Over the last few years our family has gone from National Park rookies to experts. They have quickly become some of our #1 travel destinations, and if we can find any way to visit National Parks as we travel, we do!
We are largely motivated by our National Parks Passport Book. It has become a super fun way to research possible destinations, and collect free souvenirs (the stamps!) Whenever we are planning a trip route, we always check the proximity of National Parks and make every effort to include them in the itinerary. My kids also love looking through their National Geographic Guide to National Parks to get trip ideas.
Up until recently, most of the Parks we’ve visited have not charged an admission fee. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, but for the most part the Parks on the East Coast are free. I didn’t really understand the “Free Admission” days or the special discounts considering we weren’t paying anyway.
But then I started planning our trip out West.
I’ve found that most parks charge between $20-$30 PER car. While that may not sound outrageous, a family might be able to visit 7-10 parks on a weeklong trip and that fee will really add up!
I started looking into various ways to avoid paying such a large price to visit, and I was super surprised to find a variety of ways! If you are planning a trip that includes National Parks, you will first want to ask yourself these questions:
- How many National Parks will our family visit this year?
- Do the parks that we will visit charge an admission fee?
- Is our itinerary flexible?
After you have determined your needs, here are some awesome ways to save money when you visit National Parks:
- Free Days: Each year, the NPS announces several free admission days. For example, in 2018 the upcoming dates are: April 21st, September 22nd, and November 11th. If you are able to plan your trip around these dates, it’s obviously the easiest way to save. Keep in mind, though, you might not be the only family taking advantage of the free admission price and parks are liable to be extra crowded.
- Every Kid In A Park: If you’re lucky enough to have a 4th grader in your family, they can actually complete an online test and receive a free pass for a year. This pass gives free admission to the child AND their whole family! These passes must be printed prior to your visit.
- Military Pass: Current members of the military receive a free pass with ID. This will also allow the whole family (1 vehicle) into the park.
- Senior Pass: US Citizens over the age of 62 can purchase a discounted annual pass for $20. Alternatively, they can purchase a lifetime pass for $80. This is an awesome option if you can travel with a grandparent because their pass will get the whole vehicle inside the parks.
- America The Beautiful Annual Pass: Anyone can purchase an annual pass to the National Parks for $80. The pass is good for 1 year from the month of purchase. If you will be visiting 3-4 National Parks that charge an admission fee in a calendar year, this pass will pay for itself! Again, the pass will cover admission for your vehicle.
Each of the passes may be purchased via the USGS website. You will want to make sure to purchase your National Parks Passport Book and the National Geographic Guide to National Parks prior to your travel as they aren’t available at every park!
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