Veteran and Military National Park Passes & Where You Can Go for Free
There is little doubt that we are all feeling the wanderlust as 2021 kicks off. While indoor recreation continues to be a challenge due to the coronavirus, our National Parks offer amazing outdoor adventures throughout the country – from the scenic landscapes and sunsets of the Grand Canyon to Denali’s feral settings and fresh air to Yellowstone’s abundant wildlife and geothermal features, plus about 60 other national parks waiting to be explored.
Did you know the U.S. Cavalry served double duty as park rangers when Yellowstone, the first national park, was established in 1872? (Click to Tweet this)
Today, the National Park Service preserves and shares stories of the U.S. military throughout American history. It also offers an America the Beautiful Park Pass to the military and provides opportunities to connect to more than 2,000 recreation sites among the public lands and waters that service members help to defend.
Veterans and Gold Star families may also enjoy free admission with the Military Veterans and Gold Star Family Free Access Program — one of the better things that took effect in 2020. Here is what you need to know to get a military national park pass.
America the Beautiful Park Pass
What Parks Does America the Beautiful Pass Cover?
The America the Beautiful Park Pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges plus day-use fees at national forests and grasslands, and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The military pass also covers everyone in your vehicle when you arrive at the park.
Where to Buy America the Beautiful Pass
Wondering where to buy America the Beautiful passes? The good news is that service members don’t have to buy it. Get your free military annual pass in person at any of these federal recreation sites. You will need to bring your Common Access Card or Military ID. U.S. military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members are eligible.
Military Veterans and Gold Star Family Free Access Program
he National Park Service partnered with Operation Live Well to thank military personnel and their families for their service and invite them to enjoy free access to the parks. The program covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as day-use fees at national forests and grasslands, and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces including the National Guard and Reserves will need to present a CAC card, Veteran ID card, Veteran Health Identification Card or a driver’s license with veteran designation when entering a national park.
Gold Star Families must download and print a voucher before visiting a national park site. A ranger will collect the voucher, or it will need to be placed on the vehicle dashboard at unmanned sites.
Most Popular National Parks in the USA
Ready to start planning your trip? Check out the 2019 List of US National Parks Annual Park Ranking Report for Recreation Visits in National Parks to find a list of U.S. national parks ranked by most popular parks, or the least, whatever appeals to you. Then visit the park on the NPS website for everything you need to know before you go. If you’ll be traveling with a group, you may want to know how much the America the Beautiful pass is for civilians – it costs $80 for 365 days.
Tip – Use the America the Beautiful Pass list of parks like a checklist to see how many outdoor adventures you can challenge yourself to as the New Year kicks off. (Click to Tweet this)
Make a day trip of it from nearby cities or stay at an RV camp near the park. Here are a few trip ideas to get you started.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
107 Park Headquarters Road
Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Phone: 1 (865) 436-1200
Straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s diverse plant and animal life, forest ridges and mountains all combine to make it the most visited national park in the country. With more than 12.5 million visits last year, this is the most popular national park. According to the park service, the best way to choose a hike is to decide if you want to see waterfalls, old-growth forests or endless views and then decide how long you can hike (be conservative to start).
Listed on RVshare.com’s Top 10 Campgrounds RV Parks near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Creekside RV Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, advertises a 10 percent military and veteran discount on rates ranging from $45 to $53 in 2021.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
P.O. Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
Phone: 1 (928) 638-7888
Nearly 6 million people visited Grand Canyon National Park in 2019. At the park’s popular South Rim, from outlooks accessed by free park shuttle buses or personal vehicles, visitors watch the mighty Colorado River cutting through the Grand Canyon’s layers of red rock far below.
Stay for sunset and then call it a night at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon to take advantage of the hotel’s government rate, aka military discount, book here. You’ll probably want to get up early to enjoy the sunrise and another day at one of America’s most beloved national parks.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 U.S. Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517
Phone: 1 (970) 586-1206
Rounding out the Top 3 National Parks, with more than 4.5 million visitors in 2019, is Rocky Mountain National Park. Don’t miss the Trail Ridge Road – climbing to over 12,000 feet the many overlooks boast spectacular scenes of the park’s alpine and subalpine features. Hit the hiking trails to get a closer look at wildlife and wildflowers.
Set up camp to enjoy starry nights too. The closest RV park to Rocky Mountain National Park is Manor RV Park in Estes Park according to CampgroundReviews.com. And it offers a military discount too! Request this rate when you complete the reservation form.
4. Zion National Park
1 Zion Park Blvd.
Springdale, UT 84767
Phone: 1 (435) 772-3256
Zion National Park draws more than 4 million visitors a year with its scenic drives, varied hiking trails, river tubing and rock climbing – from thrilling to just chilling, wading the Virgin River beneath the Narrows’ 1000-foot-tall walls to hiking Angels Landing via West Rim Trail along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit. Pick up a bird checklist at the visitor center to track how many of Zion’s 291 species were spotted in the wilderness.
Make it an overnight trip and recharge with a good night’s sleep at the Quality Inn Springdale at Zion Park just a mile outside the south entrance. Fuel up on free coffee and WiFi before you head out in the morning. Be sure to request the military rate when booking your reservations.
5. Yosemite National Park
9039 Village Drive
Yosemite, CA 95389
Phone: 1 (209) 372-0200
In 2019, 4.4 million visitors explored the iconic cliff faces, glacial valleys, mountain wilderness, groves of Giant Sequoias, rushing waterfalls and peaceful meadows of Yosemite National Park. Wildlife is everywhere, but the stars of the show are the hundreds of black bears that roam the park, dozens of endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep near steep, rocky slopes near Tioga Pass and the ever-elusive mountain lions.
With almost 1,200 square miles of the park to explore, you’ll want to plan for a multiday visit. For cost control, consider heading 15 miles south of Yosemite National Park’s south entrance for a stay in the Sierra Nevada foothills at Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn in Oakhurst. Join Best Western’s Service Rewards program to save 10 percent or more when booking the military rate and receive an upgrade to Gold Elite status.
6. Yellowstone National Park
P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168
Phone: 1 (307) 344-7381
Just over 4 million visitors made Yellowstone National Park their destination of choice in 2019. The world’s first national park’s scenery is as diverse as it is spectacular. The park’s 2.2 million acres boast famous geysers, a supervolcano, historic hot springs, a grand canyon, boiling river, mud volcano, grand prismatic spring, mountains, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife everywhere. There are five entrances and 10 visitor centers to help you make the most of your time in the park.
Ponderosa Campground, in nearby Cody, offers a military discount and delivers a great gateway for exploring Yellowstone National Park. The town was founded by Buffalo Bill Cody and is known for its rodeo nights in the summer. RV sites, heated cabins, teepees and grassy tent areas are available.
7. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
3370 LaFayette Road
Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742
Phone: 1 (706) 866-9241
The first National Military Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, was dedicated in 1895 and has been a model for most national military and historical parks ever since. Today, visitors to the park have access to more than 9,000 acres of Civil War battlefields and monuments in six locations throughout the greater Chattanooga area. The park also features the 12,000 years of Native American history on the Moccasin Bend Peninsula. Outdoorsy.com recommends the nearby Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga West KOA campground. Though KOA does not offer a corporate military discount many locations do so ask for it when making reservations.
8. Gettysburg National Military Park
1195 Baltimore Pike
Gettysburg, PA 17325
Phone: 1 (717) 334-1124
Home of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and inspiration for President Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” this National Military Park is steeped in American history. Destination Gettysburg recommends travelers let The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center help you through the humbling experience of exploring legendary names and blood-soaked battlefields with solemn remembrance of the greatest democratic experiment – Gettysburg revisited. Find Gettysburg Foundation suggested itineraries here.
Search the veteran-owned UpCloseRV listings for a place to park an RV so you can explore the local area. Host locations include small businesses, farms and individual properties near historic Gettysburg.
Tip: Keep MyBaseGuide’s list of top military movies to stream in 2021 on hand to help with any sleepless nights you have on the road or at camp. (Click to Tweet this)
The military national parks pass offers the military and veterans nearly endless opportunities to connect with nature and America’s most beautiful landscapes as well as outdoor recreation options suited for all ages and abilities. Be sure to know the current status of visitor centers, food services and campgrounds by checking the park’s website before you go.
More like this: 10 of the Best Military Campgrounds & RV Parks in the United States and How to Plan Your Next Great American National Park Road Trip
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.