If you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you can enjoy a special perk: An annual or lifetime pass for the U.S. National Parks system. The 58 parks to choose from are spread across the country, providing access to some of the most beautiful sites in the world, with plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities. Many parks have vacation rentals situated right outside of their gates. National forests often feature vacation rental properties surrounded by natural beauty. When you choose from the wide variety of annual and lifetime passes available, you can turn your spectacular vacation into a budget-friendly one as well.

1. The National Parks Annual Pass

Source: Flickr/Yellowstone National Park

No matter who you are, you can get an annual pass to the National Parks for only $80. You can purchase a pass in person at any National Park or federal recreation site, or you can buy one over the phone or at the U.S. Geological Survey website (usgs.gov). Two people can be listed on one pass, and one pass admits a carful of people (four adults, plus any kids under 16). Don’t worry – if you’re arriving at your favorite National Park on a motorcycle or bike, you’re not penalized. Your pass is good for two motorcycles or four bicycles.

2. The Free Annual Pass for Members of the Military

Source: Flickr/edward stojakovic

U.S. citizens are grateful to the country’s military members for protecting the country. One way that gratitude is expressed is through the free annual National Park pass made available to all members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Reserve units and National Guard, as well as their family members. Only the military member whose name is on the pass can use it; they can bring in other people in their car, however, just as holders of the annual pass can do. You can pick up your free pass at any location that issues regular annual passes, but you must have your military ID with you.

3. The Free Annual Fourth Grade Pass

Source: Flickr/screaming_monkey

In many states, fourth grade is when students focus on U.S. history as well as the history of their states, and the Department of the Interior honors that by offering free National Park passes through the Every Kid in a Park program. Each pass admits the young student and three adults (in one car) into any National Park. Home-schooled kids and free-choice learners who are 10 years old are also eligible to participate in this wonderful program that widens the horizons of kids just as they start to see themselves as members of a greater community. Apply for these passes online at the Every Kid in a Park website; paper passes are required, and digital copies are not accepted.

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4. The Annual Senior Pass

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If you’re 62 or older, the National Parks have a special offering for you. You can buy an annual pass to all the National Parks for only $20. That’s a whopping 75 percent off the standard price. And this pass comes with some special benefits that aren’t available with the regular passes. You can get lots of discounts, including to some guided tours of the parks, transportation with the parks, concessions including snack bars, and various special use permit fees; the details may vary from one park to the next. You also are entitled to discounts on campsites, but you’ll be so comfortably ensconced in your cozy vacation rental right outside the park of your choice, you won’t want to trade it in to sleep on the ground! Apply for these passes online, in person or on the phone, just as you would apply for a regular Annual Pass, and be sure to have proof of age with you.

5. The Lifetime Senior Pass

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You don’t have to settle for that $20 annual pass if you’re 62 or older, incredible bargain that it is. Seniors have another option: The Lifetime Senior Pass. Yes, this pass gives you admission to any National Park for the rest of your life for only $80. That could add up to thousands of dollars in savings over your long lifetime. You need to provide documentation of your age, and you’re eligible for all the discounts that accrue to the Annual Senior Pass. Note that this Lifetime Senior Pass isn’t the same as the Golden Age Passports. While those are still valid for people who already have them, they’re not being sold anymore. As you think about retirement and travel potentially enters your mind, start it off right by opening the door to all the beautiful National Parks, or buy a pass for a beloved older family member to open up their lives to travel and exploration.

6. The Free Lifetime Access Pass

Source: Flickr/Amy Meredith

If you have a permanent disability, don’t let that keep you away from the National Parks. The National Park Service wants everyone to enjoy the spectacular beauty of these specially curated sites, so they offer free lifetime passes to anyone with a permanent disability. If you have a physical, sensory, or mental impairment that limits your ability to handle tasks like seeing, learning, walking, working and more, then you may qualify for this amazing benefit. To get the Access Pass, you need a document issued from a government agency, such as Social Security or the Veteran’s Administration, or a statement from a licensed physician. When you’re planning a vacation using your Access Pass, remember that many vacation rentals are ADA-compliant and accessible as well.

7. The Volunteer Annual Pass

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Do you volunteer hours every year at a recreation site managed by the federal government? If you average about five hours a week of such volunteer work, such as being a campground host, you may be eligible for a Volunteer Pass to the National Parks. This pass is a thank you for all the time and love you have devoted to your community and nation. Volunteer work for the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers all qualifies. Talk to your Volunteer Coordinator to find out if you’re eligible and make arrangements for your pass – and as you accept it, listen carefully to hear the echo of everyone else in the country thanking you as well.

8. The Annual Northwest Forest Pass

Source: Flickr/faungg’s photos

If you’re choosing to vacation in the stunningly beautiful states of Oregon and Washington, the U.S. Forest Service has a special treat for you: The Northwest Forest Pass. This special pass, which comes at a bargain price of $30, admits you to 17 National Forests, a National Grassland, two National Scenic Areas, and two National Volcanic Monuments. Enjoy outdoor recreation in some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world each day, then come back to your vacation rental to relax in the evenings. Among the areas you can explore are the Mount Hood National Forest, Olympic National Forest, Willamette National Forest, and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

 
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