America The Beautiful Pass: Will You Save Money At US National Parks?

by Mark & Kristen Morgan
America the beautiful national park pass is it worth the money?

Is the ‘America the Beautiful Annual National Parks Pass‘ worth buying? This is the question we asked ourselves before setting off on an epic 3 month US road trip – and you are asking yourself now!

America’s diverse National Parks were top of our wishlist. A little investigating led us quickly to the conclusion that this pass would definitely be worth the money for our trip.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a shoe in for you.

Not everyone is going on a 3 month road trip. In addition, there are differing entry prices and confusing criteria. It is important to know where you will be charged the big bucks and where you can enter for free, even without the pass.

We often discussed if the America the Beautiful pass would have saved us money had we only been a shorter road trip.

By the end of this article, you will know if the pass is worth the money for you.

Let’s dig in and find out!

Are you planning to visit America’s National Parks on a road trip? You won’t forget a thing when you read our US Road Trip Packing Essentials List!

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Zion valley from Angels Landing America the beautiful National Park Pass

So what exactly is included with the pass? Does this cover all National Parks? Will I still need to pay to enter State Parks? What about National Monuments and Native American attractions?

They are all excellent questions.

The US is gigantic and National Parks are on a completely different level. National Parks in most other countries don’t even come close to the scale and jaw-dropping-moments of US parks.

There are currently 62 National Parks in the US park system.

Could there be more?

Heck, yes! However, not every single area of outstanding natural beauty can be designated as a National Park. Otherwise, there would be hundreds in America!

  • America the Beautiful is a pass allowing entrance to all National Parks, National Monuments and Battlefields. There are over 2000 federal recreation sites that are included with the pass.
  • The pass does not cover State Parks or Native American attractions and you will be charged on an individual basis to enter. These costs quickly add up on a long road trip.

How Much Does The America The Beautiful National Parks Pass Cost?

Bryce Canyon Sunrise America the Beautiful national park pass

An America the Beautiful pass is not a per person purchase, it is a per vehicle purchase. That means if you are traveling as a couple or even as a family of 4, you only need to buy 1 pass.

Most parks charge per vehicle but there are a few exceptions where entry is charged per person. There are 2 spaces for signatures on the back of the card but the 2 people do not have to be related or traveling together.

It is important to note that you always have to show I.D. with the park pass to gain entrance.

So, the grand total for access to some of the most incredible National Parks in the whole world for a full year and up to 4 people …. drum role … is a (quite frankly) ridiculous…

US$ 80

No we didn’t mistype, it’s 80 dollars. If that number seems even a little steep to you, just wait until you see how much each park costs to enter individually below.

Now before we get any more over excited by what we consider to be one of the bargains of the century, it’s important to consider exactly which parks you want to visit to determine if you will save money.

At the end of the day, we all want the best value for money.

Let’s dig into the figures!

Important Price Information: Senior citizens (62+) can pick up an annual pass for just US$ 20 (US$ 80 for a lifetime pass) and the pass is free for Disabled or Military visitors.

How Much Do US National Parks Cost Without a Pass?

Grand Canyon sunrise included with America the beautiful national park pass

How much each park costs on an individual basis is the most important part of this article for you to calculate savings or extra spending against the US$ 80.

Below, you will find current entry prices into each of the US National Parks. Notice there a small number of parks charging per person as opposed to per vehicle.

Spoiler – visiting Utah? You’ll be buying the pass!

Free To EnterAlaskaGates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clarke, Wrangell-St. Elias; American SamoaAmerican SamoaArkansasHot Springs; CaliforniaChannel Islands, Redwood; FloridaBiscayne; KentuckyMammoth Cave (Tour Costs)MinnesotaVoyageurs; NevadaGreat Basin; North Carolina/TennesseeGreat Smoky Mountains; OhioCuyahoga Valley; South CarolinaCongaree; South DakotaWind Cave; US Virgin IslandsVirgin Islands; WashingtonNorth Cascades
US$ 6IndianaIndiana Dunes
US$ 20ArizonaPetrified Forest, Saguaro; ColoradoBlack Canyon of the Gunnison; UtahCapitol Reef
US$ 25ColoradoGreat Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountain; HawaiiHaleakala, Hawaii Volcanoes; New MexicoWhite Sands; OregonCrater Lake; South DakotaBadlands
US$ 30CaliforniaDeath Valley, Joshua Tree, Lassen Volcanic, Pinnacles; FloridaEverglades; MaineAcadia; North DakotaTheodore Roosevelt; TexasBig Bend; UtahArches, Canyonlands; VirginiaShenandoah; WashingtonMount Rainier, Olympic
US$ 35ArizonaGrand Canyon; CaliforniaSequoia & Kings Canyon, Yosemite; MontanaGlacier; UtahBryce Canyon, Zion; WyomingGrand Teton, Yellowstone
Per Person CostsAlaskaDenali (US$ 10); FloridaDry Tortugas (US$ 15); MichiganIsle Royale (US$ 7); MissouriGateway Arch (US$ 3); New MexicoCarlsbad Caverns (US$ 15); TexasGuadalupe Mountains (US$ 5)

Get Your Calculator Out!

Kristen walking the narrows Zion included with national park pass

Are you adding up the costs in your head?!

Which parks are on your road trip agenda? Use the table above to calculate projected expense, get a total and see how close to 80 you are!

Remember, the pass is valid for 1 year. Consider the chances of being able to visit more parks within the next 365 days. It could save you even more money.

We do have one top tip for you to consider: There are 5 days each year that you can visit every single National Park for free. They are January 20, April 18, August 25, September 26 and November 11.

Just remember, free = crowds!

Our Total Savings With America The Beautiful Pass

Mark Kristen Half Dome Yosemite included with America the beautiful national park pass

We visited the following parks on our US Road Trip:

Badlands (US$ 20), Yellowstone (US$ 35), Grand Tetons (US$ 35), Capitol Reef (US$ 20), Bryce Canyon (US$ 35), Zion (US$ 35), Death Valley (US$ 30), Yosemite (US$ 35), Joshua Tree (US$ 30), Grand Canyon (US$ 35), Canyonlands (US$ 30) and Arches (US$ 30).

In total we would have blown through US$ 370 to enter those National Parks. Instead, we paid US$ 80.

Our savings amounted to a whopping US$ 290.

So, Is It Worth The Money?

Grand Tetons lake trees and mountains stunning scenery

Abso-damn-lutely! As long as you plan to visit at least four or five of the bigger parks in the next year, your America the Beautiful National Parks Pass will be excellent value for money!

Personally, we believe this annual pass is a steal. Of course it completely depends on which US states and National Parks you intend to visit, but it only takes a couple of the big boys to rack up the US$ 80.

That being said – as we mentioned earlier – not everyone can go on a 3 month road trip and not everyone wants to visit this many National Parks.

So, the key is to establish which parks you want to visit, multiply the cost and determine if you would save money or not.

How Do I Buy My America The Beautiful Pass?

Arches national park at sunset delicate arch

Another tick in the Pro’s side of buying the pass is ease of purchase. You can purchase your pass directly from the US National Park service or alternatively, you can pick one up in person at almost all of the 2,000+ federal recreation sites included with the pass.

Here are a list of resources for you to look into:

We hope this helped you work out whether or not the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is a good fit for your upcoming travel plans!

Don’t forget you can look at all our itineraries, destinations and USA specific travel guides to help plan your next trip!

-Happy Travels-

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Valuable Resources To Book Your Next Trip

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  • Travel Insurance: Never leave home without insurance, it’s not worth the risk. World Nomads is our preferred travel insurance provider | World Nomads
  • Destinations: Where in the world will you travel next? Find your dream vacations by map or country | Destinations
  • Packing & Gear: Need help packing for your next trip? Don’t leave home with these essential items | Travel Packing List
  • Planning a Trip: Planning a trip can be a daunting task. Take the stress out of planning by breaking things down into these manageable steps | Plan a Trip
  • Wellness: It is more important than ever to take care of your mind, body and soul when traveling short or long term | Travel Wellness

Leave a Comment

2 comments

Graham Bedford May 28, 2020 - 3:38 pm

These national parks are amazing, they are on my bucket list now.

Reply
Mark & Kristen Morgan May 28, 2020 - 7:15 pm

Hi Graham! Wait until you see them in person 🙂

Reply

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