit several national parks a year.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other Types of Passes

Even better than the “America the Beautiful” pass is the special passes available to seniors, military members, and people with disabilities. Senior passes are provided for US citizens or permanent residents age 62 or older and the cost is $20 a year or $80 for a lifetime pass. Military passes are for current US military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members; US military veterans; and Gold Star families and are free of charge. Lastly, the Access Pass is for US citizens or permanent residents with a permanent disability and is also free to obtain. In addition to entry to the parks, these three passes offer cardholders discounts on most campsites.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Every Kid Outdoors” Program

Another way to obtain a national parks pass is through the “Every Kid Outdoors” program. This program gives every 4th grader (and 5th grader for 2021 only) an annual national parks pass for free. The goal of the program is to ensure every child has a chance to see the majesty of America’s national parks while making memories outside. The pass is valid from September 1st of the child’s 4th-grade year through August 31st of the following year and is available from

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Junior Ranger Program

Even if your child isn’t in 4th or 5th grade right now, there is still an NPS program that is wonderful for them. The Junior Ranger Program is tons of fun for kids ages 5–13 and gives them the opportunity to be fully engaged in their visits to the parks. To participate, simply visit an NPS visitor center and ask for a Junior Ranger book. These are usually free but occasionally you may be charged a small fee. Fill out the book as you explore the park, return it to a ranger, be sworn in as an official Junior Ranger, and go home with a park-specific badge to display on a sash, banner, or anywhere else you see fit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BARK Ranger Program

Have fur babies rather than human children? If so, the BARK Ranger program might be of interest to you. Similar to the Junior Ranger Program, this program gives dogs (and kitties) an opportunity to join the NPS team by earning special badges. In this case, the badges are park-specific dog tags and are earned by learning the rules of visiting a national park.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volunteers-in-Parks Program

Last but not least, there is the Volunteers-in-Parks program. This awesome program gives national park lovers a chance to donate their skills and time in order to help improve the parks. It is open to all individuals, but children under the age of 18 must-have signed permission from a parent or guardian. In return for their efforts, volunteers who complete at least 250 hours of work in a single calendar year will be offered a volunteer pass that gives them free entry to NPS sites.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

—Eleonora Duse