National Parks: Buy Your Senior Pass Before The Price Increase

National Park Service logoPopular summertime activities include visiting and camping in national parks. The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) operates the nation’s 417 sites. The sites include 129 historical parks or sites, 87 national monuments, 59 national parks, 25 battlefields or military parks, 19 preserves, 18 recreation areas, 10 seashores, four parkways, four lake shores, and two reserves.

The NPS sells lifetime passes for seniors (age 62 or older) which provide access to more than 2,000 parks and recreation sites nationwide.  Six agencies participate in the Interagency Pass Program: National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. So, a senior pass provides reduced-cost access to lots of places.

The senior pass is also a bargain since the pass holder can use it plus accompanying passengers is a single, private, non-commercial vehicle. However, the price of a senior pass will rise on August 28 from $10.00 to $80.00 (plus a $10.00 processing fee). Yes, that is a 700 percent price increase!

U.S. citizens or permanent residents can buy passes. There are three ways to buy senior passes:

Applicants must provide documentation proving citizenship and age. See the Frequently Asked Questions: Recreational Passes page (USGS site) for additional information, including forms of acceptable documentation. Within the parks and recreational sites, there may be additional fees for special services (e.g., camping, swimming, boat launch, specialized interpretive services). The senior pass may provide a 50 percent discount on these fees, but does not cover fees charged by concession stands.

Not a senior? Besides standard annual passes ($80.00 each), the NPS offers a variety of annual passes: free passes for military members and their dependents, passes for 4th grade students, free passes for persons with disabilities, and free passes for volunteers.

For Dorchester residents, there are several nearby parks and recreation sites:

  • Boston National Historical Park, including the 2.5 mile (4 km) Freedom Trail®
  • Boston African American National Historic Site is located in historic Beacon Hill in downtown Boston
  • Boston Harbor Islands includes 34 islands (e.g., Georges, Spectacle, Thompson, Lovells, Peddocks, Bumpkin, etc.) and peninsulas covering more than 50 square miles. Visit historic lighthouses, explore tide pools, hike lush trails, camp under the stars, or enjoy some of the fishing, picnicking, or swimming spots.

To find more sites, use the park search finder. Another nearby site is the Adams National Historic Park in Quincy, Massachusetts. The park includes the birthplaces of two presidents, the “summer White House,” Stone Library, the Adams Carriage House, and 13 acres of a historic landscapes. Guided tours (April 19 – November 10) start at the visitor center (1250 Hancock Street, Quincy, MA), where senior, military, and 4th grade recreational passes can also be purchased in person.

I bought my senior pass at the Adams park in Quincy. It was fast, easy, and convenient — and I avoided the $10.00 processing fee. If you need a pass quickly, buying in person seems best. The visitor center is directly across the street from the Quincy Center station on the Braintree branch of the MBTA Red Line. There is plenty of free parking nearby.