It is Veterans Day weekend and access to our federal public lands is free, including lands managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management (among others). I think this is great news; it is a way to honor our veterans, make our public lands available to the public, and — just maybe — a start of a new holiday tradition of taking the family out for a hike on Veteran’s Day weekend.
I am fortunate, though, because I have free access year-round. Why? Because I happen to have an “America the Beautiful Park Pass” which I received for my birthday this summer. As someone who loves to get outdoors and explore, this pass has been awesome. No longer do I have to worry if we are wandering off to a place that requires a pass, nor do I have to keep track of whether we are headed for Forest Service land, BLM land, or something else. We just head out and put up our pass when we get there.
We didn’t learn about the Pass until earlier this year while talking with a Forest Service Ranger, and I’ve discovered that many people don’t know about them, so here’s your “head’s up.”
The America the Beautiful Park Pass costs $80 for a year (starting from the month of purchase) and five agencies participate in the program: the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation. The pass is for a person, not a vehicle, so you can take it with you when you travel with friends, or put it in which-ever car you are driving. Additionally, two people can sign the pass (regardless of your relationship) and the pass works for either of you. If you go to a place which charges per person (as opposed to per vehicle) the pass will work for up to four people. I think it is an awesome deal, and it has made a great present.
A few things to note, the US Army Corps of Engineers is not part of the program, and since it is a federal program it doesn’t work in State or County parks. Also, sometimes a private concessionaire will be under contract to operate a business on Federal land (such as when we camped at Waldo Lake last summer), and not all concessionaires will accept passes (at Waldo lake, they took a percentage off our campsite fee). If you are a veteran, senior, US citizen who is permanently disabled, or volunteer more than 250 hours a year you can get specialized reduced-fee passes.
If you want to know more about the pass, please check out the Recreation.gov website or leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer it.