Affordable Ways to Enjoy National Parks

by Debra Karplus
Affordable Ways to Enjoy National Parks photo

Our national parks have much to offer, but costs can add up. Here are some affordable ways to enjoy national parks year-round on the cheap.

Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, established in 1872, was America’s first national park and perhaps most well-known and frequently visited national park. But with the establishment of the US Department of the Interior in 1916, the national park began growing into the vast recreation opportunity it has evolved into today. And now Yellowstone is only one of 63 national parks in the United States.

To visit Yellowstone, expect to pay $35 per vehicle or $20 per individual for a 7-day pass. Visit often, and the expense adds up.

You can also purchase an annual pass for Yellowstone for $70, a much better deal than a 7-day pass if you are a frequent visitor. But what if you like to visit multiple parks? You could easily pay hundreds if you visit more than a few parks per year.

Thankfully, there is a way to visit most national park locations for little more than the cost of an annual pass to one park.

Passes make national park visits more affordable.

Boating, camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, and picnicking amidst a breathtaking scenic backdrop are just a few of the activities you can enjoy at one of the National Parks.

The National Park Service sells its America the Beautiful annual pass for $80, allowing access to over 2,000 federally operated sites. If you plan to visit any of the parks in your area or while on vacation, this could pay for itself quickly.

With many national parks now costing $35 per vehicle for a 7-day pass, you can see how easily an American the Beautiful annual pass pays for itself.

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National parks are incredibly enticing with a pass for seniors.

Does that sound too good to be true? Well, it isn’t! And the deal gets even better for seniors.

People over age 62 can purchase a one-time lifetime pass. After paying $80 only once, you can enjoy the many activities available at any of America’s national parks at no additional cost for the rest of your life. These passes can be obtained online or in the mail for an additional $10 processing charge.

This could easily be the best $80 you will ever spend.

Seniors also have the option of an annual senior pass for $20 per year, which is still a steep discount from the America the Beautiful annual pass.

Free passes exist for the disabled, too.

If you have a disability, you may be eligible for a free access pass to all national parks. Check NPS.gov for details.

The website for each of the individual recreation sites will give details about accessibility, such as for wheelchairs.

Perks for the parks are available for those who volunteer.

Time is money. How true that is when it comes to enjoying our national parks.

If you are willing to give 250 hours of your time, a volunteer pass can become yours. Peruse NPS.gov and locate a park near where you live, and discover what volunteers can do at that site to earn a free pass. Then check out the steps required to acquire your volunteer pass.

What a great way to give service and receive a special reward for your good deeds!

Recreation, whether indoors or outdoors, comes at a price. But our national parks do have much to offer.

If you visit a national park only rarely, a pass may not be for you. But with the low cost of some national park service passes, you may benefit from obtaining a pass and experiencing the national parks more frequently year-round. Check it out.

Reviewed March 2022

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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