What is a National Parks Access Pass

What is a National Park Access Pass and why do you need one? This is one of the most used travel accessories in my arsenal. The Access Pass pass allows U.S. citizens (or permanent residents) who have permanent disabilities to get into national parks for free. Not only is the entrance fee waived, but where a per-vehicle entrance fee is charged, the benefit extends to up to three other people in the car with the passholder. Unlike some of the other interagency passes the Access Pass is a free lifetime pass. You don’t have to be 100% disabled to qualify but your disability must impact one or more major life activities. Let me clarify one thing though. The access pass isnt just for national parks. There’s a whole list of public lands below that participate. Getting an access pass doesn’t require huge amounts of paperwork but you do need to bring some documentation. (I’ll tell you what I brought in just a minute).

The Access Pass is part of the the Interagency Pass Program that was created by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. It was authorized by Congress in December 2004. It’s also called the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series. Not only are entrance fees waived to more than 2,000 federal lands, but the passholder may be allowed discounts for camping, tours boat launching or more. A full list of benefits is online. The National Park Service also offers annual park passes and a 4th Grade pass, as well as military, volunteer, veterans and Gold Star familes and other passes. Check out Information on the other passes here.

The pass is also accepted by the following agencies:

Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
Fish and Wildlife Service
USDA Forest Service
National Park Service
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Source: USGS store website

TVA did accept the Access pass for camping discounts. Vista Recreation is the third party system that handles booking for the campgrounds. My results with using the pass has been mixed. When it comes to the discount the official Vista Recreation website says “to use this discount rate, you must show Golden Age/Access pass upon check-in, and card user must occupy site“. I’ve had a time when it was accepted and a time when it wasn’t. This was for two different stays at the same campground. So, I’d suggest showing the card but keeping an open mind.

You have to have proof of a disability to get the card and a government issued ID. For me, all my doctor had to do was write a note on a prescription pad. I took that into the visitor center at the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area along with my driver’s license. The park ranger looked it over and issued the card on the spot. A friend of mine who has an obvious disabilty got one by signing an affidavit at a national park visitor center and showing her government issued ID as well. There is a list of places where you can get an interagency pass here. The Access Pass is also available for a fee by mail at the USGS website link above.

Waiving the fees has allowed me to visit parks and sites that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. If you get the access pass, I hope you enjoy using it as much as I do.

National Parks Animated Gif Gayle Crabtree

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