The National Park Pass : Is it Worth It?

The only way we can travel as often as we do is to be very frugal in our travels.  We shop for the best deals, travel in the offseason and try to stretch our travel dollars through pre-planning and careful spending.

I recently tweeted that I was sitting down to do the math on whether it was worth the $80.00 annual fee this year.  “What’s the question?  It’s $80 and you’ll use it!” I heard back from the Twitter-verse.

Sure, I’ll use it.   But the only national park within a comfortable day’s driving distance is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.  And it doesn’t have an entrance fee.  I wish we lived in a place like Arizona or Utah where there were opportunities to visit national parks without two flights and a rental car – but I don’t.  I live in Texas where you can drive for 13 hours and still be in Texas.  Our two national parks are waaaay over in West Texas in that little empty western tip of the state, and I’ve never been to either one of them.

So the question isn’t “will I use it,” the question is “is it worth it?”  The fees for National Park entry are pretty reasonable and 265 sites are free entry. Even when we have to pay our children enter for free. Then there are National Park free days like National Park week in April where all entry is free.

If we didn’t visit enough parks with high enough entry fees, it wouldn’t be worth the annual pass.  We’d save money just paying as we went.  I had to do what I like to call probable future math to figure it out.  The first part was easy since we have a February trip to Arizona planned.

  • Saguaro NP : $10/car
  • Petrified Forest NP : $10/car
  • Sedona – Not a National Park, but you can use your America the Beautiful pass in lieu of a Red Rock Pass : $5
  • Grand Canyon NP : $25/car
  • Wuptaki NM : $10 for 2 adults

So, our trip to Arizona would cost $60 in entrance and use fees without the pass.  I was surprised it was so much for the Grand Canyon but I guess if you could charge a premium anywhere, it would be there.

Our tentative plans for the rest of the year include the possibilities of :

  • Denali NP : $20 for 2 adults
  • Guadalupe ($10 for 2 adults), Big Bend ($20/car), and Carlsbad Caverns ($12 for 2 adults) roadtrip
  • Acadia NP: $20/car

If we do even one of our tentative national park travel plans, we’ll come out even or ahead.  I took the gamble that we’d make it somewhere this year, and paid for the pass online.

Our math will be different every year based on our travel plans.  Unless we plan an epic adventure in Utah, Alaska or some other place with a concentration of National Parks, it will probably not be worth it to us to buy the pass in 2013. To find out more about the annual pass, click here.

volcanoes national park, hawaii
Our most recently visited National Park where we paid a fee – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

What about you?  Have you bought the National Park Annual Pass?