Are National Parks Free for Seniors, Military, Holidays?

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Hundreds of millions of visitors come to America’s national parks every year. Many of these visitors are active military and veteran service men and women as well as seniors. But are national parks free for these groups, and are any discounts offered on holidays? 

There is a wealth of discounts at the parks for military service men and women and their families as well as for those with permanent disabilities. Seniors have opportunities for discounted entrance fees to the parks as well. In this article, we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • Are National Parks in the U.S. Free?
  • Free Entrance for Military Members
  • National Parks Lifetime Pass for Seniors
  • What National Parks Are Free?
  • Are There Any Free Entrance Days?

Are National Parks in the U.S. Free?

Most National Park Units are free to enter and do not charge an entrance fee. Of the 423 National Park units, only 108 charge an entrance fee. The cost of admission into the parks that charge usually ranges anywhere between $5 per person to $35 per car. The entrance fees charged at these parks are used to keep up with the costs of running and maintaining them. You can find a list of the parks that charge an entrance fee here

The cost of visiting multiple national parks that charge an entrance fee can add up quickly. Fortunately, there is a cheaper solution to this problem. Annual passes or “Interagency” passes are year-long passes that provide access to more than 2,000 recreation areas managed by six Federal agencies. They cost $80.00 and can be purchased by anyone 16 years or older. 

There are currently only three types of lifetime passes available: 

Senior Lifetime Pass: An $80 Senior Lifetime Pass is available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents ages 62 or over. 

Military Lifetime Pass: A free Military Lifetime Pass is available for Gold Star Families with a valid Gold Star Family Voucher. U.S. military veterans with a valid veteran I.D. also qualify for this Lifetime Pass. 

Access Pass: A free Lifetime Access Pass is available for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship. 

national parks free for permanent disabilities access pass - accessibility
Picture of the “Access Pass” for U.S. Citizens with permanent disabilities. NPS photo

Free Entrance for Military Members

Veterans qualify for a Military Lifetime Pass. According to the NPS, a veteran is viewed as an individual who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves. To receive this pass when entering a National Park, a veteran must provide any of the following forms of ID:

  • Unexpired Department of Defense Identification Card (D.D. Form 2, D.D. Form 2765, or Next Generation USID replacement)
  • Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
  • Veteran ID Card
  • Veteran’s designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card

Gold Star Families may also qualify for this Free Military Lifetime Pass. Gold Star Families are designated as next of kin of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who lost their life in a “qualifying situation.” These situations may include war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside the United States while serving with the U.S. Armed Forces. 

A free Military Annual Pass is available for current members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their dependents when purchased in person. A $10 fee is charged when purchased online. Appropriate documentation is required. 

Free Entrance to national parks for Active Military, veterans, gold star families
U.S. Navy Serviceman with his family

National Parks Lifetime Pass for Seniors

An $80 Lifetime Pass for Seniors is available for seniors 62 and older. Additionally, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This pass also has additional added benefits like discounts on camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours within the parks. 

A $20 Senior Annual Pass is also available for those that meet the same requirements mentioned above. This pass also offers discounts on expanded amenity fees. 

annual and lifetime pass for seniors national parks
Pictures of the Annual and Lifetime Senior Passes used by the Parks. NPS photo

What National Parks Are Free?

If you don’t have some form of annual or lifetime pass to the parks, visiting some of the national parks that charge admission fees can get pretty expensive. 

For example, the cost of admission for one single car to popular parks such as Grand Canyon or Yosemite costs $35! 

Don’t worry, though. There are still plenty of free national parks to visit that won’t break the budget. 

Here’s a quick list of a few breathtaking US National Parks that have no entrance fees:

new river gorge national park west virginia
Stunning shot of New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

Are There Any Free Entrance Days?

There are indeed several Free Entrance Days into the national parks. There are five days in 2023 that the National Park Service will offer free admission to all visitors. 

The free admission days this year are as follows:

  • January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 16: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

It should be noted that the entrance fee waiver for these free days doesn’t cover any amenity fees for certain activities including camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Yellowstone national park visitors
Visitors tour the grounds at Yellowstone National Park. NPS photo

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, there is a wealth of options regarding discounts on admission for Military and Senior individuals. In many instances, access to the national parks is free for people in these groups. 

Active Military individuals can obtain a free annual pass to the national parks for themselves and their dependents. Military Veterans have the bonus of qualifying for a free Lifetime Access Pass to the National Parks. Gold Star Families are also eligible to receive the Lifetime Access Pass. 

Seniors get added perks too when visiting National Parks for free. Seniors who are 62 and older can acquire a Lifetime Access Pass to the Parks for $80 or an Annual Pass for $20. 

Those with provable permanent disabilities can obtain a free Lifetime Access Pass. 

Five holidays this year also provide free entrance days to the Parks. 

So if you or your family qualifies for any of the previously mentioned discounts that permit free access to U.S. National Parks, take advantage of it! You’re missing countless opportunities to experience some of the nation’s most incredible natural wonders! And for free at that! 

Even if you don’t fall under those categories, purchasing an $80 Annual Pass is still worth it. $80 for a whole year of adventures is too good to turn down! 

Have you or your family obtained a Lifetime Military, Senior, or Access Pass?

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

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Happy Travels! Sandy