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 car load will get in for free.
How to get a free National Parks pass
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 for disabilities, in person:
See Access Pass Benefits section.
How to apply for a Free National Parks Pass by mail:
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.
Access Passes may also be obtained via mail order from USGS. Mail-order applicants for the Access Pass must submit a completed application, proof of residency and documentation of permanent disability, and pay the document processing fee of $10 to obtain a pass through the mail. Once the application package is received, the documentation will be verified and a pass, with the pass owner’s name pre-printed on it, will be issued to the applicant. Documentation of permanent disability will also be returned to the applicant. The pass will be good for the individual and for the family, depending on the situation. Some parks have an entrance fee at the gates that is by the car load. In that circumstance, you can use your Access Pass to get your whole family in. But if it is a park where each person has to buy a visitor’s pass, only the disabled person can use the Access Pass. This is for US Citizens only I believe, ask for details if you are a resident but not a citizen.
Where to buy a National Park Pass?
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 Grade National Park Pass
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.
National Parks Pass for Senior Citizens/Veterans
This changed in August of 2017. You can get information about the lifetime national park pass for seniors here. Click this link if you are looking for information on passes for Veterans or any other eligible group.
National Parks Passports
My boys also have the 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, 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.
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