By Randy Johnson
If you’re 62 years old or older and plan on visiting national parks and other federal recreation areas as part of your senior lifestyle, now is the time to buy your America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass. On August 28, 2017, the now $10 cost of the lifetime pass will increase 700% to $80.
Pass holders are given lifetime access to more than 2,000 sites and parks, which includes free access to national parks (most of which, like Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, charge an entrance fee), and what are called “day use areas” where a fee is charged, many found in National Forests. The passes also offer substantial discounts on other activities, such as camping, where seniors can save up to 50% per day, a significant savings.
Examples of Pisgah National Forest day use areas near the High Country where fees are charged include the summit road to the top of Roan Mountain, with access to the Roan Mountain rhododendron gardens, and Sliding Rock Recreation Area near Brevard, with a natural water slide. Both sites charge nominal fees ($2 per person at Sliding Rock and $3 per vehicle at Roan Mountain)—fees that are waived with the Senior Pass. Other sites around the country can be much more expensive.
Other agencies that waive fees for the card include areas managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and of course, the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.
The Senior Pass has cost $10 since 1994 and the fee increase will support critical investments in maintenance projects at national parks and federal recreational lands nationwide.
The pass can be purchased for $10 before August 28 at any national park or other federal recreation area where fees are charged. Locally, the pass can be purchased nearby on the Blue Ridge Parkway at campground kiosks in the campgrounds at Price Park, Linville Falls, and Doughton Park. Also at local ranger stations, such as the office at Sandy Flats, on Shulls Mill Road at the Parkway’s US 221 exit to Blowing Rock just south of Cone Manor.
You may want to buy your pass soon at a sales site rather than by mail or online. There is a major surge taking place in pass purchases and if your request is processed after August 28th, the fee will be $80. If your purchase is made by mail or online before August 28, there will be an additional $10 charge for processing, for a total of $20.
The pass also waives the entrance fee for traveling companions. At per-vehicle fee sites, the pass admits the pass holder and all passengers in a noncommercial vehicle. At a per-person fee site, the pass admits the pass holder and three other adults. Children under 16 are always admitted free.
How can I purchase a Senior Pass?
Senior Passes can be purchased at any federal recreation site, including national parks, that charges an entrance or standard amenity (day-use) fee. Proof of age and residency is required. See the complete list of sites where the pass is available (PDF).
Passes can also be purchased online or through the mail from USGS; an additional $10 processing fee will be added to the price. Visit the USGS store to buy the pass online or find instructions for purchasing by mail.