FIVE YEARS AGO, there was a big increase in the price of the “America the Beautiful: National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass.” For a one-time fee, the pass gives people age 62 and older free lifetime access to many of America’s most popular vacation and day-trip spots.
How big was the increase? In 2017, the price of the senior pass went from $10 to $80. I tipped off some older relatives about the looming price increase, and they bought at the old price. Unfortunately, I wasn’t yet old enough to take advantage.
Still, even at $80, the senior pass is an exceptional deal. It covers entrance and daily use fees at hundreds of parks and recreation areas, plus discounts on things like camping, swimming, boat launching and guided tours.
Although admission to the majority of the 400-plus National Park Service sites is free, 108 charge an entrance fee. Some of these 108—particularly the most popular—aren’t cheap.
For example, Yosemite National Park in California charges $35 for a pass that’s good for seven days. Wintering in Florida? The Everglades National Park charges $30. Summering in Maine? Acadia National Park, a favorite of my wife and me, charges $30 per car. When we show the ranger our senior pass, the fee is waived.
We’re planning a long weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. Unfortunately, our senior pass will not cover the $32 fee for the ferry ride to Fort Sumter because it’s provided by a private contractor. Our senior pass, however, will cover the $10 individual fee to enter nearby Fort Moultrie.
In addition, your traveling companions may also enter for free. If you’re visiting a site that charges a per-vehicle fee, the senior pass will admit the pass owner and his or her passengers for free, assuming you aren’t in a commercial vehicle. If the site charges a per-person fee, the pass covers up to four adults.
The senior pass covers some 2,000 recreation sites managed by six federal agencies:
Many of us are eager to get back to traveling after the forced isolation caused by the pandemic. A senior pass is a great way to see some of the best parts of America the beautiful.