Is The Amazingly Affordable America The Beautiful Pass Too Good To Be True?

Want to discover just how beautiful America really is? The America the Beautiful Pass is an incredible deal if you're longing to explore the great outdoors. The pass provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States, including all 424 national park sites, for just $80 per year. You can get the pass in person from hundreds of sites across the U.S., from Abiquiu Lake in New Mexico to Zion National Park, and online from many places, including the USGS website. Check where to buy your pass on the National Park Service site.

The pass allows the pass holder and up to three adults to enter any federal recreation site that charges an entrance fee for free. This includes popular national parks like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Acadia, as well as lesser-known places like Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management sites. Each pass can have two owners, so you can split the cost with a friend or family member. In addition, there are other similar national park passes available, like the Senior Lifetime Pass and the Access Pass. Check the USGS site to see what you can get.

When the pass is worth it

For anyone planning to visit several national parks or other federal recreation sites during the year, the America the Beautiful Pass is excellent value. If you and one other person visit just three national parks during the year, you'll already have saved money compared to paying the individual entrance fees per vehicle. Most of the 63 National Parks cost between $30 and $35 per vehicle, so if you plan to visit more than three, the savings can really start to stack up.

Something we think is fantastic about having the America the Beautiful Pass is that it will likely encourage you to visit more sites in one area. Let's say you want to visit the Grand Canyon. Nearby are the much less visited Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument, both of which are incredible sites that you can enter for free if you have the America the Beautiful Pass. Without the pass, they cost $15 per person, or $25 for a vehicle at Wupatki, a not insignificant amount of money. If you have the America the Beautiful Pass, you'll get to add stops like this to your trip without worrying about the cost.

Is it always worth it?

The short answer is no. If you're only planning to visit one or two national park sites per year, the America the Beautiful Pass is not worth the $80. Some of the U.S. National Parks are always free to enter, like North Cascades in Washington and Great Smoky Mountains, which straddles Tennessee and North Carolina, as well as many of Alaska's National Parks. There are also several days per year when entrance to all parks is free. To make sure that the pass is worth it, you'll need to check the website of each individual site you want to visit. The pass is non-refundable; it's not a try-before-you-buy situation.

The America the Beautiful Pass doesn't cover other fees associated with federal recreation sites, such as camping fees or those for special tours or programs. So while entry to sites is free, that's likely not the whole cost of your trip. Only you can decide if the America the Beautiful Pass is worth it, but if you're hankering to get outdoors and explore the country at all in the next 12 months, we think it probably is.