This is the best way to explore America’s national parks

Are you ready to hit the parks in 2017?


You could spend a lifetime trying to see all of America’s outstanding national parks, and still do not feel that you have made a dent. Whether you ask now, jagged desert towers, peeking in old cave dwellings, or (safely) with regard to a grizzly bear in his or her natural environment, you will find enough inspiration to fill up to a few weeks—or months—of your vacation.

Of the land of the 400-plus national parks, less than half of the payment of an entrance fee. That is a pretty good ratio, until you factor in that larger, more legendary sites such as Yellowstone, Arches, Grand Canyon (i.e. where most of us want to visit)— people tend to be those that cost money.

A park entrance fee may vary from $3 to $30: not much in the grand scheme. But for the bucket-list crowd, or anyone who is looking to cram their itinerary with every last volcanic crater, rock formation, and old-growth forest, these costs can add up quickly, hence the beauty of a subscription. Such as an unlimited metro card, it can mean the difference between a quick, painless, one-time-fee, and shelling out hundreds over a longer period of time if you travel to multiple sites.

Here you will learn the ins and outs of the use of a national parks pass, and how it can benefit your next trip.

1. Choose the right pass

The America the Beautiful (ATB) standard annual pass costs $80, and gives access to all the 413 areas are managed by the National Park Service.

2. Don’t pay if you don’t have to

The same pass is free to the U.S. military (and their families) and a permanently disabled AMERICAN citizen. And thanks to the fantastic Every Kid in a Park initiative, the fourth-graders and their immediate family members are eligible for a free subscription, too. Seniors over the age of 62 years pay only € 10 for a lifetime pass.

3. Know what it does

Valid for 12 months from the month of purchase, an ATB pass gives you free access, but it is not intended for additional amenities and services such as camping, boat launching, parking and special tours

More From Travel + Leisure

  • The 3 Best National Parks To Visit in Colorado

  • A Guide to California’s National Parks

  • A Guide to New Mexico’s National Parks

  • A Guide to Glacier Bay National Park

4. Get online

You can always see at the entrance of the park and the purchase of your ATB annual pass in-person (for an up-to-date list of sites that will issue annual passes, click here). However, if you want to be extra prepared, you can also order your pass online.

5. Do not lose!

Think of your ATB annual pass as a one-of-a-kind, because in a certain way. By NPS policy, no annual pass can be replaced if you lose it or it is stolen), you have to buy a new one.

6. Share with a friend

While the ATB annual pass is not transferable (you need to show proof of identity each time you use it), two names are listed as owners of the pass—which means that you could share with a friend or roommate for only $40 per piece. And you don’t even need to be married or related.

7. Know when to use it

Even if you only go to three great parks in one year, the annual pass still saves you money. Consideration: in twelve months, an ambitious traveler can knock out visits to large and Zion National Park ($30 fee), Arches National Park ($25), Bryce Canyon National Park ($30), Grand Canyon National Park ($30 fee), Joshua Tree National Park ($20 fee), and Yosemite ($30). In total, these individual visits would cost $155—almost double the cost of a $80 annual pass.

8. …And when the use of the

Of the 413 recognized national park units in the United States, only 124 a fee. So, if you have your sights set on places like Redwood National Park, or Ohio enchanting Cuyahoga Valley National Park—where the access is free, then an annual pass might not be for you.

9. You can upgrade as you go

Undecided about how many parks we visit? It is always possible to upgrade your single-pass ticket while you’re on the go. Just your individual at any NPS fee site, and the agent will apply that money to a one-year subscription.

10. Do not forget free days!

Ten days of the year are reserved by the NPS as “free days”, which means that the national parks and monuments that normally the collection of an entrance fee will offer free admission. View the list of free days for 2017 here.

Of course, the approaches of several large parks in the same year takes careful planning and foresight. To get an idea of hiking trails, what to pack, accommodation options and ideas for things to do when you get there, use the Travel + Leisure‘s handy national park guides and start mapping your trip today!

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular