If you’re heading to the United States on any kind of road trip or holiday, the chances are you will want to visit a National Park or two. Dedicated as protected lands (and long may that continue), National Parks, Monuments, Forests and Recreation Areas are run by the National Park Service to ensure that the natural wonders that exist within its borders are there for generations to come; and they’ve been doing it for 100 years so far. Something that I definitely support.
Yosemite National Park.
But of course there is a cost that comes with all this protection, which means that if you want to visit National Parks you have to pay a fee to get in. Unlike National Parks here in the UK, when you head to the Grand Canyon for the day or want to drive through Yosemite, you will come across a booth where you must buy a ticket to continue. I wonder what people would think if you had to do that in the Peak District? Anyway, I have no problem paying for the privilege of visiting amazing places, and the fees are spent on the Parks, so it’s all good.
It can all get a bit expensive, though, especially if you’re doing anything like our ten-week road trip. Thankfully there is an Annual Pass option that we researched and decided to use, and it was definitely a good decision – we’ve saved both money and time over the last few weeks.
Sequoia National Park.
America the Beautiful
The America the Beautiful Card is the National Park Service’s annual pass option. Costing $80, it covers the entrance fee at federal owned National Parks, Forests, Monuments and Recreation Areas across the country. If you consider that many parks cost $20 per vehicle to enter, it doesn’t take long to get your money back and so even if you’re touring for a couple of weeks in National Park heavy areas, it may still be worth the investment.
The pass is owned by two people, who must both sign the card. To use it you (either person) show the card and some photo ID (such as your Driver’s Licence) at the entrance booth to whichever Park you are going into. In most places entrance fees are “per vehicle” and so the pass covers the owner and everyone in the car. If you’re travelling by motorbike like we have been, if both card owners arrive on separate bikes at the same time, both bikes are covered. So we only needed one pass between us.
Rocky Mountains National Park.
To give you an idea of how it was worth it for us, we visited 17 National Parks before we crossed the border into Canada (where there is a completely different and much more confusing system we have yet to work out). If we had paid to visit each one individually we would have spent $600. This breaks down as:
- Olympic National Park: $15 per motorcycle
- Yosemite National Park: $20 per motorcycle
- Kings Canyon National Park: $20 per motorcycle
- Sequoia National Park: N/A – Included in Kings Canyon
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area: $15 per motorcyclce
- Grand Canyon National Park: $25 per motorcycle
- Petrified Forest National Park: $10 per motorcycle
- Zion National Park: $25 per motorcycle
- Bryce Canyon National Park: $25 per motorcycle
- Capitol Reef National Park: $10 per motorcycle
- Canyonlands National Park: $15 per motorcycle
- Arches National Park: $15 per motorcycle
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: $15 per motorcycle
- Rocky Mountain National Park: $25 per motorcycle for 7-day pass (1-day pass available)
- Grand Tetons National Park: $40 per motorcycle
- Yellowstone National Park: N/A – Included in Grand Tetons
- Glacier National Park: $25 per motorcycle
This is plus several National Forests and National Monuments that didn’t require seeing our pass, such as Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument. What a lot of places!
(Fee information gathered from NPS website and relevant to the 2016 season. Most Parks have a multi-day fee so you do not pay again to go back in the next day (most last seven days), so I have not multiplied it by the number of days we were in each place. Additionally, most Parks have a “per vehicle” flat fee meaning we would have paid for each motorbike if we’d have paid on the gate whereas we only needed one America the Beautiful pass between us. Total cost above includes both bikes. Note that camping fees are extra, as are backcountry passes if you choose to head into the wilderness.)
Yellowstone National Park.
We saved a whopping $520, or £370 (ish) by purchasing the America the Beautiful pass, but actually would have made our money back within the first three National Parks we visited. Well worth it, no doubt about that. And if you’re travelling by car your fees are generally more than motorcycles, so you’ll find it worth it too.
I think it is also worth pointing out that there are a few places listed that we might not have bothered with if we had to pay to get in separately. Not that they weren’t beautiful or amazing to experience, but having the pass opened up more opportunities to us, and meant we decided to go in somewhere rather than just passing close by. And I like what that has meant for our Zartusacan road trip.
Glacier National Park.
If you’re heading to the USA and want to visit a few National Parks, definitely invest in the America the Beautiful pass.
Find out more about the America the Beautiful pass including the conditions and where to purchase yours on the NPS website. For the note about two motorcycles being covered, see point 6 under Annual Pass Use.
PS: We have also visited a few places that were not included in the America the Beautiful pass schemes, including Valley of Fire State Park (State Parks are not run by the National Park Service), the Very Large Array, Four Corners Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, Pike’s Peak and the Molly Kathleen Gold Mine.