Hands down, the best value in the RVing world is the National Parks Senior Pass, officially known as the America the Beautiful Pass
[Note: This article has been updated for 2021]
One of the consolations of old age is the America the Beautiful Pass, which like most Federal entities has undergone a name change – it used to be called the Golden Age Pass.
For $80, seniors get a lifetime pass. Seniors are anyone over the age of 62.
What the America the Beautiful National Parks Senior Pass includes:
All US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for this pass, which will greatly reduce your expenditures for visiting and camping in National Parks and federal land – more than 2,000 locations in all.
Each pass covers entrance fees for your RV (or whatever vehicle you are in) and all passengers at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard and day-use fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Most campgrounds in National Forest give you a 50% discount on camping fees with the America the Beautiful pass.
How to get an America the Beautiful Senior Pass
Here's how to get one, and where to use it.
There's a mail-in method of obtaining this pass, but the extra $10 fee and processing time make this really unnecessary, especially since they're sold at all National Park entrances, national monuments, many National Forest ranger stations, Bureau of Land Management field and district officers, and numerous other places.
As soon as you turn 62, just show up with documentation that you're either a US citizen or permanent resident (driver's license, US passport, birth certificate, or green card) and that you're 62.
Pay the fee ($80), and you're literally set for life. Since the replacement charge is the same as a new card, if you lose yours the procedure is just to get another one.
The National Parks Senior Pass has lots of benefits for campers
There are many other uses more important to RVers and fulltimers who spend more than the usual two or three weeks a year touring our country.
Six federal agencies – the Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bureau of Land Management – all honor the America the Beautiful National Parks Senior Pass at sites where entrance or standard amenity fees are charged.
“Standard amenity fees” is governmentese for day use, swimming, boat launch or campsite fees, which is where the pass comes into its own.
When you check-in at one of the campgrounds, look on the envelope you use to pay your camping fee at National Forest and BLM campgrounds.
On the bottom line there's a place for your pass number and a 50% discount on the overnight camping fee. Army Corps of Engineers campsites also honor this 50% discount for senior pass cardholders.
Even the Tennessee Valley Authority will give you 50% off of the campsite fees. The TVA offers hundreds of campsites among its six dam reservoir campgrounds in the Southeast, available from March 15 to November 15. The length of stay is limited to 21 days during the high season (May 1 to Sept 30) and 30 days in the off-season (Oct 1 to April 30, excluding closure dates).
The America the Beautiful pass for seniors will also save you the trouble of going into the ranger station or store to get a permit for National Forest dispersed camping – just display your card on the dash in lieu of the permit.
As we said, the America the Beautiful senior pass used to be called the Golden Age Pass. Those older Golden Page passes are still good. They just changed the name.
Now the Natonal Parks Senior Pass is the America the Beautiful Pass.
There are some exceptions
The only fly in the ointment are concessionaires – private companies that contract with the Federal government to manage campgrounds in national parks and forests.
They aren't required to accept the pass for a 50% discount, although there are many who do. Each concessionaire has a separate agreement for the National Parks Service. It's just bad business not to honor this pass, so almost all the concessionaires we've encountered do so.
If the campsite has “improvements” – water and/or electric hookups – expect to pay full price for the “improvements,” and get 50% off the basic campground fee only.
Most Federal campgrounds don't have hookups, though, so if you have solar or just like to boondock, an America the Beautiful Senior Pass will come in handy.
There's just no downside to getting this card. Even if you don't camp at all, you'll be able to drive through national parks without getting gouged for an entrance fee.
This has to be one of the best values out there in the RV world.
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