Posts Tagged ‘national parks’

National Park Annual Pass: Not Always a Scam

Back 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 park annual pass (the America the Beautiful pass as it’s officially known) since we’d be hitting a bunch of national parks, only to find that the national parks we hit had ways around the pass, such as charging a parking fee or a tour fee instead of an entrance fee.

I was grumpy at the time. I don’t actually know that we ever made our money back on that one.

Well, I am happy to report that sometimes it is worth it. As of today, the America the Beautiful pass is $80. We’re just home from a two-week road trip of eastern Utah, western Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and, once again, we bought the pass.

But this time it was worth it.

We’re already ahead just from the trip, so if we hit any more national whatevers in the next year, we’re only getting a better deal.

We hit Dinosaur National Monument ($25), the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone ($50), and Glacier ($25). So there’s $100 of entrance fees for $80. Woo!

(We also went to Fossil Butte National Monument, a fairly new monument in southwestern Wyoming, which was quite nice, but also free, so…)

So, between the two trips and our experiences with the park pass, here would be my recommendations:

  • Check your parks’ fees before you go (entrance fees are covered; nothing else will be)
  • Make sure the parks’ fees are worth the expense (if you’re doing a bunch that have entrance fees in the $3-$10 range, you might not get your money’s worth)
  • Think about whether you will have the opportunity to use the pass again later in the year (local national parks or monuments, or another trip–I can think of two more we’ll probably hit, one of which is free, but the other is $25 or $35 depending on if you’re going in for 1 or more days)

Also I had never been to Glacier before, and it is very nice, though the Going-to-the-Sun road was not open (they opened it this past Saturday, five days after we left, those jerks). I saw a moose! No one else is excited by the moose, but I had never seen one in real life before and now I have.

(Lots of wildlife. We saw a ton of bison, a couple of elks–including one licking a table in our campground, some deer, a bear and its cub fishing in the river, some herons, a marmot, a lot of ground squirrels, and way way way too many mosquitoes.)

Drawing of bear

We’ll jump back into Writing Around Life on Friday, provided I haven’t died of exhaustion. Or the heat.

Thoughts on national parks, squiders? Been to Yellowstone or Glacier? Because they were amazing and totally lived up to the hype. Except for the mosquitoes.

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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.