How to Buy and Use the National Park Pass for Seniors

Valley view at Yosemite National Park with El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls behind Merced River, California
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If you're a U.S. citizen or permanent resident age 62 years or older who likes to travel, you'll want to buy a Senior Pass. The Senior Pass allows free access and discounts at National Parks and other federal recreation sites. The official name of the Senior Pass is America the Beautiful—the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass replaced the Golden Age Passport.  

General Information About the Senior Pass

The Senior Pass is a card available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents aged 62 years and older. It provides access to recreation areas managed by six federal agencies, including National Parks. It also provides the pass owner a discount on some amenity fees, such as camping.

As of August 2017, the cost of a lifetime Senior Pass is $80. An annual pass is $20. A yearly pass can be traded for a lifetime pass if four annual passes were purchased in four consecutive years. Annual passes cover two people. Yearly passes do not cover expanded amenity fees (e.g., camping).

If you have one of the older Golden Age Passports, know that they are still valid for a lifetime and are equivalent to the new Senior Pass. Plastic Golden Age Passports are good for a lifetime. However, if you want the new Senior Pass, you may purchase one with proof of identification (e.g., driver's license, birth certificate, or similar government-issued document). Paper Golden Age Passports will be exchanged free for the new Senior Passes with proof of identification (e.g., driver's license, birth certificate, or similar government-issued document).

How to Get a Senior Pass

To be eligible for a pass, you must have turned 62 and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. A Senior Pass can be obtained in person from a participating federal recreation site or office. Passes can also be purchased by mail or online at these participating agencies. Additional fees may apply.

Purchase a pass online by uploading documentation issued by an authorized U.S. agency that proves U.S. citizenship or permanent residence and your birthdate. Acceptable documentation is a driver's license, passport, green card, U.S. birth certificate, or state-issued identification card.

Purchase a pass by mail and include photocopies of documentation showing your citizenship, permanent residence, and birthdate.

If your pass doesn't arrive before your trip, purchase a pass when you arrive at the recreation site. After your pass comes, return it for a refund. Do not sign it before returning it.

Senior Passes are not transferable even between spouses.

How to Use the Senior Pass

The Senior Pass admits pass owners and passengers on bicycles or in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas, and the pass owner plus three adults, not to exceed four adults, where per-person fees are charged. Children younger than 16 years are always free. Only the vehicle with the pass owner is covered. A second vehicle is subject to an entrance fee or must have (or buy) a second pass. This applies even if you are traveling together on two motorcycles.

The Senior Pass may also provide the pass owner a discount on some expanded amenity fees such as camping, swimming, boat launching, guided tours, transportation systems, and special-use permit fees. Discounts do not apply at onsite bookstores or gift shops.

Photo identification will be requested to verify pass ownership.

Where to Use the Senior Pass

The Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers honor the Senior Pass at sites where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged.

In addition, the Tennessee Valley Authority may honor the Senior Pass. Visitors are always encouraged to contact the site they plan to visit and inquire about pass acceptance before visiting.

Replacing a Senior Pass

The Senior Pass is not replaceable if lost or stolen. You can either buy another Senior Pass with proper documentation or pay the applicable entrance or standard amenity fee(s).

A damaged Senior Pass can be replaced for free at a recreation site as long as identification is provided to validate ownership and a portion of the pass is identifiable. You can also get a replacement card by mail by returning the damaged pass. Replacement by mail requires a processing fee.

Additional Benefits of the Senior Pass

At many sites, the lifetime Senior Pass provides the pass owner a discount on expanded amenity fees (e.g., camping, swimming, boat launching, guided tours). Annual passes do not cover these amenities. Inquire at the places you plan to visit.

The pass program is managed by six federal agencies that operate under different regulations and have different fees. Therefore, the discount program for the Senior Pass is not handled the same way on all federal recreation lands. The best advice is always to inquire locally.

In general, discounts are honored as follows:

  • Individual campsites: The discount only applies to the fee for the campsite physically occupied by the pass owner, not to any additional campsites occupied by the pass owner's party members.
  • Campsites with utility hookups: There is no discount if utility fees are charged separately. The discount may apply if the utility fee is combined (seamless) with the campsite fee.
  • Group campsites and facilities (including, but not limited to, group facilities, picnic areas, or pavilions): There is no discount for group campsites and other group facilities that charge a flat fee. If the group campsite has a per-person fee rate, only the pass owner receives a discount; others using the site pay the full cost.
  • Guided tours: The pass offers discounts on some guided tours. Only the pass owner receives a discount if one is provided.
  • Transportation systems: Inquire locally.
  • Concessionaire fees: Inquire locally.
  • Special use permit fees: Inquire locally.

Since the pass program is managed by six federal agencies that operate under different regulations and charge different types of fees, it can be confusing to sort out prices and terminology and to distinguish between a "federally managed facility/activity" versus a "concession-managed facility/activity." Your best bet is to inquire locally regarding your fee and pass-acceptance-related questions.

The Senior Pass does not cover discounts in on-site bookstores or gift stores. The Senior Pass is valid only at participating federal recreation sites.