National Park Annual Pass: Kind of a Scam

You wouldn’t know it, because I am sneaky and know how to schedule blog posts, but my husband and I have been on the move for the last week or so. Specifically, we’ve been exploring Eastern Wyoming and Western South Dakota.

We had this grand plan. We’d buy the National Park Annual Pass (called the America the Beautiful pass) at the first attraction we came to, and we’d use it to get into all subsequent parks. You see, the pass is good at national parks, national forests, national monuments, national recreation areas, etc. Sounds like a great deal, right? For twice the price of the annual pass at our local national park, we can get into EVERY PARK IN THE COUNTRY.

In theory. In practice, the national parks/monuments/what have you have come up with slightly evil ways to get around letting you use it.

You see, the annual pass is mostly good for entrance fees.

I don’t know about you guys, but every national forest I’ve ever been in (and I can name four I’ve been in in the last two years) is free. So, very lovely that they’re included, but not terribly useful. Most national forests also let you camp anywhere you want for free as well.

We bought the pass at Devils Tower. When we got to Mount Rushmore, well, they don’t have an entrance fee. They have a parking fee. The pass does not cover the parking fee, never mind that you must pay the parking fee to get into the memorial. (Well, maybe you can hike in for free. I bet most people don’t.)

Jewel Cave doesn’t have an entrance fee, but you have to pay to get into the cave. Wind Cave works the same way, even though it’s a national park.

We ended up hitting Fort Laramie (entrance fee: $3) on the way home in a desperate attempt to justify our purchase.

I foresee trips to every national whatever in the state over the next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the National Park Service. I enjoy seeing new ones on my travels and always try to fit a couple in, wherever we are. But for something as expensive as this, there seems to be an awful lot of ways to get around letting people use it. And maybe we should have done a bit more research before hand, and maybe in some parts of the country every park/memorial/lalalala charge entrance fees and it’s all moot, but for Wyoming/South Dakota? Disappointment.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by danomanion on 2016/07/04 at 6:53 AM

    Same thing happened to us. We bought ours in the Badlands and thought we’d get our money’s worth only to discover the “parking fee” at Rushmore and $12 tour per adult at the wind caves. Luckily we live in Colorado where in theory we can get our money’s worth by visiting a number of our parks. We are also checking out Devils Tower. Oh well, live and learn, but it dies in the end go to a good cause just wish they used an asterisk on the pass since I’m sure we are not the only ones.


    • You can convert your national park pass into a Rocky Mountain National Park annual pass (we’re also in Colorado) so if nothing else you can visit RMNP a few times and use the fast lane to go around everyone else.


  2. […] in 2012, I wrote a blog post called National Park Annual Pass: Kind of a Scam. To make a long story short, my spouse and I had been on a road trip and had bought the national […]


  3. […] in 2012, I wrote a blog post called National Park Annual Pass: Kind of a Scam. To make a long story short, my spouse and I had been on a road trip and had bought the national […]


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