It was the best $10 we ever spent! I’m talking about our lifetime National Park Senior Pass, available the US citizens or permanent residents the day they hit their 62nd birthday. You know that old adage about all good things coming to an end? The writing is on the wall for the $10 National Park Senior Pass. It’s not going away; it’s just getting a lot more expensive. The fee for the lifetime National Park Senior Pass will be going up to $80. If you want to take advantage of the $10 rate, buy your lifetime National Park Senior Pass now. When is the price going up? According to the National Park Service no date has yet been set, but it will be sometime after October. Don’t say we didn’t give you a lot of warning.
Once the rate goes up there will be two options to buy your National Park Senior Pass: pay $80 for a lifetime pass or buy an annual Senior Passes for $20. After you buy four passes the fifth one will be free and forever. They’re currently trying to work out the logistics on this. It’s the government so it’s not simple. Of course, with the current anti-public lands atmosphere in Washington, things could change on a dime.
How to buy your National Park Senior Pass
You can buy passes at any National Park office, National Park, National Monument, National Historic Park, online or by mail. Both the Internet and mail-in options have an additional $10 fee, but if you’re not near a National Parks office or site, it’s worth it. Not all sites sell the passes, check out this list of places, state by state, where you can purchase your National Park Senior Pass. (Check with the place before going as the list says it’s subject to change.)
When one of us hit 62 (I won’t say which one) we headed for our local National Parks office and bought our lifetime National Parks Senior Pass. Over the years, we’ve saved a lot of money on admissions to National Parks, National Monuments and National Historical Parks. Once, when we were traveling and had left the pass at home so we purchased a second one (it was cheaper than the park admission). Now we each have one. And since the person named on the pass has to be present, it’s a good idea for each member of a couple to have one in case you travel separately. And really good news: one pass admits everyone in a car (up to 15 people) and will admit the owner and three additional people at sites that charge a per person fee.
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While New Mexico only has two National Parks there are a number of National Monuments and National Historical Parks. We love being able to go visit National Park sites and not think about what it’s going to cost. While not everyone has this richness of National Park sites as close as we do, it’s great to have a National Parks Senior Pass if you’re planning any US travel.
In 2016, the National Park Centennial, we wanted to get to as many National Park sites as we could. The first half of the year, we weren’t able to leave home but we made up for it in the fall with a road trip through Colorado, Utah and Southern California. We put our pass to good use and saved a lot of money. Here are the places we visited on our National Park Senior Pass in the last year. (We got the most use out of it in Utah on our epic Colorado-Utah-California road trip last fall.
Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument at about 45 minutes from Santa Fe is easy to visit. Besides ancient cliff dwellings to see, the visitors’ center offers a small museum and videos to watch. There are also extensive hiking trails and campsites available. Between mid-May and mid-October, vehicles (unless they have a disability pass) are not permitted at the site. The exception: cars that arrive before 9am or after 3pm. All others have to board shuttle buses at the White Rock Visitors Center. Bandelier is a great getaway for us; not having to pay admission makes it very inviting for us to go as often as we like. Admission is $20 for everyone traveling in a single vehicle and $10 for people traveling alone. Every time we went our pass saved us $20.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
We made a quick stop at Aztec Ruins National Monument home of a 900-year-old great house. The site is small and didn’t require a lot of time to see. Our National Park Senior Pass saved the $5.00 per person admission charge. We saved $10.
Mesa Verde National Monument is bigger than most National Monuments we’ve visited. It is home to the pueblo-style “apartment buildings” that communally housed many people. While most of these can only be viewed from afar, they are a spectacular site. They offer ranger tours seasonally and one site can be visited without a guide, also seasonally. Depending on the season the entrance fee for a carload of up to 15 people is either $15 or $20. Our pass saved us $15.
Hovenweep National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument, a bit off the beaten path on the Utah/Colorado border, offers a historic ancestral pueblo without crowds. The site consists of six prehistoric villages built between 1200 and 1300 AD. The loop trail from the Visitors Center takes you on a 90-minute walk around the Square Tower Ruin. We did part of it and only saw a handful of other people as we walked. (We were there off-season; it may get busier in tourist season.) There are four other villages that are located away from the main site. Get directions at the Visitors Center. We didn’t visit these but a volunteer I spoke with suggested people should plan an entire day to see it all. Currently Hovenweep is fee-free, but we didn’t know that until we got there. Since we have our National Park Senior Pass we didn’t even have to think about it.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is one of the most amazing natural sites we’re ever visited. The stunning red rock formations and arches, formed by erosion and other natural events, may literally take your breath away. Even at the end of October it was jammed. I can’t even imagine what it’s like in high season. Besides a scenic drive that will make you ooh and ahh, there are hiking trails. Our drive, with a few stops, took about two hours. Their website says to allow four hours with a ten minute stop at each site (note that parking lots will sometimes be full). If you want to hike allow more time. Go early in the morning to beat the crowds. $25 admits one vehicle. Our National Park Senior Pass saved us $25.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park, is another spectacular place that took our breath away. Those Utah red rock formations are spectacular. Drive up to the top and then drive back down stpping at each pullout to view the stunning rock formations known as hoodoos formed through millennia of erosion and other natural factors. At each stop you get a different view of the canyon. Words and even photos cannot capture the magic of being there in person. Just go! Admission for a carload is $30; our savings $30.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park was the most crowded park we’ve visited. We followed a long line of cars crawling up the road. The good news: it was easy to capture photos from the car. We were able to stop at a few pullouts. There is a scenic drive that is closed to cars and accessible only by shuttle bus from mid-March until late November. We wanted to take the shuttle but the park was too busy, even at the end of October, to find a parking spot in the huge lot. We would like to go back early some day and arrive early in the morning before the crowds. Another way to deal with the crowds is by staying at their lodge. You can board a shuttle at the hotel. Access to that area is limited to registered guests only. Plan ahead; it books up way in advance. The fee for a carload is $30. We saved $30.
Grand Canyon North Rim
We visited Grand Canyon’s North Rim after it was officially closed for the season so admission was free. Had we arrived a few weeks earlier, we would have saved the $30 admission fee.
Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument, at the end of San Diego’s Point Loma is a great place to visit tide pools. You can also climb to the top of the restored 1855 Old Point Loma Lighthouse. The entrance fee for a carload is $10. Our savings: $10.
We’re sure getting our money’s worth from our $10 lifetime National Park’s Senior Pass. If we did the math over the years, it probably costs us pennies per visit. If you’re 62 or older and don’t yet own a National Park Senior Pass get it now before the price increase. If you turn 62 before it goes up, get it immediately. If you turn 62 after it goes up to $80, it’s still a good deal, especially if you travel a lot. You don’t have to pop for the entire fee at once. You can go with the annual $20 option. It’s well worth it. In 2016 our National Park Senior Pass saved us $140. Not bad! The National Parks are a national treasure; visit as many as you can.
Note: all admission fees at parks and monuments are good for seven days; save your receipt.
Have a permanent disability? You can get a National Park Pass for free no matter what your age.
One of our travel-blogging friends shared this post and got a question about where this can be used in her area which is Northern Oregon/Southern Washington. She wrote this blog post in response.
Do you have a National Parks Senior Pass? These boomer travel bloggers do: