This Trick Lets Seniors Get a Free Lifetime National Park Pass

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Senior couple with a U.S. flag
SeventyFour /

Americans who are 62 and older have the option of buying two types of passes that give them access to national parks and federal recreational lands:

  • An annual pass for $20
  • A lifetime senior pass for $80

Choosing the right pass can be difficult if you aren’t sure how often you will visit a national park throughout your retirement.

But if you have bought an annual pass for several years running and now realize you should have bought the lifetime pass from the beginning, we have some good news: Uncle Sam will offer you a “do-over.”

If you have purchased four annual passes in previous years, you can trade them in for a single lifetime pass at no extra charge.

Of course, if you really love the national parks — and want to see them preserved for future generations — you might consider paying the $80 for a senior pass anyway instead of trading in your old annual passes.

As the National Park Service states on its website, the money it collects from passes goes to one of two programs:

  • Second Century Endowment. The first $10 million collected from senior passes each fiscal year goes to this endowment, which is earmarked for “projects and activities approved by the Secretary of Interior to further the mission and purpose of the National Park Service.”
  • National Park Centennial Challenge Fund. Money collected in excess of $10 million is used for this fund, which provides money for “projects and programs approved by the Secretary of the Interior to the mission of the National Park Service and to enhance the visitor experience in National Park System units.”

Senior passes can be a great deal for those who love the national parks. They give you access to more than 2,000 sites managed by six federal agencies. The passes cover entrance and day-use recreation fees and get you discounts on some expanded amenity recreation fees.

In addition, if you have a senior pass, some of your traveling companions also can enter the park for free.

Access to most national parks is free, but 108 out of the more than 400 parks do charge entrance fees.

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