The days of $10 senior National Park passes are ending

And seniors are rushing to get one before they’re gone.

 

As Cathy Morin neared her 62nd birthday last month, she knew she was just about to qualify for one of the country’s best bargains. For just $10, senior citizens can buy passes that give them lifetime entry to national parks and other public lands as well as discounts on campgrounds and other amenities.

Around her birthday, she learned that she’d have to move quickly to take advantage of that deal. The pass has cost $10 since 1994, but in December, Congress voted to increase the price to $80. On July 10, in the middle of their busiest season, the National Park Service announced the new price would start on August 28. So at the end of July, Morin hustled over to a U.S. Forest Service office about 10 miles away from her home, Conejos Peak Ranger District, which is part of the Rio Grande National Forest in southwestern Colorado. “You might as well save $70,” says Morin, a retired former hospital worker. “Once you’re retired and on a limited income, that looks like a really good deal.”

She’s one of about 2.5 million Americans who are expected to get the passes at the lower rate this year, more than three times the number who bought them last year, according to Kathy Kupper, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

Most seniors get the passes at a national park they are visiting. But seniors can apply online or by mail too (there’s an extra $10 processing fee). As the days tick down to the deadline, demand has surged. On any given day last year, public land agencies received about 100 online applications. Now they’re getting about 10,000 a day, according to Kupper. The government switched to a new online system to try to handle the onslaught. Parks that are used to getting maybe 25 requests a year for passes are getting that many in a day, Kupper added. The National Park Service printed and shipped out 400,000 extra passes, but some parks have run out.

The passes can be used at more than 2,000 sites, including wildlife refuges, national forests and places run by the Bureau of Land Management. They’re good for any people traveling in the same passenger vehicle as a passholder or for three additional adults.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which processes the requests for passes, is overwhelmed. Currently, it takes 12 weeks for people who apply to receive the passes. In the meantime, the receipts are good for entry and discounts.

Morin has tested this. The Forest Service office where she applied was out of passes, so they gave her a receipt and told her to use that until the card arrives in the mail. On the first two weekends after she purchased her pass, she went camping at Forest Service campgrounds. On one trip, she and some friends enjoyed a river trip on a wild stretch of Colorado River outside of Grand Junction. Since she didn’t have the pass in hand yet, she showed her receipt. Her camping fees were cut in half. As a result, she has already saved more money than she spent on the pass.

Vistors take a boat ride in Glacier National Park in Montana. Seniors rushed to get a discounted National Park pass before the price goes up to $80 this year.
NPS / Jacob W. Frank

At Rocky Mountain National Park, cars packed with seniors have been showing up at the entrance station, and then each passenger requests a lifetime pass, says park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson. All the interest increases the already long lines to get into national parks during the most popular time of year. At many parks, lines for passes snake through visitors’ centers. If you lose or have the pass stolen, you have to buy a new one so some folks are planning ahead and buying two at once.

The Park Service hopes all qualified Americans take advantage of the deal before it’s gone. But Kupper says if you don’t turn 62 until next month, you’ll still get a bargain: “Ten dollars is a fantastic deal; $80 is still a fantastic deal.”

Morin agrees, but she’s glad she got hers for $10. She’s dreaming about all the use she’ll get out of it: fishing, boating, gathering mushrooms and hunting elk and deer on Forest Service and BLM land and taking in the amazing scenery and hiking in national parks.

Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren writes HCN’s DC Dispatches from Washington.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....