America the Beautiful Passes
Though many of the parks units have little to no entry fee, roughly one-third do charge an entry fee. Some can be a bit hefty; Grand Canyon and Yosemite run $30 per car. The best deal going is the America the Beautiful Pass, as for $80 you purchase one year of unlimited entry into national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Note that a single annual pass also covers you and up to THREE other individuals (or as many people as you can cram into a car), if the site charges based on car. The pass won't cover concessionaire fees, like the awesome boat trip in Biscayne National Park nor some parking fees, like Mount Rushmore.
If you and friend or spouse are planning on visiting more than three or four parks with entry fees, the Annual Pass has more than paid for itself.
If you are in currently in the Armed Forces, National Guard, or Reserves (or are a dependent of someone who is), the NPS offers you a free America the Beautiful Pass, just show your Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173).
For Seniors, age 62 and older, you can purchase a lifetime pass for $80 which has the same benefits as the Annual Pass. The senior pass also may provide significant discounts on amenity fees, like boating permits and camping charges, at many locations.
There is also the Access Pass, which is a free, lifetime pass (same benefits as Senior Pass) available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents that have been medically determined to have a permanent disability with proper documentations (does not have to be a 100% disability)
Both the Access and Lifetime pass have a $10 processing fee if you order them online or by mail.
Other options include a 4th Grader pass available to students in that grade level and a Volunteer Pass to those who give 250 hours a year to the NPS or other qualifying federal agencies.
It’s a great deal and really worth the money, as you’ll save a bunch even if you visit a few. Most NPS units will sell you the pass in person, you can also mail order the pass, though it can take a couple weeks to reach you. We have found it easy enough to purchase a new pass at the first fee-based park we go to after our old one has expired.
For more details see the official page.
Travel note: The valid year is counted from the month in which you purchase you pass, so buying it closer to the start of the month nets you more days using the pass.