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 COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    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...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Conservation Project Manager Position Description Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for...
  • NOVA SCOTIA OCEAN FRONT
    Camp or Build on 2+ acres in Guysborough. FSBO. $36,000 US firm. Laurie's phone: 585-226-2993 EST.
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....