HomeOutdoorsAmerica the Beautiful Pass: FAQs about the U.S. National Park Pass

America the Beautiful Pass: FAQs about the U.S. National Park Pass

by Michael Freeman
(Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

As the weather begins to warm up, many of us are venturing outside more frequently again. Whether it’s camping or going to a park, the weather is perfect for an outdoor adventure. On that note, you might be interested in an America the Beautiful Pass. The pass is your one-stop-shop for hiking in national parks throughout the country, though there are some things you should know before purchasing it.

What to Know

  • The America the Beautiful Pass allows the owner(s) free admittance to many United States national parks by paying an $80 annual fee.
  • You can acquire the pass online or ordering it over the phone.
  • Several federal agencies provide national parks you can visit for free with the pass.
  • The pass actually allows several people into these parks, but you must have the pass to gain access.

What is the America the Beautiful Pass?

The America the Beautiful Pass is an annual pass you can purchase that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation areas many different federal agencies manage. The official website states you can buy it for $80, with the proceeds going to help enhance services at these locations. Anyone over 16-years-old can purchase the pass. Luckily, anyone under 16 is allowed free admittance to these locations. Additionally, each annual pass may have up to two “owners,” so you can bring someone else with you.

How do I Acquire a Pass and Where May I Use it?

If you’re interested, there are numerous ways to acquire the pass. The easiest way is to look online at various site locations that issue the annual pass. Additionally, you can order through USGS via phone at 888-275-8747 and select option 2. If you opt for the latter route, you can expect your pass within five business days.

As stated, many federal agencies manage the pass, meaning there is a multitude of parks available to frequent. Fortunately, some of the bigger national locations you’d think of are included, such as:

  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • The Great Smokey Mountains
  • Zion National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Grand Canyon
  • Acadia National Park
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park

For a complete list, you can check the various federal agencies below.

Having the pass is great, but it would probably help to know where to start. One is the obvious Yellowstone National Park. The park that began it all, Yellowstone came to be on March 1, 1872, and features everything you’d expect from nature. Within its 2.2 million acres, you can observe wildlife, explore geothermal areas which include geysers, and view things like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone River.

For those wanting a bit more verticality, Grand Teton National Park might be for you. Not only does it feature wildlife and crystal-clear lakes, but it also houses the mountains that led to the park’s creation. Containing a whopping two hundred miles of trails, you could visit the park every week the entire year and still not cover it all.

Additionally, if you’re looking for a more humid environment, Joshua Tree National Park may be for you. The Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems meet each other here, leading to a distinct variety of plants and animals. Another plus of the area is it is just as beautiful at night as it is during the day. Considering its cultural history and unique geological features, coming here would certainly be a memorable trip.

Annual Pass Use and Common Questions

Though the America the Beautiful Pass may seem straightforward enough, there are some specifics you should know to maximize the benefits you receive. For example, though the pass may have two owners, it admits owners and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at certain per-vehicle fee areas. This includes the pass owner and three other adults. Photo identification is required when entering.

But what if your family is traveling in two vehicles? Is one pass enough? Sadly, no. Only the owner’s vehicle is covered, meaning the other will need to pay an entrance fee or buy another pass. For those riding motorcycles, two motorcycles are fine if the two pass owners arrive at the same time on separate bikes. The pass also does not cover expanded amenity fees like camping, boat launching, parking, special tours, special permits, or ferries.

Finally, it is important to know order confirmations, confirmation letters, and hangtags without passes won’t get you into these parks. You must present the actual pass to the parks.