Going on a tour in the U.S. National Parks is definitely a wonderful experience. When planning this kind of trip, it is easy to get carried away and decide to visit several national parks, despite the distance between them, and embark on an exciting road trip adventure in the West of the United States.
I’m certainly not going to suppress your adventurous spirit, but maybe you could use some information to better plan your tour and save some money.
- How Much Does It Cost to Visit the US National Parks?
- National Park Pass Cost: How much is the America the Beautiful Pass?
- What Parks Does the America The Beautiful Pass Include
- In a Nutshell: What Does the America the Beautiful Pass Offer?
- How to Hand Over the Pass to Friends or Third parties?
- Where Can You Buy the America the Beautiful Pass?
How Much Does It Cost to Visit the US National Parks?
Well yes, if you want to visit these beautiful natural landscapes, you’ll have to pay first. Therefore, while organizing your itinerary, take into account not only the fuel needed for traveling, but also the cost of each individual park. The price for the entrance can range from $10 up to $35, but if you focus only on the most famous and popular national parks, the price will be between $30 and $35. The cost is not per person but per vehicle, and this could adversely affect your budget, especially if you decide to visit a dozen national parks like I did :). Here is an official page where you can find all the updated national parks entrance fees.
National Park Pass Cost: How much is the America the Beautiful Pass?
If you have decided to visit several national parks there is a solution for you. When you get to the first stop of your trip, ask for the National Parks Pass, an annual pass (also known as the America the Beautiful Pass) that costs $80 and that will allow you to visit the National Parks in the USA and come back whenever you want without having to pay again (which is very useful, because if you want to explore a national park in depth, you will find it difficult to accomplish in only one day).
What Parks Does the America The Beautiful Pass Include
The America the Beautiful Pass will give you access to all the parks managed by the NPS, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.
It is therefore very important to know that it will not be used for example:
- the parks found on an Indian reservations, such as Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon. This is due to the fact that the beautiful parks on the reservations are managed by the Native Americans (Navajo, Hualapai or others) and not directly by the National Park Service (which, by the way, omits to give this information on its website).
- State Parks: Each state offers the possibility to buy a specific pass to visit these areas.
The National Parks Card will therefore be a convenient solution for those planning to visit at least 3 national parks (excluding the kinds of parks mentioned above).
Here is a document that includes all the federal recreation areas and all national parks (natural and not) that can be visited with the national parks pass (and also the information on where to buy it).
One more thing: With the national parks pass you can visit the Grand Canyon National Park, both in the North Rim and South Rim (the latter is usually the most visited), but not Grand Canyon West (the Skywalk area), an area that is not as frequently visited, that is usually overlooked by the most common tours, but still accessible, for example through a helicopter tour from Las Vegas.
In a Nutshell: What Does the America the Beautiful Pass Offer?
- Entrance to the U.S. National Parks for one car and all its passengers (up to 14 passengers for those traveling with the bigger vehicles!) since the national park entrance fees are considered per vehicle, with the exception of the parks run by Native Americans and those few where there is an entrance fee is per person (per-person fee).
In the latter case the America the Beautiful Pass will cover for a maximum of 3 adults in addition to the card holder: the others will have to pay the ticket. More information here (question 3 of the second section). This page of the official website explains in detail which Parks have a “per person fee” and which ones allow you to access with the “per vehicle fee”.
- Possibility to return to a national park in the following days without having to pay again.
- Possibility to give away the pass to friends or third parties by putting their name on the back of the pass.
- Valid for one year: the pass is valid from the first day of the month that it is purchased and it expires at the end of that same month the following year.
How to Hand Over the Pass to Friends or Third parties?
It’s a pretty simple operation. On the back of the pass you will find space for 2 signatures. The first one is for you, the second one is for the eventual future owner. The only thing the new owner will have to do is to write his signature in the second space, and that’s it. Below you will find images of each side of the pass.
Where Can You Buy the America the Beautiful Pass?
You can buy it at the entrance of any National Park. All you have to do is just ask a park ranger. Alternatively, since you can hand the national parks pass over to someone else, you can also get it from someone who already used it.
REI is an American retailer specialized in hiking and sports equipment. REI allows you to buy the national parks pass for the standard price ($79.99). While completing the purchase you will be asked how you prefer to receive the pass. You will have two different options:
- Shipment directly to your home (free shipping within the United States).
- Pickup at one of the REI stores in the USA (free). You can find the map of the REI stores at this link: as you will see many of the stores are located in the cities where you usually start the tour of the national parks.
If you decide to have the America the Beautiful Pass sent by REI not to your home, but directly to the first hotel on your road trip (or to the one that is most convenient), remember to write the name and address of the hotel for the shipment, and to inform the hotel in advance that they will receive a package for you (you can write directly to the hotel using the specific Booking contact form). And of course don’t forget to pick it up at the reception desk!
If you are interested in saving a bit of money, you can also buy a used pass on eBay. If you don’t find a suitable price following that link, try the one below which uses a different search engine.
You can also purchase your national parks pass online in advance on Viator. At the price of $79.99 you can receive the annual America the Beautiful Pass without any additional cost. The website offers free shipping by mail, and the delivery is very fast. I ordered the pass on Tuesday May 14 and it arrived on Monday May 20, ready to use in the current month, with a brochure and a small plastic holder to keep it in the car (see photo).
- Write your shipping address in the additional notes (under “Special Requirements“) when purchasing the pass;
- When asked to select the number of adults, keep in mind that Viator refers to the number of vehicles interested. For example: if your group of friends is made up of 5 adults and you are all traveling in the same car, you will only have to buy 1 pass, then select “1 adult”;
- In the description you will see “Visit: Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida”. Don’t worry: the pass is not just valid for Everglades and does not necessarily need to be “activated” in Everglades, although this specification may be misleading. You are purchasing a regular America the Beautiful Pass, valid for all national parks listed here.
You will receive a shipment confirmation within a few days from Viator’s customer service and, if you have any concerns, you can send an email with your questions. You will get a response within a few hours.
Warning: You can also provide the address of the hotel where you will be staying during your road trip. Let the hotel know about the package they will receive for you (you can get in touch with the hotel directly through the specific Booking contact form).