It’s no secret that our national parks sites are absolutely amazing. From breathtaking views to incredible hikes to awesome history lessons, there’s something for everyone in these spectacular places. What many people don’t know is that in addition to keeping these parks, monuments, historic sites, and trails in tip-top shape, the National Parks Service also offers a variety of programs to enhance your visit to each location.
As a traveler, there’s a good chance you find yourself visiting NPS sites often. (And if you don’t, you should change that, because as mentioned above, these places are incredible.) Therefore, it only makes sense for you to learn about all of the awesome programs the NPS has to offer so you can take full advantage and make your visits as awesome as possible.
Unfortunately, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, finding out about these programs can be a little bit tricky. That’s where this article comes into play.
Below we’ve listed 6 amazing programs offered in the national parks. Determine which ones are useful to you, and make sure to use them on your next outing to a national park.
First and foremost, we absolutely must mention the “America the Beautiful” pass. This pass allows the holder to enter all NPS sites without paying entry fees. The cost for this pass is $80 for 12 months. As you might imagine, it can be a huge money saver if you visit several national parks a year.
Even better than the “America the Beautiful” pass are the special passes provided to seniors, military members, and people with disabilities.
Senior passes are provided for those ages 62 and older, and the cost is a mere $20 a year or $80 for a lifetime pass. Military passes are for current US military members and Gold Star families, and are free of charge. Lastly, the Access Pass is for anyone with a permanent disability, and is also free to obtain.
In addition to entry to the parks, these three passes all offer cardholders discounts on certain campsites.
“Every Kid Outdoors” Program
Another way to get a national parks pass is through the “Every Kid Outdoors” program. This program gives every 4th grader (and 5th grader for 2021 only) an annual national parks pass for free. The goal of the program is to ensure every child has a chance to see the majesty of America’s national parks while making memories outside.
The pass is good from September 1st of the child’s 4th grade year through August 31st of the following year, and can be obtained through this site.
Junior Ranger Program
Even if your kid isn’t in 4th or 5th grade right now, there is still an NPS program that is wonderful for them. The Junior Ranger Program is tons of fun for kids ages 5–13, and gives them the opportunity to be fully engaged in their visits to the parks.
To participate, simply visit a NPS visitor center and ask for a Junior Ranger book. These are usually free, but occasionally you may be charged a small fee. Fill out the book as you explore the park, return it to a ranger, be sworn in as an official Junior Ranger, and go home with a park-specific badge to display on a sash, banner, or anywhere else you see fit.
BARK Ranger Program
Have fur babies rather than human children? If so, the BARK Ranger program might be of interest to you.
Similar to the Junior Ranger Program, this program gives dogs (and kitties) an opportunity to join the NPS team by earning special badges. In this case, the badges are park-specific dog tags, and are earned by learning the rules of visiting a national park.
Last but not least, there is the Volunteers-in-Parks program. This awesome program gives national park lovers a chance to donate their skills and time in order to help improve the parks. It is open to all individuals, but children under the age of 18 must have signed permission from a parent or guardian.
In return for their efforts, volunteers who complete at least 250 hours of work in a single calendar year will be offered a volunteer pass that gives them free entry to NPS sites.
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About the author: Chelsea Gonzales
Chelsea has the amazing opportunity to take part in full-time RV living and traveling with her tiny tribe. She homeschools her five-year-old son as they travel, and takes full advantage of their unique situation by using the entire world as her son’s classroom. A group of total Disney fanatics, Chelsea and her family often find themselves in the Orlando area in order to visit the Disney parks, but they have also visited over 25 of the 50 states with plans to see many more along the way. No matter where her travels take her, Chelsea enjoys riding bikes, gazing at beautiful sunsets, finding new coffee shops, Irish dancing, and sitting around a campfire with her family.
You can join her adventures through her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander.
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