How Military Families Can Get Free Annual National Park Entrance Passes

by Amy Myers
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The National Park Service is giving back to military members and their families by providing free annual entrance passes called The Interagency Annual Military Pass. These passes allow our nation’s heroes to explore all of our national parks, wildlife refuges and forests. The NPS hopes that this new offering will encourage active-duty members, veterans, and their loved ones to take advantage of the lands that they have helped keep safe.

What to Know

  • Veterans, “Gold Star” families and current military members and their dependents all qualify for annual pass
  • Annual passes give access to over 2,000 federal recreational lands
  • Lifetime Passes will become available later in 2022

On Twitter, the U.S. Department of the Interior expressed its enthusiasm now that The Interagency Annual Military Pass is available.

“In gratitude for their service, free annual passes are available for all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and their families to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national parks,” the U.S. Department of the Interior tweeted.

The entrance passes allow these individuals to access national parks and federal recreation lands for free. However, the pass does not waive additional costs, such as camping, transportation, special recreation permits, reservation fees, or special tours.

While the current pass only allows access for one year, there is a Lifetime Pass in the works. According to the NPS, “Congress recently passed legislation authorizing a free lifetime pass to national parks and other federal recreation areas for eligible U.S. military veterans and Gold Star families.”

These Lifetime Passes will be available to distribute later in 2022. Until then, qualifying individuals can use The Interagency Annual Military Pass to visit their favorite national parks.

Who Qualifies for Free Military Pass to National Parks?

Veterans

In order to get The Interagency Annual Military Pass, veterans can present one of the following forms of identification. This includes a Department of Defense Identification Card (non-expired CAC Card), Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC), a Veteran ID Card and a Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card. By showing any of these forms of ID, veterans can also gain access to sites that currently do not distribute the new passes.

The NPS recommends that veterans present the passes on the dashboard of their vehicles at unstaffed sites. This is to avoid receiving any fees or tickets.

Gold Star Families

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the NPS considers Gold Star Families as “next of kin of a member of the US Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a ‘qualifying situation,’ such as a war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the US Armed Forces.”

These families are important members of the new program that qualify for Interagency Annual Military Passes. While their loved one has passed away, they will still be able to enjoy these recreational areas, including military memorials, as a way of honoring their late relative’s contribution to our nation’s defenses.

There are specific qualifications that these families must meet, as listed in section 3.2 of Department of Defense Instruction 1348.36. You can find the full list here.

Active Duty Members and Families

Like Gold Star families and U.S. veterans, active members and their dependents can receive The Interagency Annual Military Pass, too, through the America the Beautiful (Interagency) Pass Program. In order to receive their free passes, active-duty members must present the proper identification, such as a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173). This pass is available for purchase in person at a variety of federal recreational sites or online.

The only other difference for these individuals is that they will not yet be able to apply for a Lifetime Pass later this year. Once these members retire from the military, they can receive the Lifetime Pass. Until then, they will need to renew their Interagency Annual Military Pass each year.

See the full list of conditions and order your Interagency Annual Military Pass here.

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