The Senior Pass to the national parks is one of the best travel deals I know of for seniors. That’s because if you are an American citizen or permanent resident over the age of 62, you can purchase a pass that will get you and your companions into all of the national parks, national monuments, and some other federal sites for free. The best part is that the pass never expires, and never needs to be renewed — it’s effectively good for the rest of your life.
The pass currently costs just $10 and that hasn’t changed since 1994. But on Monday, August 28, 2017, the price of the pass will skyrocket to $80. In other words, two decades worth of inflation — and then some — will be made up for in one day. Kind of crazy, eh?
Don’t get me wrong, spending $80 for a lifetime pass to the national parks will still be an incredible deal. But if you can get it for $10, why wouldn’t you?
National Parks Senior Pass
How do I get a Senior Pass?
It’s pretty easy to get the Senior Pass and there are two ways to go about it. You can either buy one in person at one of the parks (note that not all parks sell passes, particularly those that are otherwise free), and on the USGS website. However, if you purchase online or through the mail, there is additional $10 processing fee.
That said, there is apparently quite a backlog since many seniors have ordered a pass since the rate increase was announced last December. In fact, the park service is reporting that more than 250,000 passes have been requested so far this year, compared to the previous annual high of 33,000.
So if you order online, I think you should expect it to take a few months before you see your pass.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that five of the federal agencies have agreed to accept the order confirmation in lieu of the pass until the backlog is cleared. So if you don’t yet have your pass, you can show the order confirmation instead.
My advice would be to go visit a park service site in person this weekend just to be sure.
Our (much smaller) family at Denali National Park during Road Lottery
Where can you use the Parks Pass?
Senior Passes are generally good at National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests, National Historic Sites, National Recreation Areas, and so on. Here’s the official language:
The Pass can be used at over 2000 Federal recreation sites across the nation, including National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and many National Forest lands. The Senior Pass admits the Pass owner and any passengers traveling with him/her in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas or the Pass owner and three additional adults where per-person fees are charged. The Senior Pass may also offer a discount on some expanded amenity fees, such as camping. Discounts offered by the Pass vary widely across the many different types of recreation sites. Pass owners are encouraged to check with sites they plan to visit before obtaining a pass to verify that their Pass will be accepted. Anytime a Pass is used, photo identification will be requested to verify Pass ownership.
Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park
My mom just purchased her Senior Pass
My dad has had a seniors pass for over a decade now. In fact, he says it was the one thing he was most looking forward to about becoming a senior citizen. (I don’t entirely believe that — he also really likes getting his Social Security check!)
Anyway, he’s used his pass all over the country. My family particularly enjoys going to the parks with him, because our entire carload gains free admission so long as he is in the vehicle.
But for some reason, my mom never got the pass. I guess they figured one between them was enough? So in early August, I suggested that my mom get her pass as well. I figured that would be useful if she should find herself traveling without my dad. Or perhaps the more likely scenario is that they might be traveling with us, but in separate vehicles. If she has her own pass, then mom can get one vehicle in for free, and dad the other. They just need to be riding in separate vehicles as they enter the park.
My parents decided to visit the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, outside of Cleveland, so that mom could get her pass. I suggested that they call ahead to make sure they had the passes in stock — fortunately they did. Apparently it was quite easy because that afternoon mom was the proud holder of a Senior Pass. They also enjoyed a visit to the park, having never been there despite living less than an hour away.
You only have a few more days to purchase a Senior Pass to the national parks for $10. On Monday, August 28, the price will jump to $80. I’m a believer that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so I’d suggest making a trip to your nearest park service site this weekend to buy the pass in person if at all possible.
Otherwise you can buy it online, but it expect that process to take a few months because they’ve apparently been slammed with requests.
Have you ordered your Senior Pass yet?