National Park Pass
Did you know that individuals with disabilities are entitled to a free lifetime pass to our National Park system? Well, they are. So get one! I love our national parks, and some surprising places are national parks. Like, earlier this year when we went to the White House Easter Egg Roll, I learned that the South Lawn of the White House is actually a national park! Interesting, isn’t it? Plus, here near Philadelphia, we have so many cool places to visit within the national parks system.
And traveling with special needs can be a challenge, so it’s nice that people with disabilities can get a free lifetime pass to the parks. Normally this would be $80 per year or as much as $25-$50 per visit.
Many people think that ALL national parks are free, but that is not the case. Around 25% of them have fees.
And, with this pass, even if the park itself does not have a fee, you could get a discount on extras (they call them amenities) such as camping or boating. If a park has a fee, I believe last time we went to the Grand Canyon, it was $25 a car, and the entire carload will get in for free.
National Park Access Pass-Veterans, Disabled
To qualify, the person must have a diagnosed permanent disability. If someone in your family qualifies, there are a couple of ways you can obtain this. One is that you can go to a participating location and apply for it in person. Before you go to one of those NPS locations, make sure you read what you need to bring with you as far as documentation. It will either have to be a note from a physician or notice that you are receiving SSDI income.
You can also apply via the mail, which is nice. DO NOT use this option if you need your pass in 15 days or less. What you are applying for is called an “Access Pass.” (different from the Golden Access Pass for senior citizens or disabled veterans)
How to apply for a FREE National Parks Pass
See Access Pass Benefits section.
You can obtain an Access Pass in person, with proper documentation, from a participating Federal recreation site or office. See Site Locations that issue the Access Pass.
Types of National Parks Passes
National Parks passes are sold at most national parks. If the park does not charge a fee, this may not be available. So call first.
- NPS Access Pass: A free, lifetime pass that is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability – that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies.
- 4th Graders-President Obama started a wonderful program to allow 4th graders to get a pass to our National Parks. You can find out the information about the 4th Grade ‘Every Kid in a Park Program’ here.
- Senior Citizens-This changed in August of 2017. You can get information about the lifetime national park pass for seniors here.
- Volunteers-If you spend a lot of time volunteering, you may qualify for a free National Parks Pass.
- Veterans-You can find information about vets and all other passes through this link.
How To Get a Lifetime National Park Pass
- Decide if you’re going in person or doing online.
If you wish to apply online, you’ll need internet access and about a half-hour of your time. If you wish to apply in person, you have to visit one of these participating National Park Offices. Not all parks issue these passes, so make sure you check first. And, you should probably call first.
- Applying for your National Parks Pass online.
New for 2020: Passes will be mailed to you. They will not be immediately available for printing due to the pandemic.
- Disability Access Pass for National Parks
Read through the instructions first and gather your documentation. You will need to upload documentation, so prepare PDFs or pictures of your documents. You can read more here.
- National Parks Pass for Veterans
If you are a veteran, click here for all the information you need to apply for your Parks Pass.
- Free National Parks Pass for Volunteers
If you volunteer more than 250 hours per year, you also may qualify for a free national parks pass. Read Here for more information.
- 4th Grade National Parks Pass
4th Graders are eligible for a free pass too! Information Here.
- Senior Citizens-National Parks Pass
Senior Citizens get a discounted pass or a Golden Access Pass. Information Here.
National Parks Passports
My boys also have National Parks Passports. These are completely separate from the access pass, anyone can buy one and it has nothing to do with being disabled. You buy those, but then they can get them stamped at each National Park/Site/Monument that you visit. Last month they got three stamps. It’s a great way to catalog family vacations, and the free pass makes it budget-friendly. We also collect the National Parks and State quarters–but we collect all of them in a folder, not just the ones we have visited.
Don’t forget the Junior Ranger program for kids too!
We have visited many of the National Parks. We have been to Boston, Philadelphia, National Parks out west and Washington DC many times. So if you are looking for travel tips, chances are there's a review on this blog, or feel free to contact me.
Please see my Special Needs Travel Section for all of our National Park and other travel reviews.
This post was originally published eons ago. I update it periodically to check links.