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
  • DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST
    Idaho Walk Bike Alliance seeks a lover of bicycling, walking, and all modes of active transportation who willingly puts the car in the garage and...
  • COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Friends of Inyo - the Communications Director is a full-time permanent position that reports to the Executive Director and utilizes communication strategies and production skills...
  • INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS EDITOR
    High Country News seeks an editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk. This individual will lead a team of passionate journalists...
  • HIKING TO THE EDGE:
    Confronting Cancer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Poetry and photos on survival thinking. E-book and paperback available at Amazon.com.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • IPLC RIGHTS AND EQUITY PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    A LITTLE ABOUT US Founded in 1951, the Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FUTURE WEST
    Future West seeks an executive director to lead this dynamic organization into the future. Based in Bozeman, MT this well-respected nonprofit provides communities in the...
  • PART-TIME EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mitchell Museum of the American Indian Location: Evanston, IL Salary Range: $45,000 @ 24 hours per week. send resume: [email protected] www.mitchellmuseum.org
  • COMMUNICATIONS LEAD
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR
    Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Alaska has been doing work you can believe in protecting the lands and waters that all life depends on....
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill the position of Assistant Director in the Outdoor Program. To view the complete position description, including minimum qualifications required,...
  • PUBLIC LANDS DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a dedicated advocate for conservation and public lands Public Lands Director a "make a difference" position Conserve Southwest...
  • FOR SALE
    Yellowstone Llamas Successful Yellowstone NP concession Flexible packages
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners is seeking a full-time Director of Development & Marketing. This is a senior position responsible for the development of all marketing...
  • LEGAL DIRECTOR
    The Legal Director will work closely with the Executive Director in cultivating a renewed vision at NMELC that integrates diversity, equity, and justice. Black, Indigenous,...
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The Vice President for Landscape Conservation leads Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing on four program areas: federal public lands management; private lands...
  • WE'RE LOOKING FOR LEADERS!
    As we celebrate 50 years of great Western journalism, High Country News is looking for a few new board members to help set a course...
  • WIND RIVER WRITERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS RETREAT BY THE NATIONAL BIGHORN SHEEP CENTER
    Enhance your writing or photography skills with world-class instructors in the beautiful Wind River Mountains. All skill levels welcome. Continuing education credits available.
  • EARTH CRUISER FX FOR SALE
    Overland Vehicle for travel on or off road. Fully self contained. Less than 41,000 miles. Recently fully serviced Located in Redmond, OR $215'000.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    identifies suspect buried trash, tanks, drums &/or utilities and conducts custom-designed subsurface investigations that support post-damage litigation.