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America the Beautiful Pass: Your Ticket to the National Parks is the Greatest Value in America

A Pass to See America’s Greatest Natural Treasures


This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service. America’s 59 National Parks (called America’s Best Idea by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns) are located in 27 different states. Some of the scenes in these parks are so iconic that they can be found on state license plates (for example, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park is on Utah’s). Chances are, you live near a National Park. You may even go frequently. While the parks themselves are an undoubtedly great value, the $20-25 entrance fees can really add up.

Over the last decade or so, I’ve had the great fortune of being able to visit many parks. Right before my first overseas deployment, I was fortunate enough to visit the Grand Canyon and Badlands National Parks. For a good friend’s bachelor party, we hiked Angel’s Landing in Zion. After my second deployment to Iraq, my wife and I went to Acadia. The landscapes in all of these places are just astounding. With so much noise intrusion and pollution in our everyday lives, the golden silence just a mile from the trailhead is priceless.

I had heard of a mythical thing called an annual pass that would allow you access to these parks a few years ago. I never had the presence of mind to buy one (our trips to the parks were intermittent and we would always forget about it until we got back) and so I made it a point to research the pass before our most recent vacation this year. I discovered that for just $80, you can get a pass that will allow you unlimited entrance into the whole range of National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. Per the National Park Service:

“A pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. 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.”

We were planning to visit several parks during our 2016 road trip and so I went online to the USGS website and purchased the pass. Five business days later I had it in my hands. So how did my trip go? And was the pass worth it?

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