Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, an avid bird watcher, or just want to explore what our National Parks have to offer, there’s a vacation that’s perfect for you and your family. As a military family, you’re eligible to receive a free annual pass. The “America the Beautiful” pass is available to active duty, reserve, and National Guard servicemembers. And as of Veterans Day 2020, free admission to National Parks, wildlife refuges, and other sites managed by the Department of the Interior has been extended to military veterans, military retirees, and Gold Star families.
Free Admission to National Parks and Recreation Lands for Military, Veterans, and Gold Star Families
Gold Star Families and U.S. military veterans are eligible to receive free access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests. This is a new program that began on Nov. 11, 2020.
Military veterans & Retirees: Military veterans can receive free access to national parks and recreation areas using the following forms of identification:
- Department of Defense Identification Card (CAC Card)
- Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
- Veteran ID Card
- Veterans designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card
Simply present your ID at the park entrance when you arrive.
Gold Star families: Gold Star family members are able to gain free access to these parks and wildlife areas by certifying they are a Gold Star member by signing a Gold Star Family voucher. This is the self-certification language on the voucher:
I hereby affirm that I am an eligible next of kin (NOK) of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a qualifying situation, such as war, an international terrorist attack or a military operation outside of the United States while serving in the United States Armed Forces, as identified in sections 3.2 (Qualifying Situation) and 3.3 (Eligible NOK) of Department of Defense Instruction 1348.36.
Free access to these national parks and recreation areas includes the individual as well as their traveling companions, provided they are in the same non-commercial vehicle.
Which Parks and Recreation Areas Are Included?
The program waives National Park Service entrance fees as well as entrance or standard amenity fees for other participating Department of the Interior agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The following agencies are included:
- Bureau of Land Management
- Bureau of Reclamation
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- U.S. Forest Service
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
What Does the Free Access Include?
Free access under this voucher program includes entrance fees at U.S. national parks and wildlie refuges, as well as amenity fees (day use fees) at U.S. national forests and grasslands and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
Some fees are not included, including amenity fees that cover camping, tours, special recreation permits, organized groups, or concession-operated facilities or activities.
America the Beautiful Pass – Annual Admission Pass to U.S. National Parks
Current military members are eligible for a free, annual America the Beautiful Pass. America’s robust national parks offer us all a chance to escape from the complexity of the modern world. Pristinely preserved lands and breathtaking views are just some of what the NPS has to offer. Now, using your America the Beautiful pass, it’s easier than ever to explore this great natural resource.
Note: The annual American the Beautiful pass generally costs $80 for those who do not qualify for the free military pass or the reduced senior rate. Seniors can buy an annual pass for $20, or a lifetime pass for $80. Military members can receive a free annual pass.
With your free pass, you receive access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Passes cover entrance fees at national parks as well as national wildlife refuges. Standard amenity fees at national forests, grasslands, and at all lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are waived as well. Your pass covers all passengers in a personal vehicle. Passes don’t cover camping, boat launch, or other interpretive fees.
There isn’t a specific pass for veterans or seniors, but there are pass options for you as well.
To obtain your pass, you’ll need to visit a national park in person. This list of federal recreation sites details all places that issue passes. Make sure you check with the park ahead of time to ensure that it’s open and processing applications.
- Active Duty, Reservists, National Guard servicemembers, and their immediate family members.
- See FAQ Page for more information.
Note: The following individuals/groups DO NOT Qualify for the interagency Military Annual Pass:
- Foreign military members (Including those stationed in the U.S. and have a CAC card)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees
- Public Health Service (PHS) members
- Inactive U.S. Reservists
- Civilian military contractors
- Civilian military employees
- U.S. military veterans
- U.S. military retirees
Free Lifetime Access Pass for Disabled Veterans
Disabled military veterans are eligible for the Access Pass, which gives them lifetime access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies.
The Access Pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability (does not have to be a 100% disability). This includes military veterans with a disability rating.
What the Access Pass Covers:
The Access Pass provides entrance or access to pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at Federal operated recreation sites across the country.
The Access Pass provides the pass holder a discount on Expanded Amenity Fees at many locations (such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours). However, the Access Pass does not usually cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners.
How to Obtain the Access Pass:
The Access Passes may be obtained in person at no charge at a participating federal recreation site.
If you choose, you may also order an Access Pass by mail from USGS. To order by mail, you must complete and submit a paper application, proof of residency, and documentation of permanent disability. Again, this does not have to be a 100% disability.
There is a $10 document processing fee to obtain a pass through the mail, which must be paid at the time of application. Access Passes are usually issued within 10-12 weeks from the time they are received, so be sure to plan in advance.
Planning Your Trip
If your family is full of history buffs, you might consider exploring the National Register of Historic Places to build out your summer trip. This resource is free from the NPS and helps you discover lesser-known American heritage sites across every state and U.S. territory.
When it’s time to pick your family vacation for the year, the NPS has so many amazing choices that selecting just one park might be difficult. To help with that, the NPS website can help you pick a park start planning your ideal summer trip in a particular state or region. An interactive map can help you decide where you want to go.
Then, start choosing the activities you and your family will want to experience during your visit. Search on the NPS website for things to do based on park, activity, or topic. Trip ideas range from a full day on the Pacific Coast walking in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark to exploring fishing at Lake Clark or taking a military-centric Cold War Tour through the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
This is a great way to get out and see the country without spending a lot of money. See these related military travel discounts for additional savings.
The History of Our National Parks
The National Park Service (NPS) manages more than 84 million acres across all U.S. states and territories. Since its inception, it’s served as a model for countries around the world to put programs in place to preserve the natural beauties of their country.
In 1872, the U.S. Congress established the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act. This bill aimed to create what we now know as parks and set aside more than one million acres of public land in what would become Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone was America’s and the world’s first national park. Other national parks followed in places like Michigan, California, Arizona, and elsewhere.
It wasn’t until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson created the NPS as its own agency. It aimed to conserve the scenery, wildlife, and natural and historical objects within the parks. The NPS wanted to ensure that future generations of Americans could explore natural parks.
Today’s National Park System
Today, the NPS oversees 417 parks and monuments that all look relatively similar to the era when they were first designated as parks. On average, over 300 million people visit parks each year and, according to the NPS, help contribute over $35 million to the U.S. economy.
The NPS is committed to preserving history and heritage within the parks. Preservation projects and programs help ensure that our past remains untouched for our future. Because historic preservation of parks and American heritage is important, the NPS has several free resources available to help everyone explore America – either digitally through virtual tours or state by state. This is especially beneficial when (military) life gets in the way and interrupts travel plans.
Plan your virtual or in-person vacation today!
Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response: Before visiting a park, please check the park website to determine its operating status. Updates about the overall NPS response to COVID-19, including safety information, are posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.