America the Beautiful: The National Parks Senior Pass

Hands down, the best value in the RVing world is the National Parks Senior Pass

One of the consolations of old age is the America the Beautiful Pass which like most Federal entities has undergone a name change—it used to be called MANY years ago, the Golden Age Pass.

For $80, seniors can get a Lifetime Senior Pass. Seniors are anyone over the age of 62.

If you want the Annual Senior Pass, it’s $20, as of this posting.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What the America the Beautiful National Parks Senior Pass includes

All U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible for this pass which will greatly reduce your expenditures for visiting and camping in National Parks and federal land—more than 2,000 locations in all.

Each pass covers entrance fees for your RV (or whatever vehicle you are in) and all passengers at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard and day-use fees at national forests and grasslands and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Most campgrounds in National Forests give you a 50 percent discount on camping fees with the America the Beautiful pass.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get an America the Beautiful Senior Pass

The America the Beautiful Senior Pass is sold at all National Park entrances, national monuments, many National Forest ranger stations, Bureau of Land Management field, and district officers, and numerous other places.

Purchase the LIFETIME Senior Pass Here

Purchase the ANNUAL Senior Pass Here

As soon as you turn 62, just show up with documentation that you’re either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (driver’s license, US passport, birth certificate, or green card) and that you’re 62.

Pay the fee ($80) and you’re literally set for life. Since the replacement charge is the same as a new card the procedure is just to get another one if you lose yours. So don’t lose your card! And they don’t accept pictures of the card (in case you like to digitize your paper for trips)—so keep your card handy!

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Parks Senior Pass has lots of benefits for campers

There are many other uses more important to RVers and fulltimers who spend more than the usual two or three weeks a year touring the country.

Six federal agencies—the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Land Management—all honor the America the Beautiful National Parks Senior Pass at sites where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged. 

“Standard amenity fees” are governmentese for day use, swimming, boat launch, or campsite fees which is where the pass comes into its own.

When you check-in at one of the campgrounds, look on the envelope you use to pay your camping fee at National Forest and BLM campgrounds. 

On the bottom line, there’s a place for your pass number and a 50 percent discount on the overnight camping fee. Army Corps of Engineers campsites also honors the 50 percent discount for senior pass cardholders.

Even the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) will give you 50 percent off of the campsite fees. The TVA offers hundreds of campsites among its six dam reservoir campgrounds in the Southeast available from March 15 to November 15. The length of stay is limited to 21 days during the high season (May 1 to September 30) and 30 days in the off-season (October 1 to April 30, excluding closure dates).

The America the Beautiful pass for seniors will also save you the trouble of going into the ranger station or store to get a permit for National Forest dispersed camping—just display your card on the dash in lieu of the permit. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the Access Pass?

The site also explains, “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 percent disability)—that provides admittance to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by six Federal agencies” is only $20. 

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

Purchase the Access Pass Here

America the Beautiful Annual Pass

An $80.00 Annual Pass that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation areas managed by six Federal agencies with up to 100 percent of the proceeds being used to improve and enhance visitor recreation services.

Purchase the America the Beautiful Annual Pass Here

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are some exceptions

The only fly in the ointment are concessionaires—private companies that contract with the Federal government to manage campgrounds in national parks and forests.

They aren’t required to accept the pass for a 50 percent discount although there are many who do. Each concessionaire has a separate agreement with NPS.

If the campsite has improvements—water and/or electric hookups—expect to pay full price for the improvements and get 50 percent off the basic campground fee only. 

Most Federal campgrounds don’t have hookups, though, so if you have solar or just like to boondock, an America the Beautiful Senior Pass will come in handy.

There’s just no downside to getting this card. Even if you don’t camp at all you’ll be able to drive through national parks without getting paying the entrance fee.

This has to be one of the best values out there in the RV world. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many other types of passes are available

If you take a look at this brochure, you’ll see many other types of passes available, including a Military Pass, a Volunteer Pass, a student pass, and many more.

Where are you going next?

RVing with Rex has posted a series of Ultimate Guides to…

These resources were written for RVers who wish to explore a national park or other location in depth and often highlight cheap and free things to do while traveling in the area. Having a tried-and-true itinerary can assist you in maximizing your time in a NPS site by showcasing the highlights including hiking trails and campgrounds in and near the park.

Selected guides include:

You can also read:

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer